Cannabis is touted for its anti-anxiety properties yet when consumed excessively, it has the potential to induce and aggravate the disorder. However, it must be noted that despite the increasing prevalence of anxiety attacks during or after disproportionate cannabis consumption, no definitive conclusion has been drawn regarding the relationship between the two. Nonetheless, alleviating the devastating symptoms of anxiety – be it drug-induced or not – is highly achievable with the right dosage, knowledge, and practices.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress and is characterized by a sense of trepidation or fear about what is to come. Situations such as going to a job interview or delivering a speech in front of a massive crowd typically induce apprehension and worry. However, there are cases when the feelings of anxiety become too intense and do not diminish over time. It may even become so severe that it could impede the day-to-day activities of the afflicted individual. Scenarios like these are often indicative of an anxiety disorder.
It is estimated that globally, 1 in 13 people suffer from anxiety. Hence, it is considered as one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the world. And while the most common symptom of this condition is irrational and debilitating apprehension, its severity and duration vary depending on the type of anxiety an individual has. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) outlined the different types of anxiety disorder:
- Panic Disorder – 300.01 (F41.0)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – 300.02 (F41.1)
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) – 300.23 (F40.10)
- Specific Phobia – 300.29
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – 309.21 (F93.0)
- Mixed Anxiety and Depressive Disorder – (F41.2)
- Selective Mutism – 312.23 (F94.0)
- Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder – 292.8 (F19.18)
Signs And Symptoms
Due to the multiplicity of ailments falling under anxiety disorder, the symptoms depend on a case to case basis. Moreover, the signs of one illness might intersect with another while some might be exclusive to a single disorder. Ultimately, owing to the intricate nature of anxiety, it is best to seek professional help for a proper diagnosis. But in general, the following are some of the most common symptoms of anxiety:
- Sense of unreality
- Panic, apprehension, and nervousness
- Inappropriate and extreme worry
- Excessive and unhealthy alertness for signs of danger
- Constant fear that panic attacks might occur
- Fervent desire to avoid things that instigate anxiety
- Fear of being embarrassed or criticized
- Persistent failure to speak an act accordingly in certain social situations
- Inability to stay calm and still
- Panic attacks
- Palpitations and sweating
- Abnormal sensations on the skin such as tingling, pricking, chilling, burning, or numbness
- Difficult and labored breathing
- Chest pain
- Feelings of choking and suffocation
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
- Abdominal aches
- Sleep troubles such as insomnia
The Link Between Cannabis And Anxiety
The relationship between cannabis use and anxiety is complex and contentious. This is because while it is a well-established fact that marijuana – especially those with high CBD content – has inherent anxiolytic properties, some research suggests that the THC it contains may, in fact, trigger or worsen anxiety when taken in high doses. However, it should be noted that such deductions are theoretical and speculative because the ever-increasing body of research findings remain contradictory and inconsistent.
For instance, in one study, it was noted that there is no significant link between cannabis consumption and induced symptoms of anxiety. However, in a more recent 2014 meta-analysis, a small positive association between the use of marijuana and anxiety was observed in 112,000 subjects from 10 different countries. Nevertheless, such a small but statistically significant positive association does not provide evidence for causation. This means that it is far too hasty to assume that consuming cannabis causes anxiety disorder. But it is also worth noting that temporary side effects such as increased heart rate, breathlessness, and shakiness are often produced when consuming high levels of THC. Such side effects are frequently mistaken as symptoms of panic attacks which then results in heightened anxiousness due to the fear of having panic attacks.
In the end, while the definite relationship between cannabis use and anxiety disorder has yet to be established, what is certain is that individuals with anxiety disorders consume cannabis frequently in the hopes of managing its symptoms and regular cannabis users have a high prevalence of anxiety and at times, panic attacks.
How To Manage Symptoms Of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders and cannabis abuse have varying effects on the body. However, both share a common warning sign – panic attacks. These sudden, intense bursts of terror, panic, or the combination of both are debilitating and disorienting. Even more so, it often manifests physiological symptoms such as breathing difficulties, excessive sweating, tremors, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat. In some cases, panic attacks are accompanied by a sense of separation from reality, or a haunting experience often likened to having a stroke or a heart attack. Hence, it is unsurprising that the idea of having a panic attack could induce anxiety and sheer terror. But fortunately, some strategies may help alleviate an ongoing or impending panic attack.
Take Deep Breaths
Hyperventilation is a symptom of a panic attack, and it may also intensify fear and other dreadful symptoms of anxiety. Hence, the best action to combat hyperventilation is to practice controlled breathing – specifically the 4-2-4 method. This is done by taking deep breaths for four seconds, holding it for two seconds, then slowly exhaling the air for four more seconds. Do this repeatedly while concentrating on the sensation of breathing until the breathing rate goes back to normal.
Recognize That It Is A Panic Attack
By being aware that the experience is a panic attack instead of heart attack or stroke, it is easier to bear in mind that what is happening is only temporary and will eventually pass. It is vital to eradicate the fear that death and other catastrophes are imminent because it can further exacerbate the feelings of trepidation. Make a conscious effort to calm down by rationalizing that the sensation is only momentary.
Keep The Eyes Closed
Panic attacks sometimes arise from triggers that are too overwhelming. When in a quick-paced environment with a lot of stimuli, the effects of the attack may worsen. To block out or lessen the confounding stimuli, it is helpful to keep the eyes closed and focus on the breathing instead.
