Anxiety and marijuana have a complicated relationship, but different types of cannabis may play a role.
Many people who use marijuana say that it helps relieve anxiety. On the other hand, there are just as many who report feeling more anxious after using marijuana. Although the exact details remain a mystery, a possible explanation may lie in the specific chemical make-up of cannabis.
As most marijuana users are aware, not all cannabis is the same. There are a wide range of strains available, and many are believed to have unique effects on their user.
What makes strains unique from one another is their active ingredients, also known as cannabinoids. Although clinical research is lacking, knowing the differences between strains and how they affect anxiety can be helpful.
THC vs. CBD
The two most common chemicals in cannabis are THC and CBD. Although most strains contain both compounds, levels of THC and CBD tend to vary from strain to strain. Interestingly, research shows that THC and CBD can have opposite effects on anxiety.
THC is responsible for the marijuana high and is also strongly linked to feelings of paranoia, especially when taken in high doses. This is because THC activates an area of the brain responsible for fear — the amygdala.
CBD, on the other hand, is believed to counteract the mind-altering effects of THC. What’s more, studies have shown that when taken on its own CBD can lower anxiety in both healthy and anxiety-prone individuals.
Types of Cannabis
The reason why marijuana is often associated with anxiety may be because most plants are bred to be rich in THC. The way CBD and THC are produced within the plant causes strains with high THC to have less CBD (and vice versa).
High CBD strains have only recently become popular, due in part to growing awareness of the compound’s medical effects. As a result, there’s a strong chance that any marijuana you obtain will have more THC than CBD.
Other components in cannabis may also contribute to its effect on anxiety. Besides THC and CBD, cannabis contains over 60 different cannabinoids along with a variety of aromatic compounds known as terpenes.
Certain terpenes in cannabis have been found to possess anti-anxiety properties. Still, most of these chemicals are only present in trace amounts and little is known about their overall impact on marijuana users.
Overcoming anxiety from cannabis could be as simple as reducing the amount of THC that you ingest. In fact, some studies suggest that THC at low doses can have an anti-anxiety effect.
Research conducted in animals shows that THC begins to raise anxiety levels only after a certain threshold is passed. Although it’s hard to predict what your threshold might be, people who use cannabis frequently tend to have a higher threshold. This is because of the desensitization to marijuana, or tolerance, that develops.
For those specifically looking to treat anxiety disorders with cannabis, the best bet may be to find strains with high CBD content. A breakdown of a strain’s THC and CBD content is often provided where the sale of cannabis is regulated.