Marijuana for Anxiety

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Marijuana and CBD: Benefit or Harm for Anxiety?

Many of my clients want to know if they can use marijuana for anxiety, so I have become curious, attended some workshops, and read the most recent research. 

You need to pay attention to your own body and your own responses when considering this information. You always need to be the one to decide and determine what is best for you.


Many states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and even more, have for medicinal use. There is a good reason! There is evidence that THC-based marijuana helps with sleep, pain, and nausea, but there is no scientific evidence that it is beneficial for anxiety.



CBD for Anxiety


Unlike THC, CBD studies suggest it is helpful for anxiety. Several studies show that CBD reduces anxiety and can help people proceed with tasks that they found too overwhelming, like public speaking. CBD could be a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely ( it decreases anxiety at the moment); however, we don't know if CBD could be given long term, or if it would work on these disorders over the course of their illness.


Perhaps used in conjunction with a good therapist, CBD could help people with phobias and other anxieties to do the things that scare them with much less distress. One study showed that CBD helped ENHANCE the learning of the people after doing exposure therapy. It is difficult to control the type of CBD administered in studies, and more research is needed, but the use of CBD as a treatment for anxiety shows much promise. 





Marijuana for Anxiety: Breaking Down The Terms


When we talk about marijuana, we usually mean the marijuana you smoke that makes you high. 


There are two main types of marijuana plant Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica. From each of these plants come different compounds.

These compounds are called cannabinoids.

 The two main compounds we will be talking about when talking about marijuana and anxiety are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). 

There are 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants! CBD and THC and account for about 40 percent of the plant extract.


  • THC is the main psychoactive compound that leads to you getting high.
  • CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

When looking at anxiety and marijuana, it's important to DISTINGUISH between these two compounds.


Does the research show THC-based marijuana for anxiety is helpful or problematic ?


Why ask? It's important to ask because so many people are using marijuana for their anxiety.


Statistics show that between 2007 and 2014 there has been a 45 percent increase in the use of marijuana. Those who are heavy users and smoking daily increased from 1 in 9 to 1 to 3 from 1992 -2014.

People who struggle with their mental health are the group that is smoking the most, especially in the states where marijuana has been legalized.

Dispensaries are dishonest in advertising. 

Dispensaries in these states make false claims that they sell certain strains of marijuana for anxiety  but no research has been done on these strains and each person will have a different response. False advertising abounds. 


Many people believe that because marijuana is natural, it must be good for treating anxiety. It helps explain why 30 percent of people use THC based marijuana for anxiety. 



However, what the research suggests is that THC based marijuana has the potential to increase anxiety in the long run, even if it seems to decrease it temporarily. This is because avoidance maintains anxiety. For the same reason Xanax is not a good treatment for anxiety, marijuana may not be. You aren't learning any skills to cope.


Furthermore, in higher doses, it THC the ability to induce paranoia and panic attacks.


If you become a heavy user of THC-based marijuana, there is a possibility that you may create dependency and withdrawal symptoms which make it harder for you to cope with your anxiety. In this case, smoking or taking marijuana for anxiety in the short run, can make it worse in the long run. 


Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder  are the most likely to use THC-based marijuana as medication. 

I always tell my clients to listen to their own bodies and figure out what works for them. Just because there isn't evidence doesn't mean it isn't helpful; at the same time, it's important to consider what we know. Although there are drawbacks and possible problems to using marijuana to medicate your anxiety, you may see less. Some people may have a good relationship with marijuana, which may help them manage their anxiety, especially when integrated into a part of a bigger wellness plan.

Some of the dangers include: 

  • Psychological dependence
  • Exacerbation of symptoms
  • Reliance on the marijuana
  • Interference in learning how to manage anxiety without the marijuana

In adolescents, heavy THC-based marijuana use can lead to the early onset of depression, psychosis, or permanent IQ changes. I was shocked to learn this information, but it seems that this is linked to how marijuana is formulated, stronger, and more potent.  






References

Lee JLC, Bertoglio LJ, Guimar√£es FS, Stevenson CW. Cannabidiol regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorders. Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Oct;174(19):3242-3256. doi: 10.1111/bph.13724. Epub 2017 Mar 9. PMID: 28268256; PMCID: PMC5595771.

Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015 Oct;12(4):825-36. doi: 10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1. PMID: 26341731; PMCID: PMC4604171.

Marijuana and CBD: Benefit or Harm for Anxiety? Featuring: Robert Yielding, PsyD ADAA webinar February 15 2021

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.