Does Weed Hurt or Help Anxiety? A Closer Look
Have you ever smoked a joint with friends only to retreat into a pit of anxiety and negative headspace? We’ve all been there. Sometimes you get too high, and other times the feeling of being high in general sends the body into nervous stress mode.
August 26, 2020
We all know someone who says they can’t smoke weed because it makes their anxiety worse. Yet, many of us know people who use cannabis to combat their anxiety. How can something have so many different responses? And what is the truth?
Like most things cannabis, it’s difficult to conduct thorough research because of its federally-illegal status. Sure, we can sell cannabis at our Washington dispensary locations, but that’s because it is legal on a state level. When it comes to federal law, cannabis is still very much illegal. Thus, it’s not easy to research, even when it comes to important topics like potential medical uses.
However, anxiety is a topic that has been connected to cannabis for a long time. We do have some research to turn to that may explain how cannabis affects anxiety. We also have lots of anecdotal evidence from users who claim it helps or hurts them. However, we can’t use those stories as definitive truth. But they do help to paint a bigger overall picture, one where cannabis helps many people with anxiety and hurts many others.
So what gives? Let’s take a closer look:
Not all cannabis is the same
Buckle up, because we’re about to go for a ride with this topic. Let’s start by clarifying an important piece of information here: not all cannabis is the same.
There’s CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis that is used for therapeutic purposes. Many people find CBD helps their anxiety, and there is some preliminary evidence to back this up. There is a clear distinction here, and that is the fact that CBD is not intoxicating, which prevents much of the panic that may set in when someone gets high.
When talking about how cannabis helps or hurts anxiety, we’re talking about regular cannabis with THC. And as many weed enthusiasts know, talk about “regular cannabis” is very broad. There are so many strains out there and some have stimulating properties. This can lead to increased anxiety. On the other hand, some have intense sedative effects that can help users relax.
And then there are terpenes. Even if you choose to use an indica over a sativa, you may find various effects from strain to strain. This is due to the terpene profile among other factors. Different terpenes (organic compounds that contribute to the different tastes and smells of cannabis) can cause various effects. It’s why so many different strains have such widely different effects.
See Related: How to Read Cannabis Product Labels
We all have heard of the stoner who says “you just haven’t found the right strain” in response to others saying they can’t use cannabis. And while some may roll their eyes, there may be some truth to this statement. There are so many different strains of cannabis with different effects. For some – not everyone – finding the right strain can make a world of difference.
Now that we’ve clarified the many factors that can contribute to increased or decreased anxiety with weed, let’s look at more evidence.
Evidence that cannabis can help anxiety
As we’ve stated before, large studies about marijuana’s medical potential have been hard to come by. We do have some regarding anxiety, though. Still, we have a lot more anecdotal evidence. And while we can’t take someone’s personal story as definitive proof (many factors may come into play with their experience), we can see a pattern of users getting relief from cannabis. That’s not something to ignore.
A 2017 survey of U.S. adults found that 81% of participants believe marijuana has at least one benefit. Among this group, 47% believe marijuana is beneficial for managing anxiety, stress, and depression. That is compelling anecdotal evidence that cannabis has some role in helping anxiety.
In a HealthLine article, a licensed counselor from Olympia, Washington discussed the use of cannabis for anxiety. She noted that many of her clients use THC, CBD, or both, to help their anxiety. The counselor stated that her clients report success using cannabis to improve social anxiety, agoraphobia, PTSD, panic disorder, and more.
One study found that cannabis can provide short-term relief for anxiety. The study found that cannabis significantly reduced depression, stress, and anxiety in self-reports. Researchers also found that women noticed a higher reduction in anxiety than men.
They found that users perceived up to a 50% reduction in depression and 58% reduction in anxiety and stress. It only took two puffs to reduce depression and anxiety, and up to 10 puffs to remedy high stress. Note: the researchers found that baseline symptoms improved with cannabis use, but tended to get exacerbated over time.
Additionally, a 2020 study found that the brain produces a molecule that activates the same receptors as marijuana. They discovered that this molecule is protective against stress and reduces anxiety-causing connections. Therefore, marijuana use may be beneficial against anxiety.
Evidence that cannabis hurts anxiety
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that cannabis increases anxiety. You may have even experienced it yourself, or heard it from a friend.
One scientific review found that high levels of THC are associated with increased anxiety. This particularly comes from increased heart rate and racing thoughts.
The study we referred to earlier also offers evidence that cannabis may hurt anxiety. Specifically, it may cause more harm in the long-run, according to the researchers. They suggest that prolonged marijuana use may contribute to increased depression over time.
Other studies have suggested that high doses of THC can contribute to increased panic, anxiety, and psychosis.
As you can see, the issue is not black and white. It’s worth noting that these studies tend to deal with prolonged use or large amounts. Of course, these are important areas to look at, but may not always translate with your experience, especially if you’re an occasional user.
The bottom line
Does cannabis help or hurt anxiety? The answer is not as easy as a yes or no. It comes down to personal preference and experience.
Until we have more definitive research into cannabis in general, we can’t give a solid “yes, cannabis helps anxiety” or “no, cannabis does not help anxiety” answer. The reason is simply because we don’t have enough information to back up this claim.
However, we have loads of anecdotal evidence. If it helps you, we are in no place to tell you it doesn’t. And if cannabis doesn’t help your anxiety, that’s okay too. Everyone’s experience is different.
It’s worth noting that you may want to experiment with different products if you’re interested in trying cannabis for anxiety. For starters, if you have a tough time getting high in general, you may want to consider trying CBD to improve anxiety without intoxicating effects. Or you could reach for a balanced 1:1 CBD/THC blend for more therapeutic effects.
You can also try your luck at different strains and types of cannabis. Some people can only smoke indicas and will not use sativas, or vice versa. Others can medicate with any type of weed. It comes down to your own body.
Feel free to stop by our Bellingham pot shop, Spokane dispensary, or other Washington dispensary location if you want to try a cannabis product for anxiety. We don’t carry anything that claims to “cure” any ailment, but our budtenders have plenty of experience hearing what has worked for others and can help guide you along the way. When it comes down to it though, it’s going to be a game of trial and error to see what works best for your body.
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