Anxiety is a heavy burden for those who endure it. In the United States, almost 20% of the population lives with anxiety disorders. For years, benzodiazepines were the go-to medication for anxiety treatment. However, the addictive potential of benzodiazepines presents real risks to patients and over the last 20 years or so physicians have moved away from common use of benzodiazepines to other effective medications like SSRIs. There is growing data to support the use of medical marijuana to help treat these kinds of illnesses. Can medical marijuana become an alternative or supplemental treatment method in place of or alongside conventional prescriptions? Keep reading to learn more about medical marijuana for anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday tasks or events, or may be specific to certain objects or rituals.” Different scenarios such as a large crowd, loneliness, or constant worry – among others – can trigger the feeling of anxiety in a person’s life.
Some people may experience a momentary or a short-lived period of anxiety, while others can live with anxiety disorders for a long period of time or even a lifetime. Some of the symptoms associated with anxiety include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Tingly sensations in the hands and feet
What is the Difference Between Anxiety and Stress?
As noted above, anxiety is excessive and unrealistic worry or fear. It is essentially irrational, unpredictable, and inappropriate to the situation at hand. Anxiety is a disease.
Stress, on the other hand, is situational. Stress is worry or annoyance at a set of real circumstances. Having a bad day at work or dealing with the kids all day causes stress. These are real-world situations causing these feelings. Stress, however, is not a disease, and should not be treated as such. The most medically appropriate response to stress is not medication, but stress reduction – doing things to change the real-world events that are causing the problem.
Use of alcohol or cannabis to “treat” stress is highly not recommended as it does not deal with the underlying problem, and at least in the case of alcohol can lead to more significant health problems down the road.
The Endocannabinoid System
There is an important system in our bodies known as the “endocannabinoid system” (ECS). This bodily system is responsible for regulating many of the body’s functions, such as pain perception. The ECS is made of several chemical compounds and receptors dispersed throughout the body. These cannabinoid receptors are known as “CB1” and “CB2,” and are found primarily in the brain and other components of the nervous system.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “The endocannabinoid system has been recently recognized as an important modulatory system in the function of the brain, endocrine, and immune tissues. It appears to play a very important regulatory role in the secretion of hormones related to reproductive functions and response to stress… The endocannabinoid system regulates not only the central and peripheral mechanisms of food intake but also lipids synthesis and turnover in the liver and adipose tissue as well as glucose metabolism in muscle cells.”
According to NCBI, the ECS is directly involved in the regulation of anxiety and fear. This could also mean the development of new strategies for treating anxiety in patients who don’t respond to other medications.
Cannabis for Anxiety
Most cannabis contains Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is one of the most researched cannabis compounds. It is also responsible for creating the euphoric sensation commonly known as the “high.” However, THC does more than just induce psychoactive effects. In low doses, cannabis containing THC has been helpful for treatment of anxiety. However, in higher doses, cannabis is well known to be counter-productive and stimulate anxiety. As a result, careful attention to dose and monitoring is crucial for anxiety treatment.
Another important aspect of treating anxiety with cannabis is that while cannabis will cause intoxication or “high” when taken, being high during the day isn’t necessary or beneficial. Low doses at bedtime allow the intoxication to wear off overnight, while treating any insomnia associated with the anxiety, but the anti-anxiety effect persists throughout the next day, without the high.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another natural compound found in cannabis. CBD has picked up a lot of steam recently due to claims of its beneficial properties. CBD does not induce the “high” most people associate with marijuana. Studies have shown CBD to potentially have benefit against anxiety and other mental health illnesses. However, what is not commonly discussed is that the doses needed to get these benefits are very high (800-1200mg per day), which at the current, uncovered by insurance, cost of $0.05 per milligram ($40-$60 per day, or $1200-$1800 per month) this is just unrealistic for most people.
Anxiety Disorder Medical Marijuana Doctor in Boston, MA
It is important to keep in mind that the use of cannabis does not necessarily “cure” anxiety. However, medical cannabis in conjunction with conventional medication plus psychotherapy can greatly improve an anxiety patient’s quality of life.
If you are 18 years old or older and feel like your anxiety treatment does not work for you, you should consult with your physician about the possibility of supplementing your current treatment with the use of medical cannabis. At Inhale MD, we can help you determine whether medical cannabis is right for you once you have been evaluated, tested or diagnosed by an expert or your doctor.
Call Inhale MD today at (617) 861-8519 to learn more about treating anxiety with medical marijuana in Massachusetts. We are conveniently located in the Brookline and Cambridge areas to serve Boston-area residents, and we also offer secure online consultations for long-distance patients.