Can Cannabis Treat Anxiety? Why CBD and THC Might Help

Are you anxious? Maybe you’re feeling worried about a problem at work. Maybe you have butterflies in your stomach while preparing for a presentation. Maybe you get nervous in a large crowd. Anxiety can happen to anyone at any time – including both adults and children. Everyone experiences anxiety, but for some it could be intense.

For these people the feelings of anxiety are more than just passing worries or a stressful day at work. It might go away in a short time but sometimes your anxiety can last for many days, weeks, months, or even years. If it’s ignored, it can worsen over time, sometimes becoming so severe that it begins to interfere with your daily life.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but the body generally reacts in specific ways that can help with identifying whether you are experiencing anxiety.

Here are a few common symptoms to look out for:

  • nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
  • feelings of danger, panic, or dread
  • rapid heart rate
  • rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
  • increased or heavy sweating
  • trembling or muscle twitching
  • weakness and lethargy
  • difficulty focusing or thinking clearly about anything other than the thing you’re worried about
  • insomnia
  • digestive or gastrointestinal problems, such as gas, constipation, or diarrhea
  • a strong desire to avoid the things that trigger your anxiety
  • obsessions about certain ideas, a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • performing certain behaviors over and over again
  • anxiety surrounding a particular life event or experience that has occurred in the past, especially indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

During an anxious moment, your body is on high alert, looking for surrounding dangers and preparing for a fight or flight response. So where does the infamous cannabinoids, THC and CBD come in? Continue reading, as we explore what these cannabinoids are and how they can help with anxiety.

Are Women More Susceptible to Anxiety than Men?

Most studies say yes, because of the differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuation between men and women. The reproductive events that women experience throughout life are associated with hormonal changes – which can lead to mood changes and depression. The changes in estrogen and progesterone levels during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause have all been linked in causing anxiety. Especially during pregnancy, the surge in estrogen and progesterone can increase the likelihood for obsessive compulsive disorder – symptoms including repetitive thoughts, impulses and obsessions that can interfere with daily routines.

Aside from hormonal differences between men and women, the experiences and reactions to events in life are perceived differently as well. Women are more prone to stress and these stressful events are often handled differently than their counterpart – men.  For example, women are more likely to ruminate about them, while men engage more in active, problem-focused coping strategies.

Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabinol – a.k.a CBD and THC

There are over 480 different compounds naturally found in plants and 66 of them are considered cannabinoids in Cannabis plants. Among the 66, the cannabinoids are categorized into different groups based on the level of psychoactive properties.

In short…

The very infamous cannabinoid called Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, has long been recognized as the main psychoactive ingredient. THC is a cannabinoid that causes people who use cannabis to feel high.

Cannabidiol (CBD), another phytocannabinoid constituent of Cannabis sativa without the psychoactive effects, has mostly been used to treat anxiety and pain.

Cannabidiol or CBD is one of the few cannabinoids that are highly abundant in cannabis plants.

Potential Benefits of CBD for Anxiety

A 2018 survey published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research stated that 62 percent of cannabidiol users – that were reported – used CBD to treat pain, anxiety and depression. Interestingly, these were the top three conditions.

However, most of the evidence showing benefits of CBD on anxiety are all based on animal studies and laboratory experiments. In the journal Neurotherapeutics, a report published in 2015 showed the analysis of preliminary research of CBD oil and anxiety disorder. Scientists claimed that CBD oil shows promise in treating conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has claimed that CBD has shown to reduce stress in rats. The rats showed low behavioural signs of anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and physiological symptoms such as increased heart rate were vastly improved. Although research on effects of CBD in humans is limited so far, the study on rats shows promise for the future.

The Others

Other forms of Anxiety include social anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia and panic disorder. Both anecdotal experiences and many animal studies have shown that CBD may also benefit in relieving the symptoms associated with these conditions mentioned above.

A 2011 study explored the effects of CBD on people with SAD. 400 milligrams (mg) of CBD (or a placebo as control) was given to the participants. Overall reduced anxiety levels were observed in participants who took CBD compared to the control group.

Recent studies have shown the effects of CBD on people experiencing PTSD symptoms. Some common PTSD symptoms include nightmares and replaying negative memories. Preclinical studies in different rodent behavioral models have shown that CBD can both facilitate the extinction of aversive memories and block their reconsolidation, possibly through potentiating of the endocannabinoid system.

Potential Benefits of delta9-THC for Anxiety

As we know, delta9-THC (also known as THC) is different from CBD in that it gives you the “high” feeling as opposed to relaxation. One study has shown however, that THC may appear to reduce anxiety at lower doses, and lower doses only.

In higher doses, THC does increase anxiety. The study involved participants being exposed to a psychosocial stress task. At a low dose of THC (7.5mg), the duration of negative emotional responses (e.g. how threatening and challenging) of the participants to the task was reduced. On the contrary, at a higher dose of THC – as high as 12.5mg – there was a significant increase in anxiety, negative mood before and during the psychosocial task.

Whether THC has direct benefits for anxiety is still to be determined as further research is required.

In this article we particularly focused on delta9-THC, but other THC related cannabinoids like THCV, THCA and delta8-THC have all been linked to relieving pain, anxiety and depression.

Does CBD help with Anxiety in Women?

Clinical trials and efficacy studies of CBD for anxiety and depression are ongoing. One study showed that CBD reduced social anxiety while another study showed patients had significantly reduced anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort from public speaking, following CBD treatment.

A 2015 review summarized that an overall reduction in anxiety was found with CBD, including in patients with generalized anxiety, panic disorders, PTSD, OCD and social anxiety.

Conclusion

Preclinical evidence convincingly demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviours relevant to multiple disorders, including PTSD, GAD, PD, OCD, and SAD.

Human experimental findings support preclinical findings, and also suggest minimal sedative effects, and an excellent safety profile. THC may be a psychoactive cannabinoid, but at low doses, it has also shown to reduce anxiety.

Current preclinical and human findings mostly involve acute CBD and THC dosing in healthy subjects, so further studies are required to establish whether chronic dosing of either of the cannabinoids have similar effects in relevant clinical populations.

Do you use CBD or THC to help your anxiety? Share your comments below!

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