Can Marijuana Treat Anxiety?
Can Marijuana Treat Anxiety?
Feeling anxiety and having an anxiety disorder are two different things. The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) estimated that 19.1% of Americans have an anxiety disorder. And almost 32% of Americans will experience one or more types of anxiety disorders in their lifetime.
Anxiety is more than transient feelings of getting upset. As humans, we have all experienced symptoms of anxiety that may be circumstantial. Losing a job or emotions that run high when a relationship is not going the way we want it to. Even small things like moving to a new city or state can be wrought with feelings of anxiety.
But clinical anxiety goes much deeper. You can experience anxiety without any reason at all. There are known triggers for anxiety in some cases, but in many situations, someone with anxiety will begin to feel symptoms without any external stimuli. Worrying thoughts, feelings of unease, and other physical symptoms may start involuntarily.
There are a variety of methods to help patients manage anxiety disorders. Medical cannabis has become an alternative option when other treatment plans have proven ineffective. And more people are exploring doctor-supervised cannabis as a treatment option.
How Do You Know If You Have a Clinical Anxiety Disorder?
Figuring out the difference between normal stress responses in situations versus having an actual anxiety disorder may seem easy, but it’s not. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that almost 12% of Americans with clinical anxiety disorders are unaware. And they have not talked to a doctor about anxiety as a mental health condition.
There are varying degrees or levels of severity for clinical anxiety. Some people may experience mild symptoms that they can manage effectively. For other people who experience moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety, coping can be very difficult.
According to the National Institute (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), there are six major types of anxiety disorders:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Have you met someone who tends to worry about everything? Even if it seems like there is no reason to feel stressed about an issue. Even if there is no immediate cause for feeling anxiety, someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder will experience significant symptoms.
It isn’t easy to understand the behavior of someone with GAD. You may not know why they are experiencing symptoms, and they don’t understand it either. Nor can they control their level of emotional reactivity.
Patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder can seem like the proverbial “stress case” for no reason. Telling someone with GAD to “chill out” or “relax” is counterintuitive. They would if they could, and now, they feel the stress of unwanted attention for their symptoms of anxiety. Which typically makes the anxiety worse.
People who cope with GAD do not manage uncertainty well. Because they worry incessantly (and often silently in their thoughts), they don’t like surprises. As much as possible, someone with GAD prefers to be organized and in control of their physical and social environments. Exhaustion, depression, and other health symptoms may develop in people with untreated GAD.
2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Comedy skits and movies have painted a funny picture of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Want to test a friend with OCD out? Try moving an object in their house. Or leaving an empty cup on the counter.
It may seem funny to watch someone hasten to replace the object or put the cup in the dishwasher immediately. But life with OCD is exhausting and stressful for people with it. And it may be one of the least understood anxiety disorders.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) goes much deeper than simply being a “picky person.” It is an involuntary cycle of both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. And patients may suffer anxiety symptoms worse than others can imagine.
Understanding Obsessive Emotions and Thought Patterns
When you feel obsessed with something, it may be a pleasurable experience—your favorite band, a fashion designer, or maybe a certain type of food. For someone living with OCD, however, obsessive emotions are intense and uncomfortable feelings. Not happy ones. And most people would do just about anything to escape the anxiety symptoms.
The types of obsessions that a patient with OCD may have include:
- Contamination Obsessions.
- Violent Obsessions.
- Responsibility Obsessions.
- Perfectionism-Related Obsessions.
- Sexual Obsessions.
- Religious or Moral Obsessions.
- Identity Obsessions.
- Relationship-Related Obsessions.
- Existential Obsessions (anxiety over existence and meaning of life).
- Emotional Contamination Obsessions (fear of ‘catching’ mental health disorders from others, including family, friends, or children).
If an individual spends more than one hour per day focused on an obsession, they may be diagnosed with OCD. Particularly if the obsessive behaviors interfere with other activities, such as sleep and rest, social time, and self-care.
