Cannabis and anxiety: The cure or the cause?

What are the main precautions that we must take while using Cannabis to avoid anxiety attacks and tips on how to get out of such a “bad trip”.

When we think about the effects of cannabis on the human body, we find a complex and full range of possibilities, but there is something that draws our attention: the effects vary between individuals even when they consume the same substance and the same dose. Why do some feel calming effects when smoking cannabis and  others it can be a trigger to an anxiety attack?

In 1964, Timothy Leary introduced the concept of “set and setting” in his psychedelic ingestion guide “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based o the Tibetan Book of the Dead”. In it, the setting consists of the physical environment in which the individual is to consume the substance, whether it is lit, loud music or not, etc. The set, on the other hand, is more related to personality and the subject’s mental state is at the time of making use – whether it is a good day, stressed or not, going through a grieving process, etc. Even though the concept is related to psychedelics, the effects of cannabis use are also influenced by the same variables.

The quality and potency of the substance are as important as the set and setting to determine what the individual’s experience will be like. When we think about  anxiety, this is a determining factor. Why can some relieve anxiety symptoms with cannabis and others can’t even smoke because this wave can be a trigger for a crisis?

Come with us and let’s dive into the topic!

After all, is it the “cure” or the “cause”?

Well, it is challenging to think in such a dichotomous way. But in fact, cannabis can play both roles.

Just as the high changes from person to person, so do the negative effects. That is why, when we address this issue, we first need to remember that it is normal for organisms to react differently to substance use – not just cannabis – as we mentioned above.

Here, we will tell you a little more about what has been observed and discovered about the relationship between cannabis use and anxiety. We will also guide you on how to help someone who is experiencing these negative effects after consuming the substance!

Anxiety and its symptoms

According to specialists at Albert Einstein Hospital, people with anxiety can present symptoms in the most diverse areas. In behavior, hyper vigilance, restlessness and irritability are some of the most common. Other signs of crisis involve a lack of concentration, quick thinking or unwanted thoughts; fatigue or sweat; shortness of breath or rapid breathing; insomnia or nightmares; excessive worry, dry mouth, fear, nausea, palpitations, feeling of impending or trembling tragedy.

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Flowering cannabis

Cannabis as a “cure”

A 2017 survey of more than nine thousand Americans found that 81% of respondents believe that cannabis has at least a positive health effect. Among the main ones highlighted are the relief of anxiety, stress and symptoms related to depression. However, a significant number of users report a worsening of their anxiety due to cannabis.

To better understand this problem, we need to remember that cannabis makes up a wide range of cannabinoids – each with certain therapeutic effects. The best known compounds are THC and CBD, and in fast lines:

  • THC is a cannabinoid responsible for the high that using cannabis gives – it is the psychoactive compound of the plant and has numerous therapeutic benefits and also in small concentrations, enhances the effect of CBD.
  • CBD, unlike THC, is the non-psychoactive asset responsible for several of the plant’s therapeutic benefits.

What we also know is that THC, when in large quantities, can be responsible for the feeling of paranoia, and, consequently, anxiety. However, because of the entourage effect (which we already talked about here on the blog), CBD helps to soften the negative effects of THC.

That is why, when it comes to cannabis with a high THC content, there is one thing to consider, based on studies: in lower doses, cannabis can help with anxiety; at higher doses, it can get worse. Therefore, it is important that you choose a type of cannabis that has a balance between THC and CBD – strains that are 1: 1 are a great option.

Currently, we have a great movement in the search for cannabinoids and terpenes in their purest form. Extracts made with solvents and without can reach even 80% THC and even 99.9% with THC crystals. This fact points to a challenge, as much as it is a delight to consume super terpy concentrates, we have to be attentive to the signals from our body when there is a high consumption of THC.

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Cookies and cream bubble hash

And when is that not possible?

In Brazil and in countless other countries in the world, prohibitionism also gets in the way of those who seek the therapeutical effects of cannabis. One of the biggest problems is that we do not have access to the same varieties as the countries where the plant is legalized. Therefore, it is very difficult to know and prove what, in fact, is consumed.

So, how do you know what to do?

If you use cannabis, either daily or sporadically, you should remember that the effect of cannabis depends a lot on your mental state at the time of use. Therefore, if you are experiencing any type of discomfort or signs of increased anxiety, try to understand if this is the right time to use cannabis with high levels of THC. Are you experiencing an especially stressful time? Have you noticed this type of symptom before in your life?

Self-care and harm reduction comes from the inside out – this means that your subjective (personal) experience is what counts at that moment. So, if you understand that cannabis is doing more harm than good, reduce its use – or look for other ways to use it to assist you in such a process, such as using CBD-rich cannabis oils.

It is also necessary to understand that anxiety is something that needs to be accompanied. Cannabis can help relieve symptoms, but medical and psychological monitoring is also needed. With no lifestyle changes or work to improve your mental health, if your stressors or anxiety triggers persist, the symptoms will remain.

Thinking about preventive strategies such as: psychotherapy, physical exercise, good nutrition, contact with nature, meditation, yoga, can help to take care of our temple (body) so as not to feel such discomfort.

I am having a bad trip – ar an anxiety crises.  What do I do?

Try to be patient and calm.  If you, or someone nearby, has used cannabis and is having an anxiety attack because of it, it is possible to relieve your symptoms until they subside with a few steps.

  • First, remember: you are not dying. An anxiety attack may seem like a near death, but it is a feeling that will pass. Just having that awareness helps – we have heard many stories of people who ended up in the hospital thinking they were having a heart attack.
  • Pay attention to your breathing. One of the first effects of the crisis is rapid and unregulated breathing, which can lead to hyperventilation. Do the following exercise: hold your breath, place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest and start breathing slowly using your diaphragm. Inhale through your nose, hold your breath for three seconds and exhale through your mouth slowly. You should feel your abdomen going up and down. Keep this breathing rhythm until you feel muscle relaxation and clarity of thought.
  • 4-7-8: this exercise was a dear friend who indicated – using only the nostrils, breathe in completely in 4 seconds, hold the air for 7 and slowly release in 8. Repeat this cycle as an exercise for 20 rounds. Intrusive thoughts will appear, because breathing is like meditating. Follow the counts that everything will get better
  • Relax your muscles. Turn your attention to every muscle in your body and send signals to relax.
  • With controlled breathing and relaxed muscles, it’s time to distract your mind. This method depends a lot on you. Think of something that relaxes you or makes you feel good – I like music. But it can be a hot bath, lavender essential oil, calling your dog / cat to lie in bed with you. The important thing is to feel good and safe.

If anxiety persists…

When an anxiety attack happens, remember: you don’t have to go through this alone. Call someone to help you on the spot, and then seek medical and psychological support. Do not run away from the psychologist, the medication treats only the symptom, not the origin of it.

Such symptoms can be bandeir disorders, such as panic syndrome or generalized anxiety disorder. One of the most common treatments is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is focused on teaching how to identify and replace negative ways of thinking and reacting to situations. You learn to recognize when thoughts don’t match facts and what are useful ways of thinking and reacting.

Did you like this subject? Do you also think we have to shine a light in the Mental Health subject? Drop us a comment below.






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