Does Cannabis Help or Hurt Anxiety?

Is cannabis a cure or a cause for anxiety? It’s a simple question, with complex answers. To understand why it’s so complex, we must first accept that ‘cannabis’ itself is a broad term, referring to one general category of plant with thousands of variations, each producing different effects that can vary dramatically from person to person. With this in mind, it’s little wonder that research on cannabis’ relationship to anxiety has generated mixed results.

Cannabis and anxiety: the bad

For decades, society and researchers alike generally accepted that cannabis was a mental health deterrent, liable to cause paranoia and anxiety. Indeed, many organizations, including the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), continue to express concern over correlations between regular cannabis use and depression, anxiety and psychosis.

But as research into the individual components of the plant becomes more available, we now understand that while tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the plant’s most famous cannabinoid, or active ingredient – is indeed correlated with increased feelings of anxiety and paranoia, its analogue, cannabidiol, or CBD, has proven anti-anxiety properties.

Cannabis and anxiety: the good

While THC is the cannabinoid most responsible for producing cannabis’s famed high, CBD is being increasingly explored for its relaxing effects, including its established analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties.

Importantly, CBD has also been shown to mitigate THC’s anxiety-provoking potential, meaning that not only can high-CBD cannabis strains be used as anti-anxiety medication on their own, but that balanced strains (i.e, with relatively equal proportions of THC and CBD) may help some users avoid THC’s negative side-effects, while still benefiting from its therapeutic properties, such pain-relief.

Cannabis and anxiety: the complicated

THC and CBD are just part of the story. Increasingly researchers are looking to terpenes, the aromatic compounds that exist in cannabis and other plants, providing both flavours and therapeutic properties. Terpenes such as myrcene and linalool – present in hops and lavender, respectively – are known to produce mellowing effects.

Similarly, plant characteristics such as whether a strain is predominantly indica – typically associated with cerebral effects, such as relaxation and sleepiness – or sativa – associated with energy and creativity -are likely to impact how it is experienced by an individual user.

Further complicating the matter is that we all experience cannabis differently, depending on a variety of factors such as strain, method of ingestion, dose, time of day and more. This is why doctors who prescribe cannabis typically recommend patients keep a diary of dosages and effects. This is good advice for recreational consumers too, who may want to feel energized and creative or relaxed and calm depending on time of day or setting.

The best cannabis strains for anxiety

It’s best to talk to your cannabis-prescribing doctor before using cannabis as an anti-anxiety medication, but in general, high-CBD strains are the way to go for anyone seeking increased mental calm, while balanced THC/CBD strains are a good option for people seeking multiple effects, like pain-relief and calm, or euphoria without paranoia.

Our cannabis product search filter will help you find legal Canadian cannabis strains based on your particular needs and interests.

The future outlook on cannabis and anxiety

As prohibitions lift, researchers have more opportunities to study the cannabis plant and its component properties. As this happens, we can expect to learn more about the complex ways cannabinoids, terpenes and other cannabis components interact to influence anxiety.

Currently, cannabis’s impact on opioid addiction is a hot area of research, as scientists seek to understand how cannabis’s pain-relieving and anti-anxiety properties can be used to help patients reduce or eliminate opiate drug use and the anxiety associated with detoxing.

With files from Anne-Marie Fischer Moodie