One factor differentiating an “obsessive personality trait” from OCD is how much time is spent on obsessive activities. A mental health medical professional can conduct surveys and discussions to determine a diagnosis.
What Are Compulsive Activities?
If an obsession creates stress and anxiety, the compulsion activity neutralizes the situation. Even though the patient may understand it is a band aid or temporary fix to a bigger problem, the person will initiate repetitive behaviors that help soothe their anxiety.
Some examples of clinical compulsive activities include:
- Brushing teeth 5-10 times per day after experiencing a dental emergency. Or fear of losing teeth or tooth decay.
- Handwashing to the extent that the hands are dried, cracked, or injured from overwashing. This can stem from a cleanliness or germ-phobic obsession.
- Quietly repeating a word, phrase, or prayer constantly.
- Arranging cans of food with labels facing outward.
- Checking the stove, temperature, or other household items constantly.
- Cleaning excessively.
- Counting money or checking a bank account several times per day.
It is important to note that compulsions are not voluntary. If you are neat and enjoy cleaning your home several times per day, that may not be a clinical compulsion. If you find yourself cleaning at 2:00 a.m. for the fourth time that day, you may have anxiety symptoms consistent with OCD.
4. Panic Disorder
If something bad or upsetting is happening, your body will increase cortisol levels. That is the “fight or flight” hormone that has enabled humans to survive. Think of it as the body’s biological turbo boost to help get you out of trouble. And stay agile in threatening situations.
There are some times when panic is an asset. And when the onset of panic symptoms is understandable, given an upsetting circumstance. But what if your brain triggered those defense mechanisms for no reason at all? You can be watching TV and petting your cat; suddenly, there it is; a full-blown panic attack.
As far as anxiety disorders go, the symptoms of a panic attack are short. In fact, most panic attacks last between 5-20 minutes and resolve. Although some studies have shown, they can last as long as one hour.
Panic attacks are rarely life-threatening, and most of the time, a trip to the hospital or walk-in clinic is not required. But some of the symptoms of a panic attack can also be signs of more serious health conditions, like hypotension (low blood pressure) or heart problems. This is why diagnosing panic attacks (to rule out other health risks) is important.
5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
There is a misconception that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is common only in military veterans. While it is true that veterans have a higher incidence of PTSD compared to other population groups, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can happen to anyone. And at any age.
Clinical studies have suggested that the human brain has a unique method of coping with extreme trauma. To reduce impairment, the brain attempts to put the traumatic events and memories in a box. And then stores that box in a very deep, primal area of the brain.
The problem with that biological coping mechanism is that it is not a permanent solution or cure. People with PTSD can experience flashbacks that feel like they travel back in time to experience (in detail) the trauma again. They don’t just remember the trauma; they acutely feel all the mental anguish, fear, and stress they experienced. Even if the trauma occurred a long time ago.
Anti-anxiety medications are not always effective for patients with PTSD. Some studies suggest psychedelic therapies such as ketamine or psilocybin may help with deep-rooted trauma. The theory is that doctor-supervised psychedelic treatments help open the area of the brain that has stored the trauma. And with talk therapy and many sessions, they can work to resolve or heal the trauma instead of holding on to it.
More research is needed to understand why therapy and prescription medications are not always effective in helping patients with PTSD. But most states that have legalized medical cannabis use have added Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a qualifying health condition.
6. Separation Anxiety Disorder
When you deeply love or care for someone and enjoy their company, you like to stay near them. That’s a normal human emotion. But what happens when you can’t be close to your special person (or people), and you begin to experience symptoms of anxiety?
Pets get separation anxiety, and we seem to recognize and accept that behavior from domesticated furry friends. But people can actually develop a moderate to severe separation anxiety disorder too.
Two types of triggers can stimulate separation anxiety:
- The individual may be afraid that some harm will come to their partner, friend, or child when they are away from them. Individuals with separation anxiety disorders will remain in a heightened state of upset until they are physically close to the person again.
