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Cannabis for Anxiety: What the Science Says

When it comes to cannabis for anxiety, cannabis has something of a split reputation. Some people find that it helps melt stress away, while others feel that it only increases feelings of anxiety. In Pennsylvania, where anxiety is a qualifying condition for the state’s medical cannabis program, many patients have found themselves stuck trying to find the right products. Is there a way to determine which kinds of cannabis are best for helping manage anxiety? Here’s what the current research shows.

Cannabis for Anxiety: Understanding Cannabinoids

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To help us determine what type of cannabis might help—or inflame—anxiety, it’s necessary to be clear on the two major cannabinoids, THC and CBD. As we’ve written before, cannabinoids are a group of natural compounds found in the cannabis plant. Researchers have identified at least 113 of them! Along with terpenes—the fragrant oils that give cannabis and a host of other plants their distinctive flavors and aromas—cannabinoids are the most important “active ingredients” in the cannabis plant.

Why is this important? It’s because different strains contain different amounts of these two major cannabinoids. And it turns out whether you react positively or negatively to the psychoactivity of THC will have a great deal to do with how any particular type of cannabis will tend to either diminish or increase anxiety. Here’s what we know.

Cannabis for Anxiety: THC and Anxiety

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In general, THC is more apt to trigger anxiety than CBD. But because there are many types of anxiety, that statement comes with significant conditions and caveats.

For example, high doses of THC are sometimes associated with racing thoughts and an elevated heart rate. Moderate doses of THC may be an anxiolytic, or an anxiety reducer, because the euphoric sensations of THC psychoactivity tend to give us an overall mood and outlook boost.

Cannabis for Anxiety: CBD and Anxiety

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In the last few years, CBD has received a great deal of attention for a wide variety of purported effects, including as an anxiolytic. Although a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that many people do in fact get lasting relief from anxiety through CBD, there’s not a great deal of research backing this up. 

That said, more research is on the way, and what we know of is promising. In one test designed to simulate the anxiety of public speaking, a moderate dose of CBD proved effective at reducing anxiety. 

A Measured Approach

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Should you use cannabis to combat anxiety? Should you lean on high THC, high CBD, or a roughly equal ratio? Again, most experts caution that there is very little current research on which cannabinoid is better for relieving anxiety, or in fact if it’s a good idea to use cannabis for anxiety at all. Until there’s definitive proof, we have to recommend a cautious approach.

As with all cannabis products, we recommend you try a small amount of any given strain—the “go low and go slow” approach—and then pause to assess the results. Keeping a cannabis journal is an excellent way to track your usage and results.

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