Childhood can leave many with a deeply ingrained phobia – the fear of the dark.
But could cannabis help that, and other phobias? Potentially. Whether it’s a simple fear of the dark phobia or something more serious, many suffer from debilitating irrational fears. They rarely serve the adult self, yet continue to hold us back. Research shows that cannabis may be effective in helping treat phobias by inhibiting the ingrained fear response.
A Common Phobia – Fear of the Dark
With Halloween on the way, let’s talk about anxieties and fears. None of us are one hundred percent relaxed and comfortable all the time. Our many fears manifest in a variety of ways, some of them quite bizarre.
Those with pogonophobia have an irrational fear of beards. While nomophobics fear not having access to a cell phone. And then there’s the truly tragic condition of cannaphobia — the irrational fear of cannabis!
But while therapy is a treatment option for severe phobias, promising science has emerged regarding how cannabis may be effective in treating any phobia that isn’t cannaphobia!
How Do Phobias Form?
As the fear of the dark phobia suggests, most phobias tend to start in early childhood. They can form in several ways, from stressful experiences to frightening events or the unconscious acquisition of an existing phobia from a parent.
Like a software bug of sorts, the brain stores and recalls the memories of these stressful events once triggered in later life. This is often inappropriate and doesn’t serve the now-adult in their day-to-day lives. It causes the body to react in the same way each time, with the driving force being irrational fear.
How Can Cannabis Treat a Phobia?
Therapy can be an effective treatment for phobias but the latest science suggest that cannabis can also help.
In the therapy approach, psychologists and psychiatrists target the reduction of symptoms related to fear and anxiety. People often learn to both manage and become present with their particular phobia.
When it comes to using cannabis to treat phobias, the science becomes very interesting. And what’s more, different compounds within the plant act in different ways to bring about improvements. Research suggests both THC and CBD can be useful, and what’s more, they both work in very different ways.
How THC in Cannabis Helps Treat Phobias
A University of Michigan study, published in Neuropharmacology (2013), investigated the use of cannabinoids to facilitate fear extinction in humans. Scientists were eager to carry out the study because of promising results from exposure-based therapy treatments. They suggested that “a significant number of patients fail to maintain their gains, partly attributed to the fact that this inhibitory learning and its maintenance is temporary and conditioned fear responses can return.”
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, patients had their fear quantified via a skin conductance response (SCR) recording before commencing. Synthetic THC was then administered to one of the control groups. Twenty-four hours later, a lower SCR was then recorded in the same patients. Researchers were able to determine that THC “prevented the recovery of fear” within patients.
How CBD in Cannabis Helps Treat Phobias
CBD was first used to treat fear conditioning in rats. According to that 2006 study, published in Behavioural Brain Research, 10mg injections of CBD were effective at inhibiting freezing tendencies in rats who were exposed to fear conditioning prior to the study. The rats demonstrated less fear of the same stimulus under identical conditions, after the administration of CBD.
When it comes to human studies, these are equally promising. A study, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology (2016), demonstrated that CBD provides both acute and long-lasting reduction of fear memory. In the study, patients received CBD injections (10 mg/kg) and, as a result, exhibited “reduced contextual fear memory expression both acutely during the extinction session as well as later at a fear retention test.”
Researchers noted that CBD “had bidirectional effects on the extinction of contextual fear conditioning, depending on the nature of the initial fear conditioning.” The study suggests that CBD acutely inhibits fear expression. It also enhanced extinction that extended to long-lasting reductions in fear.
The scientists concluded that their observations “provide further support for the potential translational use of CBD in conditions, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and specific phobias.”
Could Cannabis Someday Help Treat PTSD?
When our fear isn’t irrational, but rather a reaction to an obvious danger in life, we call it PTSD. It is common in those returning from combat zones, as well as those raped or abused as children. It can be a debilitating condition and just like a phobia, it has its roots in fear.
Cannabis is currently undergoing trials for use in the therapeutic treatment of PTSD. At the same time, the National Center for PTSD estimates that seven to eight percent of the U.S. population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. With such positivity surrounding the latest trials, we won’t have long to wait to know if cannabis is more effective than pharmaceuticals and their notorious side effects in treating PTSD.
Toning Down Fear and Phobia Symptoms
Like all progress, sometimes you just have to take small steps in facing the fears that hold you back. While cannabis is no magic pill, the evidence does suggest that responsible use will suppress an existing out of control fear response. Coupled with a calming body connection, that may help individuals take the next step toward freedom from your symptoms. Lastly, surveys show that using cannabis alongside the very useful cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) increases the likelihood that patients can conquer fear. So the future looks brighter and less scary for those crippled by phobias and PTSD.