How to Use Cannabis for Anxiety
You can use cannabis for anxiety by following these easy steps and tips.
Cannabis and anxiety is a topic very close to my heart. I’ve been managing my anxiety for three years with the help of cannabis, and I’ve written extensively on it. Cannabis hasn’t cured my anxiety, but it is an integral aspect of my anxiety-fighting tool kit, which I rely on every day. Between healthy habits, breathing exercises, and CBD oil I can keep my anxiety and panic attacks in check. At the time of writing, I haven’t had an anxiety attack in six months, and I attribute that in part to a healthy daily dose of CBD oil.
If you also have anxiety, medical cannabis is worth exploring for its anti-anxiety properties. Certain medical benefits of the plant are well-established, and when it comes to some of the compounds (like CBD) for anxiety-relief, the science is pretty robust. There is research on nervous lab rats, but there is also significant research on human participants. Based on cannabis’s safety-profile, it’s also an area where many people are already using it to treat their anxiety with or without direction from a medical professional.
Before you jump on the cannabis for anxiety bandwagon, it is essential to educate yourself on the compounds within the plant, the science behind it, and the basic how-to.
The Role of Cannabis in the Brain
The human body operates a system called the endocannabinoid system. If you’ve never heard of it before, it manages all sorts of crucial aspects of our physiology like pain management, inflammation, mood, and memory, to name a few. It’s a body-wide system of receptor sites and chemical communicators. If one area needs attention, the mind sends out transmissions to advise that area on how to resolve the problem.
When cannabis gets involved, the hundreds of compounds integrate into the endocannabinoid system. Some compounds, like THC, link up with specific receptors to form strong connections. Other compounds, like CBD, are receptor antagonists, reducing and inhibiting receptor activity. Often many compounds work together for a synergistic effect, called the Entourage Effect. It’s through this influence that cannabis can affect mood and reduce anxiety.
The Science Behind Cannabis for Anxiety
One of the most famous studies on using cannabis for anxiety explored how CBD affects people with social anxiety disorder. Brazilian researchers delivered varying levels of CBD (the non-psychoactive cannabinoid) or a placebo to a total of 57 male participants who have previously untreated social anxiety and then subjected them to a simulated public speech. They measured both visual signs of stress and physiological symptoms.
The results? 300 mg of CBD delivered before the speech drastically reduced the signs of social anxiety. Higher levels showed no effect. The participants in a self-analysis of stress also indicated they felt better with it than without.
Other studies, mostly performed on animal models of stress (for example forced swimming tests), strongly supports the use of CBD for the treatment of anxiety. Cannabidiol reduces anxiety, and compulsions. It also reduces the subconscious reaction to another’s expression of fear, which can trigger the onset of anxiety. It may help reduce the risk of long-term stress developing into a serious anxiety disorder. The list goes on.
Based on the current body of research, the results clearly link cannabis – especially CBD – to anti-anxiety benefits. Most studies also outline the bell-shaped curve of results based on dose. Lower or higher doses do not seem to reduce stress, but a medium-size dose is perfect.
Top 5 Strains for Anxiety
There is an interesting relationship between THC and CBD. The higher the levels of CBD, the less intense the high from THC. For folks like me, with a history of general anxiety and panic disorder, I struggle with high THC strains. Even small doses of THC tend to make me uncomfortable now. But that said, I know many people who also use cannabis for anxiety and have no issues with THC at all. There is a growing body of research exploring THC for mood disorders like depression, as experts have linked the cannabinoid to the experience of euphoria.
Once you understand your THC tolerance, you can find a strain which works for you. If you don’t know how well you tolerate THC, start with CBD-dominant strains. Slowly introduce strains with higher levels of THC to ensure your experiences stay positive. Whatever the case, you’ll want to find strains with at least a 1:1 ratio of CBD to reap the full anti-anxiety benefits. Here are a few of the top contenders from highest CBD to lowest, in descending order of CBD to THC.
- Charlotte’s Web: High CBD: Virtually no THC
- Ringo’s Gift: 24:1
- ACDC: 20:1
- Cannatonic: 5:1
- Sweet and Sour Diesel: 1:1
How to Use Cannabis for Anxiety
After you’ve taken the above list to the dispensary and purchased a few grams of a high CBD strain, it’s time to test it out. You may also have bought a vape pen, refillable cartridge, or tincture with high CBD ratios – they work too!
When using cannabis for anxiety for the first time, always use precise and controlled methods of ingestion. Everyone wants to jump on the edible bandwagon, but edibles are the most common cause of emergency room visits from over-ingestion of cannabis. Vape pens and tinctures deliver small doses, and it’s typically easy to measure out in small increments. Smoking a joint is also a favorite, but harder to maintain consistent delivery between doses.
Review the package for an indication on the dose. Some vape pens provide a rough idea of how much a single pull or puff consists of, although it varies between users. A standard vape pull usually hovers around 5 mg. Tinctures provide total cannabinoid content per bottle in milligrams, as well as total volume of tincture. You may need to do the math to determine how much tincture is equivalent to 5 mg of cannabinoid content.
Low and Slow:
This is the mantra issued by all medical practitioners and budtenders to newbie cannabis users. Always start low (5 mg or less of THC), and slowly increase. Most people recommend taking it first in the evening followed by a second dose in the morning. If after three days you haven’t noticed any positive (or negative) changes, you can increase the dose to 7.5 mg. Keep increasing until you feel the benefits without adverse effects.
You can follow this same protocol with straight CBD as well, although you may want to start with a 10 mg dose twice daily. There are no psychoactive effects from CBD, so it often takes a few days to feel the benefits.
Cannabis generally has a very favorable safety profile, but if you are already on anxiety medications, it may be wise to speak to a healthcare professional. This is especially true if you want to stop taking conventional pharmaceuticals. Stopping cold turkey can be dangerous. I was on a prescription, but it wasn’t a daily one. I still rely on my prescription in the rare chance I have a panic attack, but I also rely on CBD oil to reduce daily stress and keep me from spiralling in the first place.
Beating anxiety is mainly about practice. I’ve had to go to therapy to learn skills and understand root causes. I’ve had to make life changes like quitting jobs and taking up yoga. But to accomplish these goals, I had to be in the right mindset to do so. I genuinely believe that CBD helped me get into the more positive frame of mind to have the capacity to change my old habits and learn new ones.