Treating anxiety with medical marijuana is a popular topic, but much is unknown about how marijuana affects anxiety disorders. The available research is divided, some showing that cannabis is an effective treatment and other information showing it can cause anxiety. With all this divided information it can be difficult to determine if using cannabis for your anxiety disorder is going to be effective. To understand the pros and cons, it is essential to understand what anxiety is, what it does, how marijuana can help, and the potential for harm.
What is Anxiety?
Feelings of worry, fear, and uncertainty result in a condition known as anxiety. It is extremely common for people to feel anxiety in certain situations – work stress, before public speaking, etc. When these feelings last more than a short period of time, worsen over time, occur without reason, or affect daily life, an anxiety disorder could be the cause. Severe anxiety disorders can be crippling. They change the way a person interacts with the world, making it difficult to keep jobs or stay on task and affecting overall health in a variety of negative ways. Over time chronic anxiety can weaken the immune system, affect sleep patterns, reduce energy, and make it harder to overcome even minor illnesses.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health indicates that anxiety and panic disorders can cause the following types of serious symptoms:
- Trouble concentrating
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Tense muscles and muscle pain
- Sleep problems or insomnia
- Intense feelings of worry or fear
- Increased heart rate
- Signs of stress reaction like sweating, blushing, trembling, etc.
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling anxious about interacting with people
- Avoiding interactions and obligations
- Trouble feeling comfortable in social settings
- Overwhelming shyness
- Lack of motivation
Current Anxiety Treatment Options
There are a variety of methods available for treating anxiety, although no one method has been shown to work effectively in all cases. In fact, there is no known cure for anxiety. Most individuals suffering from an anxiety disorder seek treatments that either teach them to cope in settings that trigger their anxiety or options that reduce the impact of anxiety symptoms. Psychological therapies are often employed to help anxiety sufferers learn techniques to manage their condition. This includes therapies like psychotherapy or talk therapy where you discuss your disorder and its triggers and cognitive behavioral therapy where you focus on coping techniques that enable you to face your anxiety. Psychological therapies can take a long time to provide relief and do not work in all cases.
Additional treatments for anxiety disorders often turn to prescription medications to aid in relieving symptoms. This also does not cure anxiety, but may make it easier to cope with on day to day basis. Common types of medications prescribed for anxiety include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers. These medications may aid in increasing feel good hormones in the body and can reduce some of the symptoms of anxiety. While they may help, there are also a variety of negative side effects associated with these medications. Also, as with any medication, certain individuals do not respond the same to the treatment and may not find relief. This lack of effective treatments is what has some individuals turning to alternative therapy options like support groups, stress management techniques, and, in increasing numbers, natural medical options like marijuana.
Marijuana and Anxiety Disorders
Marijuana is growing in popularity as a medical treatment. Studies have shown it to be effective at treating pain, lack of appetite, nausea, seizures, some cancers, and some mental health conditions. The compounds found in cannabis work with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body to produce many effects. These effects can vary depending on the balance of certain compounds found in weed, the most well known of which are THC and CBD. Much is still unknown about what marijuana is capable of doing from a medical perspective, which contributes to the current controversy associated with using it as a medical treatment. Restrictive laws have set research in the U.S. back considerably.
When attempting to understand the potential medical relationship between marijuana and anxiety disorders, it is easy to see why there is some confusion. Some research indicates that weed and anxiety disorders naturally go together. The happy feelings and relaxing qualities of cannabis counteracting the symptoms and triggers of anxiety. Other research indicates that marijuana and anxiety disorder go hand in hand because cannabis itself can trigger feelings of anxiety, even leading to a panic attack in some individuals. So, when it comes to medical marijuana and anxiety disorders, which is right? Does marijuana effectively treat anxiety or does it cause anxiety? The answer it seems is not that simple.