Alertness can help in remaining attuned to reality and the surroundings. It is crucial to combat the feeling of detachment that may accompany panic attacks and to acknowledge that whatever is happening is real but temporary. To do this, concentrate on familiar physical sensations, such as jabbing the feet into the ground, or feeling the texture of the clothes with the palms.
Seek A Focus Object
Finding a particular object to focus on during a panic attack may also help in diminishing the panic symptoms. By taking one’s attention away from the sensation of panic and redirecting it to a focus object, clarity of mind will eventually be achieved. To do this, simply pour all the attention and energy on a specific object and note every discernible detail about it such as movements, patterns, shapes, colors, and sizes.
Perform Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques may halt the panic attack in its tracks by managing the body’s response. Among the most effective methods is the progressive muscle relaxation technique. This is done by consciously tightening the muscles, holding it for a few seconds, then slowly relaxing it. Relax the muscles one at a time, starting with something simple such as the fingers, then slowly transition to the other body parts. If possible, practice these techniques beforehand.
Do Light Exercises
When engaging in physical activities, the body releases neurotransmitters like endorphins, which can work wonders in enhancing the mood. Make sure to opt only for light exercises such as walking around or jogging in place. However, it must be noted that this should be done after dealing with hyperventilation.
Always Keep A Lavender On Hand
Lavender is renowned for its soothing and stress-relieving properties. When predisposed to panic attacks, it is advisable to keep a bottle of lavender essential oil on hand. Pour some of the oil on the hands and inhale the scent. Scent-diffuser necklaces may also come in handy in times of emergency. Drinking lavender or chamomile tea is also another alternative.
Take Some High CBD Strains
As counterintuitive as it may seem, taking cannabis can actually help remedy panic attacks if taken as early as possible. For the quickest and most effortless relief anytime, anywhere, opt for portable vape pens as its therapeutic effects are usually felt within 5 to 10 minutes of inhalation.
Repeat A Mantra
Repeating a mantra internally can be immensely calming and comforting, as it can serve as a stronghold to clutch onto during a panic attack. Just say comforting and reassuring words such as “I will get through this” or “This is temporary. It shall pass” over and over again until the panic begins to abate.
8 Best Cannabis Strains For Anxiety
If the aim is to relieve anxiety, being mindful of the components of the strain that will be taken is of utmost importance. Needless to say, high THC strains must be avoided at all cost to prevent further worsening of the symptoms. Instead, opt for the following cannabis strains with high levels of CBD as it effectively counteracts the adverse effects of THC.
Girl Scout Cookies (GSC)
GSC is famous for containing an astonishing amount of THC. Although using it may sound counterintuitive, this strain is actually ideal for those who have PTSD because it helps replenish the supply anandamide in the body – a naturally occurring compound that individuals with PTSD usually lack. When ingested, GSC delivers blissful full-body relaxation effects. However, for patients not suffering from PTSD but anxiety or panic attacks in general, use this strain with caution or better yet, as a last resort.
The high CBD concentrations of Canna-Tsu guarantees a clear mind as it wields its therapeutic powers. Marked by its earthy flavors and citrusy notes, this strain can also help assuage pain, inflammation, seizures, and anxiety.
With its sedative properties, this all-time favorite strain can soothe the mind and the body by beckoning the two to a tranquil state. Marked by its resinous, crystalline buds and sweet aromas, Northern Lights is perfect for calming OCD and other related anxiety disorders.
Granddaddy Purple (GDP)
Granddaddy Purple – an Indica hybrid – is a cross between Purple Urkle and Big Bud. This California best-seller boasts a powerful berry aroma and delivers a remarkable blend of cerebral euphoria and physical relaxation. Often used to alleviate pain, stress, insomnia, and muscle spasms, GDP promises a soothing and dreamy experience for both the mind and body.
Recognized for its sweet smell of fresh strawberries, this potent strain invigorates the senses and supplies a feeling of euphoria. Strawberry Cough is revered for its ability to manage social anxiety and stress, treading the delicate line between energizing and calming.
For calming THC-induced panic attacks, the CBD-rich Cannatonic is an excellent choice. This hybrid generates a fleeting, subdued high that is simultaneously uplifting and profoundly relaxing. As one of the most prized medical strains, Cannatonic is used to ease the pain, muscle spasms, migraines, and anxiety among others.
This highly tranquilizing indica-dominant strain yields striking purple buds with an intense smell offset by whiffs of sweet berries. Aside from its use in pain management, this strain is also particularly useful for dealing with insomnia and anxiety.
When the symptoms of social anxiety become too crippling, a high-CBD strain like ACDC might be a better choice. Its remarkable THC: CBD ratio of 1:20 ensures that intoxication is out of the question while it offers profound relaxation and a fantastic clear-headed high that makes navigating across different social situations an effortless task. Aside from anxiety, it may also ameliorate pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and many more.
Combating The Horrors Of Anxiety
Anxiety is a crippling condition that may interfere with the daily functioning of an individual. And while cannabis shows immense potential as a remedy for this disorder, excessive and improper consumption of THC may produce counterproductive results. Hence, the best way to lessen the probability of inducing anxiety when consuming cannabis is to keep the THC dosage within an acceptable range. If possible, opt for high-CBD strains as this variety manifests lesser adverse effects compared to THC. Even so, CBD’s administration as a palliative for anxiety should still be treated with caution, and professional counsel must always be sought. After all, although CBD is relatively safe to ingest even in large doses, little is known about the long-term effects of its chronic use.