- Some people may feel distressed to be alone. And form an unhealthy attachment to family members, friends, or spouses. This can escalate to panic disorder if the individual is alone for an extended duration of time.
One common symptom that people with anxiety disorder face is nightmares. They can have traumatic dreams of being separated from their loved one (s) and may suffer from insomnia and other anxiety disorders as a result.
Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)
To some degree, many people experience intermittent social anxiety. Whether you are starting a new job or meeting new people in your community at events, it can be unnerving. Not many people are comfortable being the “new guy” in a social or work situation.
But the discomfort you may feel in new social settings doesn’t come close to what someone with social phobia (or social anxiety disorder) will experience. It is far more than introversion or periodic feelings of shyness. Social phobia can literally make you feel emotionally paralyzed with fear, and it comes with a variety of unpleasant symptoms of anxiety.
Some of the unique symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:
- Muscle stiffness and rigidity.
- Increased heart rate.
- Blushing and sweating.
- Difficulty speaking, focusing, or concentrating on thoughts.
- Difficulty making eye contact with others.
- Paralyzing fear.
Social anxiety disorder is triggered by fear of embarrassment or humiliation in public. People with moderate to severe social anxiety disorder will find ways to avoid social contact. They may withdraw from and avoid any place where there are other people.
Some people with social anxiety disorder are comfortable in small groups with close family or friends. But heading into public areas where they may encounter a larger number of people they don’t know? They will avoid that wherever possible. And that impacts everything from the quality of social engagement to dating and even employment opportunities.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Anxiety?
Some types of anxiety disorders have distinctive symptoms. But there are also common symptoms that can indicate the presence of clinical anxiety disorders. And if you find symptoms that are unusual (or more frequent or intense than you have normally experienced), you should schedule an appointment with a doctor.
Depending on the type and severity of clinical anxiety disorders, an individual may experience a variety of symptoms, including but not limited to:
- Chronic fatigue.
- Problems with focus and concentration.
- Mood disorders, including sadness or agitation (irritability).
- Social withdrawal.
- Problems with normal stress management (work and relationships).
- Constant feelings of fear, worry, and being on edge.
- Nausea and stomach upset.
- Self-harm (nervous nail-biting, picking, or other injurious activities).
A primary care provider or mental health professional will assess your systems. This is done by using one (or more than one) survey or scale. The multiple choice survey helps to identify how severe your symptoms are and how frequently they occur.
For patients who have debilitating anxiety symptoms that are interfering with activities of normal living, the doctor may refer them to a mental health counselor. There are a variety of complementary therapies and treatment plans that can be created to improve symptom management. And provide relief.
Clinical Anxiety is More Common for Women
Did you know that women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder compared to men? Approximately 23.4% of women will experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder, compared to 14.3% of men. This is true for all types of anxiety disorders except social anxiety disorder; men and women are diagnosed at equal rates for social phobia.
Women are more likely to seek medical care for symptoms of anxiety than men, however. Emergency rooms, doctor visits, and urgent care appointments for women with anxiety, according to the NIMH. Women with anxiety also miss more days of work, averaging 2.25 days per month, compared to women without anxiety, who average 1.27 days of absence for health-related causes.
Anxiety can be a precursor to the development of other types of selected neurologic disorders. A systematic review of mental health risks and data revealed that women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with other types of disorders, including:
- Bulimia Nervosa.
- Major Depressive Disorder.
Interestingly, men with anxiety are more likely to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder or intermittent explosive disorder than women. The reluctance of men to seek medical help for anxiety disorders is a strong contributing factor.
Can Marijuana Really Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety?
When you suffer from anxiety symptoms, there are a few treatment options to consider. There are a large number of prescription medications that are available for patients. And many people find that daily medication can help moderate anxiety symptoms.
