Anxiety affects around 40 million adults in the United States per year. It is one of the most common mental illnesses in the US, yet so many people will leave it untreated (about 36.9%). Everyone gets anxious from time to time. You don’t have to have a particularly stressful life or be an unhappy person. At some point, life will inevitably give you a reason to have a little anxiety. However, this doesn’t mean that you suffer from an anxiety disorder per say. It simply means that you’re having a normal human reaction to a stressful situation. A little anxiety at times isn’t even all bad. Anxiety can help you focus on something that is very important to you, and perhaps give it due attention. However, if you are experiencing anxiety frequently, and to a point that it interferes with your daily life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. It isn’t normal or healthy to power through the mind-numbing exhaustion that is anxiety. Sometimes our minds need a little help from an outside source. This could be through counseling, meditating or exercise. However, sometimes the chemicals in our brain need a bit of a boost, which is where medications come into play. Unfortunately, these medications can be harsh and addictive. Luckily, a natural option is out there. Beyond exercise and counseling, cannabis could be the best natural option for treating your anxiety. But how do you know if you really have an anxiety disorder? What are the warning signs?
Anxiety can show itself in many ways. Whether you’re going through a financially difficult time or you’re dealing with relationship problems, worry can creep in your life at times. Sometimes it’s hard to know if your normal worry is actually an anxiety disorder. There are a few different forms of anxiety disorders including social anxiety, phobias, PTSD and panic attacks. Differentiating between a normal amount of anxiety and a disorder is important to help you know if you may need to seek help from your doctor.
Here are a few signs that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder:
General anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by simply worrying too much about everyday things. We all tend to worry here and there about certain things— a new job, a big move, financial troubles— but it’s when you worry about the normal, everyday things that it starts to take hold of your life. When suffering from GAD, you will typically experience on-going anxious thoughts most days for around six months. It also will come with other symptoms as well such as fatigue, headaches, stomachaches and back pain. UCLA professor of clinical psychology Carrie Bearden, Ph.D., told Reader’s Digest that oftentimes sufferers will go to the doctor for these symptoms, not knowing that the root cause is actually anxiety. “People are confused, they keep going to the doctors, they don’t know what’s wrong,” says Bearden. “If you have this constant worry as well as these physical symptoms, then we would start to think that it’s an anxiety disorder and that the physical symptoms are related to that.” A major difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder comes down to whether or not the anxiety is causing other physical symptoms.
While it isn’t unusual to toss and turn the night before a having to catch an early flight, or before a big job interview, perpetually finding it hard to sleep is not considered normal. Half of those who have GAD also suffer from sleep problems. This could be trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
GAD isn’t the only form of anxiety. Phobias are a real, and at times disabling conditions. The thing with phobias is that they aren’t always very obvious. Oftentimes people can easily hide their phobias by simply never facing what they fear. It only becomes apparent to the person, and those around them, that they have a true phobia when the feared thing makes an appearance. Deathly afraid of people in masks? You’ll probably just stay in for Halloween. Are you afraid of dogs due to being bitten as a child? You probably won’t want a dog as a pet. Can’t keep your cool on an airplane ride? Long distance trips can be avoided. But what if your friend invited you to dinner and you know she has a dog? Or what if you’ve always dreamed of that Caribbean vacation, but the only way you can get there is by plane? This is when you begin to lose control over your life, and anxiety takes the wheel. Severe anxiety can keep you from living your life fully.
Muscle tension is common when experiencing anxiety. This tension could be in an isolated areas of your body, or could be throughout the entire muscle system. This tension can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours. Even during sleep or when trying to relax this tension may still be present. Clenching of the teeth is one side effect of anxiety, which often happens when sleeping. Those who clench or grind their teeth may have to sleep with a mouth guard in order to avoid grinding down their teeth. But the jaw isn’t the only muscle that can be affected. Muscle tension can present itself in the form of headaches and stomachaches as well. When experiencing anxiety the body interprets that there is a threat and releases stress hormones into the bloodstream. These chemicals are then transported to specific areas of the body. When this happens certain physical and psychological changes occur that activates the body’s flight or fight response. One way that the body changes to protect itself is by tightening the muscles. Tighter muscles recover more quickly, and are more prepared to withstand an attack. This tension doesn’t always last for very long, but if this response lasts for too long or is too frequent then the muscles may remain tense which leads to pain.
