Cannabis has been both hailed as an anxiolytic and demonized as an anxiety-inducing agent. But what does the science say? Although studies are still preliminary, it appears cannabis can both induce and reduce anxiety depending on numerous factors.
Anxiety disorders are serious mental health issues that affect over 40 million American adults every year and many more around the world. In recent years, cannabis has received a lot of attention as a possible treatment for mental health conditions, possibly offering many of these patients a safe, reliable treatment.
But can cannabis relieve anxiety? Well, it’s hard to tell. While some cannabinoids have proven to have clear anxiolytic effects, others seem to worsen anxiety or even induce anxiety/panic attacks.
Anxiety is a normal part of life and everyone is bound to deal with it at some point. Be it a job interview, an upcoming exam, or a big meeting at work, there are many different situations that can cause us to be anxious.
And, although it might not seem this way, anxiety can actually be a good thing. In nature, anxiety and fear are designed to help us make drastic decisions in moments when we (or someone close to us) are in danger.
But for some people, anxiety can be a constant, uncontrollable problem. People who struggle with chronic anxiety that interferes with their daily life are considered to have “anxiety disorders.”
These disorders are characterized by a range of symptoms that can be mental, emotional, behavioural, or physical. Symptoms include:
Anxiety disorders can have a crippling effect on a person’s life. For many people, the effects of anxiety have a very profound outcome on their mood and attitude. Anxiety can also affect a person’s ability to be productive or find the motivation to focus on their work, studies, or other commitments.
Anxiety disorders are also characterized by recurring “anxiety attacks.” During these attacks, patients will experience a strong onset of fear or worry together with multiple of the above symptoms (like shaking, sweating, tachycardia, etc). These attacks can be extremely debilitating, embarrassing, and hard to control.
Anxiety is typically controlled with anti-anxiety medications like Xanax or Niravam (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Valium (diazepam). Antidepressants like citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac) are also commonly used to manage anxiety disorders.
These medications, like other mental health medications, can cause a variety of side effects, including:
Cannabis has received a lot of attention as a possible treatment for a variety of mental conditions, including PTSD, depression, and more. Some patients also claim that cannabis can help them curb symptoms of anxiety or anxiety attacks.
Although the science behind these claims isn’t always clear, some cannabinoids, such as CBD, seem to have unique anti-anxiety effects.
In 2015, researchers from the New York University School of Medicine and Universidad Miguel Hernández and Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Alicante, Spain) reviewed the body of research exploring CBD’s role as a possible treatment for anxiety disorders.
The paper examined the results of a wide variety of tests exploring how CBD performed in reducing generalized and stress-induced anxiety, compulsive behaviour, and many other anxiety-related behaviours and symptoms.
This included over 30 studies on lab animals like rats and mice, as well as over 15 experimental and clinical human studies. The authors of the study concluded that both bodies of research strongly supported the claim that CBD works to reduce anxiety.
In humans, oral doses ranging from 300-600mg seem to reduce experimentally-induced anxiety. Some of these studies also suggested that CBD could help enhance fear extinction, which could help in the treatment of PTSD as well as enhance the effect of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
However, there is also plenty of evidence showing that cannabis can cause anxiety, too. Research suggests that THC, when administered in high doses, can cause anxiety or make it worse in patients. After all, it's not uncommon for some people to feel anxious or paranoid after using recreational cannabis.
A 2017 study published in Scientific Reports examined the relationship between THC and anxiety. The study used functional MRI scans and positron emission tomography to examine the effects of THC on the human brain while processing fearful stimuli.
The study focused on 14 male participants who underwent these scans after taking either an oral dose of THC or a placebo and completing a fear-inducing task. The researchers noted that, unlike the placebo, THC targeted CB1 receptors in the amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a key role in processing emotions like fear. Researchers therefore suggest that THC can enhance feelings of anxiety in some patients by over-stimulating CB1 receptors in the amygdala.
Other studies have also established a more long-term link between cannabis use and anxiety. A 2017 study by researchers from Indiana and Purdue Universities, Indiana, for example, looked into the possible anxiety-inducing effects of THC-rich cannabis.
The study examined both the acute and long-term behavioural effects of THC on adult and adolescent mice. The mice were given six injections of 10mg per kilo of bodyweight. Acute anxious behaviour was observed in all test mice, as were long-term behavioural changes (which were more pronounced in the adolescent mice).
Unfortunately, it is hard to come to concrete conclusions about cannabis and whether or not it can cause, reduce, or worsen anxiety.
So far, research on CBD is pretty clear, suggesting the compound has powerful anxiolytic effects that could be of use to patients who don’t respond well to regular therapy/medication or are worried about the side effects of medications like Valium, Xanax, etc.
The verdict on THC, however, is not so clear. For some, THC can help induce relaxation and relieve stress/worry, while for others, it can cause paranoia.
It’s important to realize that cannabis not only affects everyone differently, but can also cause different reactions in the same people. This comes down to miniscule variations in brain chemistry as well as changes to the cannabinoid/terpene concentrations from one strain of cannabis to another.
When it comes to understanding the relationship between cannabis and anxiety, it seems recent research has just begun scratching the surface. More clinical trials are needed to help us come to clearer conclusions about cannabis’ role in treating and/or causing anxiety.
Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind. Cannabis.info is strictly a news and information website. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.