Disclaimer: This is not meant to be taken as medical advice and was not written by a doctor. Please talk to your healthcare provider about anything related to your health.
Imagine that you are standing in front of a whole auditorium of strangers. All eyes on you. It’s quiet except when someone clears their throat or coughs. A bead of sweat is making its way down the back of your neck. Your heart is beating so loud you can hear it in your ears. Your hands tremble and you are afraid that when you speak, nothing will come out by gasps of air.
That is kind of what a panic attack feels like. Except, of course, a panic disorder is not something you can just turn off and is incredibly intense for the person experiencing the attack. It hides, like a monster under the bed of your mind, always waiting to pounce. Symptoms of an anxiety disorders vary from patient to patient, but the worst symptoms are usually feelings of terror or impending doom with little or no warning that may yield physical side effects as well. Panic and anxiety can be induced by everything from stress to new situations or family activities or nothing identifiable at all.
The medications used to treat panic and anxiety disorders such as trycyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) have side effects that range from dry mouth to brain fog and fatigue. They can also have much more serious symptoms like thoughts of suicide or increased anxiety. Others include habit forming or require blood monitoring and can cause withdrawal symptoms if suddenly stopped.
Cannabis as an Alternative Medication for Anxiety
There is good news because research has shown that medical cannabis may be a promising treatment for anxiety disorders. Even though more research is necessary, cannabis has been used for centuries by native populations around the world to promote relaxation and reduce stress. The Emperor Shen Neng, for instance, is recorded as having used it as a medicine during his reign in 2737 BCE. Later, during the 130-200 CE, Pliny the Younger wrote about the pain relieving effects of cannabis.
In fact, history is so replete with references to cannabis (dating back over ten thousand years) that no less than Carl Sagan himself suggested in 1977 that that hemp may have been one of the first crops planted by humans and may have played a vital role in the development of civilization itself.
How does Cannabis Relieve Anxiety?
While most readers are probably familiar with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) as an active ingredient that helps ease the symptoms of nausea in chemotherapy patients, many may not have heard of its cousin, CBD (Cannabidiol). CBD is one of 85 naturally occurring chemical compounds found in marijuana. Unlike THC, it does not cause a feeling of euphoria or being high.
It can however, dramatically reduce anxiety as well as being an effective treatment for inflammation and pain in some patients. Researchers have determined that cannabis can aid in regulating anxiety by binding to specific receptor sites within the amygdala (an area of the brain that regulates fear and anxiety, among other things).
Much of the effect depends on the exact ratio of CBD and other compounds. And, since cannabis has traditionally been grown in order to raise THC levels, certain strains are more effective than others.
It should also be mentioned that while CBD does reduce anxiety, THC can increase it when larger (or more potent strains) doses are consumed. This accounts for the feelings of paranoia that some people experience when they smoke or use cannabis on a regular basis. The upshot of which is that cannabis can induce or lower anxiety, depending on the dose, the frequency and the specific strain being utilized. As medical marijuana grows in acceptance, more research will provide an ever-widening understanding of the true benefits of this amazing plant.