Some of the most common pharmaceutical drugs used for anxiety treatments are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
The two classes of anxiety medications include:
- Effexor XR.
- Lorazepam (Ativan).
- Valium (Diazepam).
While there is no shortage of prescription medication options for anxiety disorders, they don’t work for everyone. In fact, some patients find that the side effects of prescription drugs are equal to or worse than anxiety symptoms. But patients may not experience the same negative or adverse effects with medical cannabis.
For many patients, however, the use of low-potency cannabis for anxiety works. And better than other over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription remedies.
What are the Potential Benefits of Treating Anxiety With Marijuana?
Some patients find that medical cannabis is effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety. Medical cannabis users who suffer from anxiety may feel that low doses of marijuana help tone down anxiety symptoms.
The effects of THC on anxiety are still being discovered, and the global medical community needs further research. Cannabis may be an effective treatment for some patients, depending on their medical condition.
Cannabis may help reduce anxiety, as THC binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. A recent study by the Vanderbilt Medical Center found that people with anxiety have a stronger circuit connection between the amygdala and frontal cortex. Essentially, higher levels of stress or anxiety “glue” the two regions of the brain together, according to researcher Sachin Patel, MD., Ph.D.
The study suggested that marijuana could activate the same receptors as a molecule that is produced by the brain. This molecule disrupts the connection between the amygdala and frontal cortex, which reduces anxiety-causing activities. When the 2-AG molecule temporarily disappears, anxiety-related behaviors emerge. And cannabis may mimic the 2-AG molecule to the same effect to reduce anxiety symptoms.
What has been observed is that cannabis can help reduce anxiety at lower doses. However, at higher concentrations (potency) and quantities of intake, it can exacerbate or make anxiety symptoms worse. Comparatively, cannabidiol (CBD) has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety at all levels of dosage.
Some prescription medications may be contraindicated (conflict) with cannabidiol (CBD) use. Those medications include naproxen, tramadol, celecoxib, etoricoxib, fluoxetine, and tofacitinib. People taking thyroid medications or blood thinners should consult with a doctor before starting any CBD supplements.
Cannabidiol for Daytime Use to Help With Anxiety Symptoms
For some people, the option to help treat anxiety symptoms with medical cannabis is not available. If you are employed in the transportation sector or manufacturing, for example, you must submit to frequent drug tests for safety and compliance.
Many professions have a zero-tolerance standard for cannabis use, even for patients with a medical marijuana card. That can leave patients with fewer options to moderate the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety disorders.
However, if using marijuana is not an option for patients with anxiety symptoms, cannabidiol or CBD may be an effective second choice. There are global clinical studies that suggest some people with mild to moderate symptoms may be able to treat anxiety with cannabidiol supplements.
Cannabidiol is a federally legalized substance. You can purchase it across the United States and even order it online without any problems. It has not been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or recognized officially as an anxiolytic substance. But some studies have suggested it can be very useful to help treat anxiety.
There are many different types of cannabidiol (CBD) supplements to choose from, including:
- Cannabidiol capsules.
- Smokable hemp flower.
- Beverage mixes (hot or cold drink supplements).
Even if you are using medical cannabis to help moderate symptoms of anxiety, a daily cannabidiol (CBD) supplement may help. Cannabinoids work better together! And CBD can help tame some psychoactive compounds while still providing the benefits that can help relieve anxiety symptoms.
Why Self-Medication for Anxiety is Dangerous
The potential for drug abuse is high when someone does not seek out the help of medical professionals. Anxiety management can be achieved when you get help from a primary care doctor. Once your doctor diagnoses you with clinical anxiety, you can begin to try different therapies and develop a treatment plan.
Managing anxiety with the recreational use of marijuana may not be effective. When you self-medicate with cannabis, without the guidance of a physician, the relief may only be temporary. But combining the medical use of marijuana with counseling, lifestyle changes, and other therapies can provide good results.
