Cannabis for Anxiety: Friend or Foe?

There is a bit of confusion about how cannabis affects anxiety. While research is showing that medical cannabis can be very effective for treating disorders ranging from panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there are stories of people using cannabis recreationally and experience unpleasant side effects that they feel exacerbates their anxiety. The truth is that there are many factors to consider when discussing the effects cannabis has on anxiety and anxiety disorders. Whether or not a person feels a sense of panic after using cannabis depends on variables such as the medicine’s strain, the patient’s drug tolerance, responsible use, and pre-existing conditions. In examining this issue a bit further, we can take a look at some of research and evidence which shows that medical cannabis, when taken as prescribed, is an excellent remedy for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.

Before we can go deeper into how cannabis affects anxiety it’s important to look at what anxiety actually is. According to Psychology Today, “Anxiety, or extreme apprehension and worry, is a normal reaction to stressful situations”(,2017). The problem is when these feelings become excessive and begin to interfere in everyday situations. When people start to suffer from anxiety, it can begin to impact their work, school, personal relationships, and overall quality of life negatively. In addition to a generalized anxiety, there are specific types such as: panic disorder, PTSD, social anxiety, OCD, and generalized anxiety. These disorders present an assortment of symptoms such as irritability, depression, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, shortness of breath, and panic attacks. While each of these disorders is unique, they all can become overwhelming and debilitating at times and often require medication.

Using cannabis to treat anxiety is not a new concept. A Portuguese physician and herbalist named Garcia de Orta published a book in 1563 titled Coloquios dos simples e drogas da India which was the first book published on the medicinal plants in India. In it, de Orta stated that cannabis was an excellent plant for anxiety as it helped patients to be “delivered from all worries and care” ( A recently as 1860 the Ohio State Medical Committee on Cannabis stated: “As a calmative and hypnotic, in all forms of nervous inquietude and cerebral excitement, it will be found an invaluable agent, as it produces none of those functional derangement or sequences that render many of the more customary remedies objectionable” (Musty, 1970). One fascinating tidbit from this report is that the researchers stated that an indica strain was the best for treating anxiety. It wasn’t known at the time, but modern research has shown that indica strains are higher in cannabidiol (or CBD), which is generally more tranquil or sedative than sativa strains, which can be stimulating.

Though cannabis has been known to help treat anxiety for hundreds of years, the last century saw a surge in prescription medications being used instead. Pharmaceutical drugs with a high potential for abuse such as Valium, Xanax, and Ativan have been prescribed at increasingly higher rates. Although these drugs are so common and widespread, they continue to be prescribed even though their side effects are often worse than their original symptoms. Depression, increased insomnia, and suicidal thinking are some of the side effects that many patients experience with these dangerous medications. Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms associated with these medicines can be life-threatening! When taking all of these side effects into consideration it is no wonder that many patients turn to self-medication in an attempt to ease their anxiety. The self-medicating substances often include alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines. This is dangerous because it often exacerbates the issue and can send the individual into a cycle of substance abuse and addiction and keep the patient from seeking professional medical advice.

In contrast to self-medication, cannabis oil, under the care of a reputable practitioner, is proving to be an effective solution for anxiety . However, when considering treating anxiety with medical cannabis, it is important that the strain and dosage are taken into consideration. At low doses, THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, can be very therapeutic, At higher doses, it can be quite stimulating and promote worry or anxiety. One study in 1982 found that CBD, which is non-psychoactive, can actually decrease any of the anxiety exacerbated by THC (Zuardi, et al). Interestingly, it acts, in a way, as its own antidote. Another study showed that CBD works on the brain’s serotonin receptors, and can help to restore brain cells that have been damaged by depression, anxiety, and related disorders (Campos, et al.)! So not only can cannabis help to prevent anxiety, it can also heal the brain from anxiety-caused damage.

Written by: Mara Trivino ©

1. “Anxiety.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,
2. Full Text of “Coloquios Dos Simples e Drogas Da India”,
3. Musty, Richard E. “Cannabinoids and Anxiety.” SpringerLink, Birkhäuser Basel, Jan.1970,
4. Zuardi, A W, et al. “Action of Cannabidiol on the Anxiety and Other Effects Produced by Delta 9-THC in Normal Subjects.” Psychopharmacology., U.S. National Library of Medicine,
5. Campos, A C, et al. “The Anxiolytic Effect of Cannabidiol on Chronically Stressed Mice Depends on Hippocampal Neurogenesis: Involvement of the Endocannabinoid System.” The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2013, 


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