For some people, their stress responses are hard-wired to their stomach. Stomachaches that are accompanied by gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea may be signs that your body is reacting to your anxiety. Irritable bowel syndrome, which is characterized by all of the previously mentioned symptoms, is a condition that often happens in conjunction with anxiety. According to the CalmClinic, the same hormones and neurotransmitters that affect the gut affect anxiety as well. When someone is experiencing anxiety the hormones and neurotransmitters are out of balance, thus disrupting the stomach’s healthy functions. Adrenaline is also to blame for anxiety-related stomach upsets. Adrenaline affects the way that the body process nutrients. Anytime your body is having trouble processes nutrients, this affects stomach function. Acid reflux is another symptom that might crop up due to anxiety. The stomach tends to have more acids during times of stress, which means that digestion is negatively affected.
Self-consciousness would mostly fall under the social anxiety disorder (SAD) category. Those who experience this disorder tend to feel like everyone is watching them. Avoiding crowds or being the center of attention is something that makes many people uncomfortable. Those with social anxiety disorder tend to take this to another level. Everyday situations such as simple one-on-one conversations at a social gathering or dining in front of even the smallest group of people can make them incredibly uncomfortable. Some symptoms may include excess sweating, difficulty talking, nausea, trembling, blushing, rapid heartbeat or even an out-of-body feeling. This could happen at a party, or even at school or work. Not every SAD sufferer is affected by the same situations. Some people may be able to get through a day of working around other people with no problem, but being at a party is unbearable. Even the idea of having to make that annual Christmas party could lead to weeks of worry.
Flashbacks are common with those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many symptoms that accompany PTSD include the same as other anxiety disorders, but flashbacks seem to be specific to PTSD. However, one research study has concluded that some people with SAD may have PTSD type flashbacks of instances that were traumatic to them. Others may find these situations mild, but they will stick in the mind of someone with SAD. Being publicly chastised is one reason SAD sufferers may have a flashback. Avoiding situations that are similar to the negative experience is common, which is very similar to PTSD.
Having a panic attack doesn’t mean that you have panic disorder. Panic attacks are the body’s natural response to an incredibly fearful situation. It’s a normal and even healthy, way that the body responds to dangerous or scary events. The disorder arises when these panic attacks occur for no apparent reason, or you fear the panic attack itself. Those who have panic disorder will experience these attacks without warning, as they can happen at any time. These attacks vary in frequency and length, but they typically only last a few minutes. After a panic attack you may feel tired and drained.
Perfectionism is generally something that we equate to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with this disorder typically are their own worst critic to a very extreme degree. They can constantly be judging themselves for being less than their pre-drawn standards. In some people, this can be barely noticeable like someone who keeps an impeccably clean house, or someone who washes their hands an abnormal amount. In others, it can be a little bit more obvious such as hating the way that you look to the point of avoiding people altogether, or constantly checking yourself in the mirror. Some people will also obsess over their behavior, checking numerous times if they’ve locked the door, or remembered their keys. It’s human to not like certain features that we have, or to double-check things every now and then. But obsessing over these things to the point that it interferes with daily life is when a disorder may be to blame.
Compulsiveness is another obvious symptom of OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, by definition, must have both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. According to Psychology Today, a person with OCD will have compulsions that are in direct response to their obsessions. This could be checking locks, making lists or washing hands an abnormal and obsessive amount.
There are many different treatments for different anxiety disorders. Many of these disorders can be helped by simply going to therapy and addressing the issues. Some are more complex and may need to be treated with medication.
