When I first began using cannabis almost a decade ago, I found it worked wonders for my anxiety. Back then, it didn’t really matter which strain I was smoking—cannabis almost always helped regardless of set, setting, dose, or strain. But as I got older, things got more complicated. I began to notice that certain strains made me more anxious than others. High doses made me paranoid. Using cannabis with unfamiliar people or in unfamiliar places almost always made me hypervigilant, self-conscious, and on edge.
Instead of taking multiple bong rips of potent strains like Original Glue and GSC, I moved toward strains with equal levels of THC and CBD—and taking just a few hits off a bubbler. I’ve found 5mg THC edibles to be a far better experience than one with 10-20mg THC. And instead of wake-and-baking with high-THC flower, I start my day with a CBD tincture.
Cannabis is complicated, and so is anxiety. Your ideal strain, product, dose, and regimen may not look like mine, and you should expect your relationship with cannabis as an anti-anxiety medicine to shift over the years. Anxiety evolves and changes, and so might how you treat it. There are also many different types of anxiety, and cannabis may affect each differently.
This guide is meant to help you understand your options. Finding the perfect product and routine for you will ultimately require personal experimentation, and we’ll walk you through all the first steps to get started.
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Research on marijuana and anxiety
When using cannabis for anxiety, research suggests that lower doses may offer greater therapeutic benefit. While this ideal dose differs from person to person, it’s generally recommended to start with a low dose (such as 2.5mg of THC) and gradually increase the dose—ideally adding just another milligram or two—until you feel optimal symptom relief. (Leafly)
Cannabis is relaxing. Well, it should be, but if you’ve ever smoked a little too much or underestimated an infused edible, you know quite well that THC can sometimes turn on this reputation.
When it comes to high-THC cannabis and anxiety, there’s one thing to keep in mind based on research: At lower doses, cannabis seems to help anxiety; at higher doses, it seems to worsen it. So if opting for a high-THC variety, be sure to pay close attention to your dose (more on that below). However, high doses of CBD appear to reduce anxiety.
So why does cannabis soothe anxiety at some doses and exacerbate at others? Answering that requires a closer look at the biological system cannabis primarily interacts with: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a vast system of receptors found throughout each of our bodies: in our brains, organs, guts, skin—these cannabinoid receptors are widespread and play an important role in ensuring that the body is operating in healthy balance. Our bodies naturally produce cannabis-like compounds—called endocannabinoids—that act similarly to cannabis compounds and also interact with the ECS, but sometimes their production goes awry. That’s where cannabis comes in as a potential therapy.
Studies show that the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in regulating anxiety, fear, and stress responses by regulating our behavioral response to stressful stimuli. Notably, cannabinoid receptors are abundant in areas of the brain involved in anxiety processing such as the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and areas of the amygdala. These studies also explain how THC can have opposing effects on anxiety as dosage affects neuron activity differently via cannabinoid type 1 receptors.