Cannabis Anxiety Disorder Treatment
Using weed for anxiety disorder treatment is not a new idea. Smoking cannabis for its therapeutic relaxation and mood lifting benefits has gone on for hundreds of years. Many recreational users enjoy cannabis for exactly that reason. Even in cases where medical marijuana is being used as a treatment for another condition like cancer treatments, reports indicate it improves mood and overall quality of life. Research into its use for anxiety has also provided a wealth of information about how weed and anxiety disorders may interact with promising results. The part of the brain that controls the body’s stress response was recently found by Vanderbilt University researchers to have cannabinoid receptors, which are known to interact with the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
This research could pave the way to some amazing breakthroughs in the way we use marijuana to treat mental health conditions, although more needs to be understood about how to control the reaction between marijuana and the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Still, the study was able to show that inhaled cannabis can reduce stress levels and create a happy, relaxed feeling that combats the negative effects of anxiety and stress. Another study conducted by researchers at the University College of London proved that certain compounds in marijuana could reduce the typical anxiety response to certain stimuli, which effectively gets rid of situational anxiety. This work shows that certain compounds, particularly CBD and the lesser known CBG, may be extremely effective at treating anxiety.
Potential Problems with Weed for Anxiety Disorder
Although the research showing that marijuana effectively reduces anxiety response and can combat the negative feelings associated with anxiety, there is also research that shows weed use can cause anxiety. Research reported by Harvard University indicates that although the majority of marijuana users indicate that smoking it reduces stress and anxiety, the most commonly reported side effect of marijuana is anxiety or panic attacks or marijuana panic disorder. A cannabis induced anxiety disorder was reported by over 20 percent of the users surveyed. Unlike a diagnosed anxiety disorder, a cannabis induced anxiety disorder is a temporary condition, only lasting as long as the high feeling associated with smoking cannabis that contains high levels of THC.
Preliminary research does indicate that the level of THC in the strain of cannabis has an effect on marijuana and anxiety disorder treatments. While low levels of THC have a sedative effect which can be very relaxing, higher levels of THC can cause feelings of anxiety in some people. The solution to this involves finding a strain that reduces the THC level and contains higher levels of CBD and CBG, which have not been shown to cause the anxiety effect or marijuana panic disorder. Currently, strains with lower THC levels are available making medical marijuana and anxiety disorders a combination that could provide relief for many. Some of these strains include those of the Indica family along with hybrids that have reduced THC levels.
Why are People Using Cannabis Anxiety Disorder Treatments?
Although the research appears somewhat divided when it comes to weed and treating anxiety disorders, more and more people are turning to medical marijuana to assist them with their anxiety condition and the associated symptoms. This happens for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest factors is the lack of success and negative side effects associated with typical anxiety treatments. Options like psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral techniques can take a long time to make a difference on anxiety levels. Coping techniques are difficult for some people to employ and do not work for every individual in every situation. Medications commonly prescribed for treatment also leave something to be desired in terms of effectiveness and can cause a number of negative side effects like suicidal thoughts or feelings, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, lack of interest in life, or compulsive behaviors.
Marijuana, on the other hand, does not have the same potential negative effects of other prescribed medications and has the added benefit of being an all natural treatment. As research and development related to legalized marijuana continues to expand there is even more hope that hybrid strains of cannabis can be used to effectively treat anxiety while eliminating the risk of increasing it. The effectiveness as a treatment, the relative safety in terms of side effects, and the all natural therapy of cannabis are driving marijuana to the forefront as an anxiety treatment, which is why more and more people are turning to marijuana to treat their anxiety.
As you can see, the potential for using medical marijuana to treat anxiety is high. Marijuana works with receptors in the brain and can help reduce feelings of anxiety, eliminate the stress response associated with trigger situations, and promote an overall feeling of happiness and calm. With these benefits it is easy to see why people turn to medical marijuana as a treatment. Although there is some risk of marijuana causing feelings of anxiety, this can be minimized by carefully controlling the THC level or strain of cannabis being used for treatment.
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