For some patients, cannabis usage is an effective treatment option to control their anxiety symptoms. For others, it can actually increase their anxiety levels rather than relieve them. This article explains the physiological processes that are thought to help reduce anxiety. In addition, there are recommendations on the best strategies to control anxiety symptoms, using specific cannabinoids and terpenes.
Everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. It is accompanied by many physical as well as psychological symptoms; unease, distress, knot in your stomach, elevated cortisol levels, increased heart rate and sweating, just to name a few. Most of us are familiar with the fright or flight response; there is an imminent threat and you either choose to run away or prepare for a confrontation. Prolonged periods of anxiety can lead to illness, inflammation and chronic anxiety disorder which can impede your ability to enjoy life by decreasing your ability to function.
How Does Cannabis Relieve Anxiety Symptoms?
It is not fully understood exactly how cannabis reduces anxiety. The likehood is that several different physiological mechanisms act to provide the anxiolytic effects of cannabis. They include the following:
Cannabis Enhances Serotonin Signaling
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that controls many of our brain functioning including perception, cognition, sleep, appetite, pain, and mood. Neurotransmitters allow impulses to pass from one neuron to the next throughout our nervous system, known as signaling. The cannabinoids in cannabis can improve serotonin signaling, which may play a role in relieving anxiety.
Cannabis Can Stimulate Neurogenesis
Neurogenesis is the generation of neurons that occurs in all animals. Studies indicate that those suffering from anxiety show a dysfunction in the hippocampus, an organ in the brain that regulates emotions. Animal studies using mice have demonstrated that cannabis can improve neurogenesis in the hippocampus. There is a direct correlation between the anxiolytic effects of cannabis and the growth and changes seen in neurons in the hippocampus.
Cannabis Can Affect Brain Blood Flow
Researchers observed a change in the brain blood flow in patients suffering from social anxiety disorder, detected via neuroimaging. When these patients used CBD, there was a significant decrease in their own perception of anxiety.
Which Cannabinoids Are Considered To Be Anxiolytic?
There are 2 types of THC; delta-9 and delta-8. Delta-9 THC is the more well-known and widespread compound while delta-8 THC occurs in very small doses. They differ chemically by a only a small number of atomic bonds. For some patients, delta-9 THC actually increases their anxiety levels. For a small number, it can cause psychosis. The less potent delta-8, about two-thirds as strong as delta-9, has many of the same qualities as delta-9, but does not cause the same adverse effects. It is similar in that it binds to CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and provides relief from vomiting, nausea, pain and anxiety. It increases appetite, improves memory and has been shown to reduce the size of cancerous tumors. It also binds to CB2 receptors.
For practical purposes, delta-8 THC has been shown to control post-chemotherapy vomiting in children with cancer. A 1995 study was conducted by Dr. Raphael Mechoulem with Shaare Zedek Hospital, Bikur Holim Hospital ad Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Eight children from ages 3-13 with an assortment of hematologic cancers had been treated for 8 months with different drugs and chemotherapy. They were given delta-8 THC treatments two hours prior to the chemotherapy sessions and were continued every six hours for a total of 24 hours. The outcome was the complete prevention of vomiting and a significant decrease in nausea with very few side-effects. It is worthy to note that while adults typically experience a mild psychotropic effect with delta-8 THC, the children in this study did not.
The current problem with harvesting delta-8 THC is that it only naturally occurs at a level of 0.01% of the plant. However, western US states such as California, Oregon and Washington are developing delta-8 THC extracts which can be taken sublingually or with a vaporizer. Delta-8 and delta-9 THC both convert to delta-11 THC when eaten, so there is no point in developing edibles with delta-8 THC.
CBD and CBG have also been shown to reduce anxiety in some patients. Several terpenes such as limonene, linalool and myrcene have anti-anxiety properties as well.
Recommendations for Cannabis Usage To Relieve Anxiety
One way to avoid a delta-9 THC anxiety episode is to combine CBD with THC. CBD has been proven to counteract the psychotropic effects of anxiety caused by too large a dosage or a high THC strain.
Other suggestions for successfully treating anxiety with cannabis include the following:
- Try CBD by itself
- Start with a small dosage of cannabis
- Increase your dosage gradually
- Start with high-CBD, low-THC strains and slowly increase the amount of THC
- Use microdosing
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