Cannabis had been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, but after it was put in time-out for the greater part of the 20th century —when it was deemed illegal in the whole world —many countries are now starting to review the legislation surrounding cannabis and the conversation about the medicinal uses of the plant is starting to be reopened.
Among other medicinal uses for the plant, there is research that shows that certain components of cannabis can also be effective in treating anxiety disorders. These are a group of mental health conditions that can cause intense feelings of fear, intrusive thoughts, worry and nervousness, and that can have episodes of intensely manifested anxiety with symptoms such as trembling hands or body, sweating or chills, nausea, difficulty breathing and increased heart rate. These disorders can significantly impact an individual’s daily life, leading to difficulties sleeping, working and especially with social interactions, and may require medication and therapy to manage effectively.
Traditional medicine for anxiety disorders
Common treatments for these types of disorders include benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that work by enhancing the effects of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that can regulate mood. The issue with these traditional medications is that while they can be effective in some cases, they often come with unwanted side effects and may not work for everyone. A pill or a dosage that works perfectly for a certain individual may not work for another, or the side effects can be more intense for certain people, with symptoms that lead from drowsiness, loss of creativity and decreased libido or sexual desire, to digestion problems or nausea and headaches.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex system in our body that consists of receptors, endocannabinoids produced by our cells, and enzymes that break down these endocannabinoids. Our ECS plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes, like sleep, appetite, pain, and also mood and anxiety.
Cannabis in our brain
Cannabis contains numerous cannabinoids and other active compounds that can affect the brain and body. The two most well-known cannabinoids in cannabis are THC and CBD. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CBD is non-psychoactive and has been shown to have therapeutic properties. But there is so much more to these two compounds. These two cannabinoids can interact with our ECS, linking to receptors found in our nervous system and our skin, and it has been shown that they can regulate the response of our neurons to different types of signals and by doing that they can modulate anxiety and fear responses.
Studies have shown that CBD may be effective in reducing anxiety in individuals, even those with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CBD may work by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain, which play a role in regulating mood and anxiety.
However, the use of cannabis for anxiety disorders is not as straightforward as taking a pill. The effectiveness of cannabis for anxiety disorders depends on several factors, including the strain of cannabis, the method of consumption, and individual differences in response.
Different Strains of Cannabis
Cannabis strains can vary significantly in their composition and percentages of THC and CBD, and this can affect the way that cannabis affects anxiety. Strains that are high in THC may not be ideal to deal with anxiety because a large dose of THC in a person’s brain can actually increase anxiety and cause paranoia, depending on the individual. On the other hand, strains high in CBD and low in THC may have better anti-anxiety effects.
Method of Consumption
The method of cannabis consumption can also affect its effects on anxiety. Smoking or vaping cannabis may produce a quicker onset of effects, perhaps useful when a patient is about to have an anxiety episode or is already having one, but the effects may not last as long as other methods such as edibles. Edibles may produce a longer-lasting effect and could prove more useful for a regulated mood throughout the day, but can be more difficult to dose accurately.
Individual Differences in Response
Individual differences in response to cannabis can also affect its effectiveness for anxiety disorders. Some individuals may be more sensitive to the psychoactive effects of THC and may experience increased anxiety as a result, or just feel a lack of coordination and control to perform their everyday activities. On the other hand, some individuals may not experience any significant effects from cannabis at all, for genetic reasons or because their brain receptors have gotten used to the cannabinoids from extended or periodical use.
Potential Side Effects
While cannabis shows promise as a treatment for anxiety disorders, it is essential to consider potential side effects and individual variations in response. Some common side effects associated with cannabis use include dry mouth, dizziness, impaired coordination, and cognitive changes. And if the method of consumption is through smoking, it could have an impact on the person’s throat and lungs in the long term. Additionally, the psychoactive effects of THC can vary among individuals and should be taken into account when using cannabis for anxiety management.
While more research is needed to fully understand the potential of cannabis in treating anxiety disorders, the existing evidence is promising. However, it is important to consider individual differences in response and potential side effects when using cannabis for anxiety management. As with any treatment for anxiety disorders, it is recommended that individuals consult with their healthcare professionals to determine the best course of action, and always use cannabis products that are verified, properly labeled and of the best possible quality. Thankfully, those of us who live in Barcelona —and thanks to the decriminalized legislation for marijuana in Spain —we can get hands on first quality cannabis products and make sure they come from government approved providers. All we have to do is apply for an invitation and sign up for a Barcelona dispensary or weed club. Once we are accepted, we will have access to a diverse menu of cannabis products, a private space where we can consume them in a social environment, and to trained, knowledgeable staff that can advise on the best practices of marijuana consumption.