One of the benefits of a doctor-supervised treatment plan is to help monitor your symptoms. Sometimes anxiety symptoms can hide or mimic signs of a more serious physical or mental health condition, which you may not be aware of.
Cannabis can also be contraindicated (or conflict) with several common prescription medications. But you wouldn’t know that unless you were working closely with a trusted physician. Some medical conditions, such as schizophrenia, may appear similar to severe clinical anxiety. Cannabis use for patients with schizophrenia can increase the risk of serious mental health problems, such as psychosis.
When anxiety disorder symptoms are not well-managed, patients may also seek relief from other controlled substances. There is a statistical correlation between anxiety and depression, and drug abuse. As unmanaged anxiety symptoms worsen, so does the risk of self-harm from alcohol or drug abuse.
Can Untreated Anxiety Lead to Other Psychiatric Disorders?
No one likes to talk about mental health conditions. It can feel embarrassing, and you may not feel comfortable discussing it with a medical professional. However, if you are living with daily symptoms of anxiety, it can impact more than your mood and stress level long-term.
When anxiety is left untreated, the symptoms can worsen over time. Anxiety can become more challenging to deal with. The part of the brain that regulates emotion (the amygdala) can start to release more hormones, cueing the adrenal glands to release more cortisol. The “fight or flight” hormone triggers anxiety symptoms.
Chronically high levels of cortisol can have a detrimental effect on health. The cortisol hormone is designed for periodic and short-term bursts of energy as part of the human body’s survival mechanisms.
However, chronic stress can lead to permanently high levels of cortisol, which can cause new and debilitating symptoms, including:
- Chronic fatigue.
- Mood disorders (including depression and irritability).
- Persistent headaches.
- Digestive disorders.
- Weight gain.
- Muscle pain and inflammation.
- Sexual dysfunction.
Cumulatively, high cortisol over a sustained period of time can damage your immune system. That can leave you more susceptible to bacterial or viral infections and the development of chronic conditions like diabetes or Crohn’s disease. Once developed, many of the conditions may not be reversible.
Integrated Talk Therapy and Medical Marijuana Treatment Plans
Treating anxiety effectively means combining other therapies with medical marijuana use. When you have regular mental health support, you can begin to unravel some of the triggers that contribute to your symptoms of anxiety. And adopt healthy coping mechanisms to handle those symptoms better.
Because anxiety may be part of other mental health disorders, there are different therapeutic approaches to consider. For mental wellness, nutritional, fitness, and lifestyle changes can also provide some relief from symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Increasingly psychologists and mental health counselors are open to integrated talk therapy and medical marijuana treatment plans. This wasn’t always the case, but as more clinical research points to the potential benefits of medical cannabis, it is now an available option for patients.
Treatment plans can be created with the assistance of a licensed physician to address symptoms of anxiety with other mental health disorders. Working one-on-one with a doctor who cares can make all the difference.
Here are four common types of integrated therapies for anxiety treatments:
1. Therapies for Anxiety and Eating Disorders
There is a statistically high correlation between people who have unmanaged symptoms of anxiety and those who develop an eating disorder. The effect of finding comfort in food can lead to binge eating and unhealthy weight gain. While the opposite effect, abstaining from healthy food can lead to weight loss and dangerous eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia.
Radical changes to otherwise healthy eating habits can be a dangerous symptom of untreated anxiety disorder. Weight gain can increase the risk of chronic diseases like cancer or diabetes. And nutritional deprivation can cause cardiovascular damage and dangerously weaken immune system functioning.
Therapy for anxiety and eating disorders can be life-saving. As anxiety treatments will help reduce stress, improve mood, and support improved mental and physical wellness.
2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Therapies
Talk therapy, combined with the medical use of marijuana, has proven helpful for many patients suffering from PTSD. Some peer-reviewed studies suggest that ongoing mental health counseling, combined with cannabis to help manage anxiety symptoms, can work as a long-term treatment plan.
