What is the impact of cannabis on anxiety, and how can it help alleviate the symptoms?
With cannabis becoming legal in many states across America, people are beginning to use it as an aid in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
Across the internet, you’ll read varying reports discussing how cannabis negatively impacts our mental health, specifically long term. However, for those of us already living through various mental illness, it can actually help alleviate some of the more severe symptoms.
Currently, the research is sparse, however, several studies have emerged detailing how the relaxing properties of cannabis can be helpful to anyone suffering from GAD, and it’s accompanying disorders.
The Impact of Anxiety Disorders;
Anxiety can be a life-altering condition. Worse still, it can freely co-exist with other debilitating mental health issues such as depression and chronic stress. GAD can cause many issues within the body both mentally and physically including (Anxiety UK, 2019);
- Palpitations or a racing heartbeat.
- Shortness of breath.
- Tightness of the chest.
- Dry mouth.
- A ‘fluttering’ stomach, or ‘butterflies’.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Poor gut health; Frequent bouts of diarrhea and/or constipation.
- Pins and needles in the feet and hands.
- A constant feeling of dread, as if something catastrophic is going to happen.
- Detachment or dissociation.
A study found that 14.6% of reported mental illness in Northern Ireland were labeled as anxiety, or a similar extension (Mental Health in Northern Ireland; Fundamental Facts 2016). This was by far the biggest percentage, with other varying mental illnesses sitting at between 3 and 9%. From these results it’s clear to see that the majority of the population either suffer from or have suffered from anxiety. These statistics only serve to highlight this emerging issue.
GAD isn’t limited to the UK and Ireland. A worldwide study conducted by Ethers.A (1997) found that more than 1 in 10 people are likely to be impacted by anxiety disorders at least once in their lives.
The reasons for the development of anxiety are plentiful. The environmental stressors, pressure, brain chemistry, genetics; You name it, and anxiety can bloom from it.
What is the impact of cannabis on anxiety?
I should note that just like prescribed medication, cannabis will affect different people in different ways, and my experiences may not reflect yours. Please keep this in mind throughout the remainder of this post.
CBD has become widely accepted as helping those suffering from both chronic pain and mental health disorders. After years of relying on prescribed medications and dealing with their side effects, I finally decided to join the CBD trend in early 2019. At the time I was employed within a company that had a zero-tolerance approach to any drugs and the use of cannabis was outside my remit, so I had no choice but to continue with the CBD.
I was feeling some mild benefits, but nothing to shout about. Yes, I felt slightly more relaxed but my mind, and often heart, was still racing with things I didn’t really need to be worrying about. Suffering from Anorexia Nervosa this often meant I was thinking about food, weight, and fear of gaining it, and since food is something we can’t escape, I was constantly on edge.
During the final year of university I was a seasoned smoker, needing it to focus or relax depending on the strain. But once I joined the aforementioned company I had to give it all up. The years that followed were, for lack of a better term, difficult. I was stressed to the point that my body began to shut down in May 2018, I was breaking out in hives, chronically exhausted with no ability to sleep more than a few hours a night and, ultimately, working myself into the ground.
The decision to resign was purely down to health reasons and grief which was running through my family like a plague. When my partner mentioned going back to cannabis as a way to alleviate my pain, I was so on board I was almost steering the ship. The difference in my anxiety levels was instantaneous.
All of a sudden I was more relaxed and at peace than I had been in a long time. I was able to laugh, really truly laugh! Most of all, I was able to eat.
My weight and the ability to override the anxious anorexic in my mind had been a constant battle for the last 10 years of my life. But for the last 6 months, it was a battle I’d often lost, the fear of every calorie driving me to meltdown.
Cannabis not only helped my aching muscles relax (a common side effect of anorexia and/or anxiety), it helped me take back control over my mind by slowing my thoughts down just enough to pick out and scold the voice telling me how awful I was that I ate a piece of chocolate.
Although the CBD did help to a certain degree, it didn’t have the same pleasant ‘shut down‘ that cannabis had.
How exactly cannabis interacts with the brain to actively lower anxiety levels isn’t very well known. The studies are sparse, however, a piece from The National Cancer Institute (2019) has defined delta-8 THC as possessing anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties similar to that of medication commonly used for the disorder.
Is Cannabis the way forward for anxiety sufferers?
I’m sure I would have many doctors disagreeing with me. I may even have some sitting on the fence. But personally speaking cannabis has done what years of medication, therapy and attempted mindfulness couldn’t. It managed to slow down my neurotic brain enough to even contemplate meditation, to go about my daily life without worrying about what I’ve eaten or the ‘what if’ of everything. My palpitations have reduced to a maximum of three episodes a week and my stomach no longer feels like it’s constantly filled with the heaviness of fear.
As previously mentioned, we are all individuals and therefore our experiences will be unique in regards to the use of cannabis. This is specifically true in regards to the different strains available, with some helping to reduce the anxiety and others elevating it.
Finally, I am not a medical professional, nor am I an expert in the use of cannabis. These are simply my own experiences and thoughts on cannabis in the treatment of anxiety.
- Anxiety UK. (2019). Frequently Asked Questions – Anxiety UK. [online] Available at: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/anxiety-information/frequently-asked-questions/ [Accessed 12 Jun. 2019].
- Mental Health in Northern Ireland; Fundamental Facts 2016. (2019). 1st ed. [ebook] Belfast: Mental Health Foundation. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/file/1610/download?token=vOtlEP36 [Accessed 12 Jun. 2019].
- Ehlers, A. ‘Anxiety disorders: Challenging negative thinking.’ Quoted in the Wellcome Trust Reveiws, 1997.
- National Cancer Institute. (2019). NCI Drug Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-drug/def/delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].