Why Does Marijuana Relieve Anxiety in Some and Exacerbate It in Others?
When you consume caffeine, you’ll feel more awake. When you take the right pain killer, your pain fades. But when you smoke cannabis, your anxiety may disappear...or worsen.
This dichotomy of cannabis and anxiety is confusing. It’s unlike the experiences that most of us have had with pharmaceutical or recreational drugs. Rarely will the same drugs have opposite effects, particularly in the same person.
But many people familiar with marijuana have experienced their anxiety melt away when they used it, only to feel anxious and paranoid another time.
And then there are others who always experience one effect or the other. Some people swear that small doses of cannabis have cured their anxiety, while others have given up on cannabis due to the uncomfortable paranoia that they feel.
Fortunately, scientists have a basic understanding of why this happens. Once you know why you can mitigate the risk of experience cannabis-induced anxiety.
The Dual Impact of Cannabis on Anxiety
The complicated relationship between cannabis and anxiety is primarily thanks to three things: the variety of marijuana strains, the different types of anxiety, and the THC dose.
1. Marijuana Strains and Cannabis Compounds
Cannabis is a plant rich in a wide variety of phytonutrients (nutrients found in plants). With hundreds of different cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other nutrients, every strain of cannabis offers unique benefits for our health.
This is no better illustrated than by looking at the two primary cannabinoids found in cannabis: THC and CBD.
THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis, meaning that it is to thank for marijuana’s euphoric effects. Researchers have found that some people respond to high levels of THC with an increased heart rate and feelings of anxiety. However, THC can also relieve pain and instill euphoria in some.
CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive. Even though CBD will not get you high, it does exhibit a variety of benefits in humans. It may reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and lessen seizure frequency in epileptic patients.
Another of CBD’s effects? Early research suggests that it could help to lessen feelings of stress and anxiety. In fact, CBD may relieve some of the uncomfortable side effects of THC, including anxiety.
Some of the most popular cannabis products that you’ll find in dispensaries are made from CBD or THC extracted from cannabis—think edibles and vape pens. If you use a vape pen that is 1:1 THC to CBD, the experience will be noticeably different than one that is 100% THC or 100% CBD.
And when it comes to cannabis strains, there is even more variety. Not only are there different ratios of CBD and THC, but other cannabinoids and terpenes that may influence your health and anxiety.
2. Different Types of Anxiety
We’ve all experienced anxiety. Maybe you’ve been nervous about a test you’re about to take, or you narrowly avoided a car accident. These are examples of acute anxiety.
But anxiety conditions are a very different experience. Generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders provoke feelings of anxiety and stress in situations that wouldn’t typically result in these emotions.
The causes and experiences of acute and chronic anxiety are diverse. Because of this wide range of stress and anxiety, what helps one person’s symptoms could exacerbate them in someone else. Even the same person could experience different results depending upon the cause of their anxiety.
You are more likely to experience heightened anxiety if you have a large dose of THC-heavy cannabis. Too much THC is what causes the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety that people report.
So, how much is too much? The correct dose differs from one person to the next and even from one day to the next, so there is no singular dose that will result in anxious feelings.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Cannabis-Induced Anxiety
By taking the right steps, you can limit the chances of experiencing excess anxiety caused by marijuana.
Use a product that contains a high CBD: THC ratio. CBD is known to counteract THC’s side effects, including anxiety. Aim for a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio or higher if you find THC’s effects uncomfortable.
Find a product that works for you. Because every strain of marijuana is different, and every person’s biology is unique, what causes anxiety for one person may relieve it for another. Experiment to find the best cannabis products for you.
Start with a small dose. With any new medication, it is wise to start small and work your way up. Doing this will avoid unnecessary side effects.