The anxiety and depression symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder are correlated with a high risk for suicidal ideation and self-harm. Medical cannabis can help improve sleep and reduce the adverse effects of PTSD. Many states have added PTSD as a qualifying health condition, which means patients diagnosed with the mental health disorder can apply for a medical marijuana card.
Patients living with PTSD require long-term treatment. The first part of an effective treatment plan can involve getting to the root of the trauma that caused the condition. This can take a great deal of time as the human brain represses trauma. Sometimes, patients do not even remember the event that caused their condition.
Medical cannabis users with PTSD may find that marijuana use helps them relax. The psychoactive compound of THC and other cannabinoids may help patients open up to delving into upsetting and traumatic memories. And marijuana use can also help with treating anxiety and improving the quality of sleep, where insomnia is a debilitating symptom.
3. Addiction Therapies and Withdrawal Symptoms
In some states, doctors can approve patients for medical marijuana use for any clinical diagnosis. That can also include addiction therapy and drug cessation programs. Often, states permit patients to enter into the medical cannabis program to address problems with opioid use disorder.
Rather than labeling marijuana as a gateway drug, some studies suggest doctor-supervised cannabis can be an effective treatment plan to segue from other dangerous controlled substances. People who are struggling with an opioid, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine addiction may benefit from using medical marijuana as an alternative, with doctor supervision.
Some people may be concerned that replacing one drug with another can be potentially dangerous for patients with withdrawal symptoms. But other methods, including methadone treatments, may present greater side effects and health risks compared to THC. For some patients, doctor-supervised cannabis may be a safer option, as cannabis has an extremely lower risk of overdose incidents. In fact, there has yet to be one fatality due to drug overdose attributed solely to cannabis use.
Addiction cessation treatment plans also involve psychotherapeutic counseling. Often drug abuse is related to symptoms of anxiety, trauma, or depression. By getting mental health support and using marijuana to manage anxiety disorder, patients have improved recovery rates, according to some clinical studies.
4. Combining Medical Cannabis and Talk Therapy for Depression
Anxiety and depression go hand in hand, although medical science is still trying to understand how the two are related. Or which condition develops first for individuals who present with both mental health conditions.
Some strains of cannabis may help moderate symptoms of depression or patients who have been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. Common symptoms of major depressive disorder include (but are not limited to):
- Low or depressed mood.
- Chronic pain.
- Anhedonia (lack of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed).
- Deep feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Struggles with concentration and focus.
- Changes in appetite (reduced or increased food intake).
- Anger or emotional agitation.
- Thoughts of self-harm.
There are both physiological and psychological factors that can contribute to clinical depression. Anxiety and depression are not always accepted as health conditions that can make a patient eligible for legalized medical cannabis. However, in some states, physicians may provide a recommendation for any health condition.
Talk therapy with a licensed mental health professional can teach healthy coping mechanisms. Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide patients with helpful tools to manage anxiety and depression. While medical cannabis users diagnosed with depression may find relief from some debilitating symptoms.
Patients diagnosed with depression who have been approved for a medical cannabis card may choose to explore different types of cannabis strains. Some strains (Indica) may help improve sleep by easing chronic pain and feelings of anxiety before bed. Other strains (Sativa) may provide a mood and energy boost to combat the lethargy often associated with depression.
Schedule Your Medical Marijuana Health Evaluation
In 2016, DocMJ was founded to provide education, resources, and assistance to patients who wanted to explore medical cannabis for treating anxiety and other health needs.
DocMJ is a multistate cannabis healthcare provider. In Florida, we provide thirty (30) locations, including DocMJs office in West Palm Beach.
We also provide telemedicine medical marijuana healthcare appointments in Ohio, Texas, Massachusetts, and other states (coming soon). Choose America’s most trusted cannabis healthcare network for compassionate and friendly physicians who will guide you to develop a treatment plan to suit your wellness needs.