THC Kills Fear and CBD Helps You Forget It - RxLeaf

THC Kills Fear and CBD Helps You Forget It

Christine Kielhorn PHD

Using cannabis in combination with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy increases the likelihood that extinction therapy can successfully conquer fear.

Agoraphobia is an anxiety and social disorder that results in panic and fear when going out alone in public. In addition, the memory of past panic attacks induced by agoraphobia contributes to anticipatory anxiety of future activities and outings. This results in avoiding situations or places where panic attacks have occurred, and in very severe cases, patients may be essentially homebound.

Man with Agoraphobia hiding behind curtains

Treatment includes both medication and cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT). However, many antidepressants (or other prescribed medications) have undesirable side effects. Many surveys have found that those with anxiety disorders use cannabis at much higher rates than those without, suggesting that many patients turn to cannabis as a means to better manage their symptoms without suffering unwanted side effects.

Woman with Agoraphobia

While there are no completed clinical studies for the effectiveness of cannabis on agoraphobia specifically, there is much research on using cannabis to treat anxiety and panic disorders in general.

Cannabidiol (CBD), the second-most prevalent phytocannabinoid found in Cannabis sativa, has demonstrated its ability to combat anxiety in both animal and human clinical studies. CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety in contrived situations, like public speaking tests, as well as in animal models of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

CBD is thought to work on the same receptor in the brain that is targeted by other common anti-anxiety medications, the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor. This receptor participates in the brain’s response to stress and anxiety, and CBD improves its activity.

Man sitting and stressed

Interestingly, the ability of CBD to dampen the brain’s formation and maintenance of fear-based memories, or extinction, could also help to reduce the fear associated with agoraphobia. Studies performed in both animals and humans have found that both CBD and THC help with extinction of fear memories, especially when combined with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Man paddling in a cardboard box away from sharks nightmare

THC appears to impair the brain’s ability to recall the memory or to maintain it. CBD appears to assist with the consolidation, or commitment to long-term memory, of the extinction therapy. Using cannabinoids during CBT also help to maintain the effect of the extinction therapy longer; sometimes the fearful memories return spontaneously with CBT alone, but CBD or THC are able to prolong the period of fear extinction. It is therefore reasonable to assume that this combination could also help those suffering from agoraphobia to overcome some of their avoidance behaviors.

Child Covering their face in fear against black background

However, it is important to note that THC, the most common cannabinoid in cannabis and the one that produces the psychoactive effects, could actually promote agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders, especially when consumed in large amounts or on a regular basis. Several studies have actually linked the regular use (or abuse) of cannabis with the development of panic attacks and anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia.

Cannabis, especially CBD-rich strains or CBD alone, could be effective in the management and treatment of agoraphobia. When used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, cannabis can help to reduce fear and the recall of fearful memories. It can also help to calm the anxiety that accompanies agoraphobia.

Christine Kielhorn
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