One natural way to treat anxiety could be through cannabis. Studies have shown that cannabis could help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. If you’re stuck at home because anxiety is keeping you there, having another effective treatment option would be a huge relief.
Could cannabis be what you need?
To learn more about how cannabis can treat your anxiety read How Anxiety and Depression Correlate and Can Be Helped by Cannabis.
Social anxiety disorder is the third most common psychological disorder in the United States. The Social Anxiety Institute has reported that approximately 7% of the US population suffered from SAD. This disorder is characterized by interacting with other people. They often feel self-conscious and have feelings of inadequacy. These feelings will disappear when the individual is alone.
This disorder can seriously disrupt a person’s life. Dating, being in public places, group activities such as church and even drinking and eating in front of others can all become a terrifying ordeal when suffering from SAD. Luckily, there are treatments available to help.
Cannabis could be one viable option for treating social anxiety disorder. Its relaxing properties can help take away the anxiety that comes with social interaction. However, some caution is necessary. Those who are not used to taking cannabis and prone to paranoia could find that cannabis may make the situation worse.
However, this increase in paranoia doesn’t happen with every cannabis product.
Within the cannabis plant are different chemical compounds called cannabinoids. The two main cannabinoids in the plant are called cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While THC is known for being psychotropic, CBD lacks these particular properties. THC is the chemical in the cannabis plant that makes you high. It also tends to encourage paranoia, which doesn’t help when you have SAD and are paranoid already.
With CBD, though, this isn’t the case. Though CBD is actually psychoactive, it isn’t psychotropic. This means that is can make your brain react in certain ways, but it doesn’t cause euphoria or dysphoria.
CBD is a much friendlier cannabinoid for those who are leery of trying cannabis products. When THC and CBD enter the brain, they work within the endocannabinoid system. This system is made up of different receptors called CB1 and CB2. When THC is ingested it binds to the CB1 receptors. Once this binding occurs a few things can take place including paranoia, memory loss, heightened mood, increased appetite (the “munchies”) and in many cases pain relief. CBD does interact with the CB1 receptors, however, it does not bind to them like THC does. An interesting fact about CBD, though, is that it can work with the CB1 receptors to keep other cannabinoids, such as THC from binding to them. Studies have shown that due to this reaction, CBD can help reduce the psychotropic effects of THC such as paranoia and anxiety.
Studies on CBD and social anxiety disorder have been successful in proving that CBD could be a viable option for treat SAD. In one SAD study participants reportedly felt much less anxious during a simulated public speaking test. To validate this, heart rate and blood pressure were monitored, which proved that CBD was keeping both at healthy levels. The placebo group in this study experienced much more anxiety and discomfort compared to those who were on CBD.
CBD also comes with little to no side effects. The few side effects that have been reported are dry mouth, light-headedness, low blood pressure and drowsiness. Considering that the alternative medical treatment to CBD is in many cases benzodiazepine drugs, these side effects are extremely pale in comparison. Benzo drugs are highly addictive, and when coming off of these drugs the patient can go through serious withdrawals.
CBD can help with these as well. If you’re thinking of coming off of a benzodiazepine drug, CBD may not only help manage your anxiety, it could help to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms as well. Most people who are going through withdrawals can bet on experiencing cold sweats, trembles, nausea, and sleeplessness while coming off of a benzo medication. However, some have experienced a lot of relief by using CBD, while coming off of a benzo drug.
So we know that CBD is effective with treating anxiety, but are there other properties in the cannabis plant that may be beneficial? According to science, there just might be.
The cannabis plant has proven to have many therapeutic properties. Cannabinoids seem to get the most attention when it comes to discussing cannabis as a medicinal substance. Terpenes, however, are other constituents within the cannabis plant that have been recognized for having therapeutic effects.
Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons which can be found in the cannabis plant. These are the compounds that are responsible for the aroma of cannabis. These increase as the plant is exposed to light. Female cannabis plants have a higher concentrate of terpenes than the male plants. Terpenes are beneficial to the plant as they act as a protectant against bacteria, fungus and, insects.
Terpenes can be used in an essential oil through vaporization. Many people who are buying cannabis will smell it before purchasing. This is because the smell of the cannabis can indicate the strain, which gives a good idea of how effective it is for certain ailments.
Green House Seed Co. has even developed a “flavor wheel” to help medical marijuana purchasers identify what strain they want to purchase. It was originally more of a marketing tool for the company, but it has shown to be effective for those who want to identify what marijuana they may need.
There are several different types of terpenes in cannabis that smell a little differently from the other. These can also be used for varying illnesses.
Here is a list of the terpenes that are found in cannabis and how they can be helpful:
Geraniol: This is often used in bath and lotion products as it has a sweet smell similar to that of roses. It can also be used as a mosquito repellant.
Sabinene: This aroma is a bit like a Christmastime scent: spicy, with a hint of oranges and pine. It could be a good source of antioxidants and an effective anti-inflammatory medicine.
Pulegone: This terpene is actually found more abundantly in rosemary. There is only a comparatively small amount in cannabis. However, some studies indicate that pulegone could be a sedative and help with reducing fevers. It smells of peppermint and is also considered to be a good insecticide.
Humulene: This terpene is also found in hops, and is what gives beer its distinct aroma. Humulene is considered to be a remedy for tumors and inflammation. It can also help to suppress hunger and is anti-bacterial.
Carene: This is a bit of a strong terpene that can cause irritation when inhaled. It is also found in pine, bell pepper and basil oil along with citrus fruits. It is used mostly for flavoring.
Phellandrene: This scent is a pepperminty-citrus combination. The Chinese have used this plant to cure digestive disorders, as it is thought to have good medicinal properties. Other plants that contain phellandrene are ginger, dill, pepper and eucalyptus.
Terpineol: This terpene has a flowery scent which is believed to be relaxing.
Camphene: This terpene may help to treat cardiovascular disease and help with liver damage and inflammation. It is also found in turpentine, ginger and citronella. It isn’t quite as pleasant as some of the other terpenes and smells a little like a damp forest.
Terpinolene: This terpene has been found to be useful in the central nervous system by helping with sleep and reducing anxiety.
Linalool: This is another terpene that could help to reduce anxiety. One study also found that linalool could reduce inflammation in the lungs due to smoking. It has a pleasant scent that is a little like lavender.
Limonene: This terpene has a strong citrus smell and is found in citrus fruit peels as well as pine needles. It is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of breast cancer due to its seemingly anti-cancer properties.
Myrcene: This is the most common terpene found in cannabis. It specifically helps chemicals reach the brain more quickly through the bloodstream. It is also useful as a treatment for insomnia and pain.
Among this list of terpenes lies several with the ability to help control anxiety. These terpenes along with the cannabinoids in cannabis could help to reduce anxiety in a more natural and safer way.
While terpenes have shown to have anxiety reducing properties, it is still cannabinoids that take the cake when it comes to treatment for stress. Many people who have anxiety are choosing to self-medicate with marijuana in order to keep their symptoms in check. This could be because medical marijuana is not readily (or legally) available to many people. In the United States over half of the states have legalized medical marijuana, but they all come with their own set of stipulations. These stipulations mean that a citizen can only use medical marijuana for the illnesses that have been approved by the state. Sometimes these conditions relatively broad, like in Washington. In Washington, a person can use medical marijuana only if the condition is “terminal or debilitating.” Other states such as California, Connecticut and Massachusetts simply need a physicians recommendation for the use of marijuana. This is certainly great news for those who may find relief from their illness with cannabis, but only if what ails them happens to be on the list of illnesses that the state has approved.
So what about those with anxiety?
Currently, New Jersey is the only state that has anxiety listed as a qualifying condition. However, many states, such as Arkansas, Delaware and Florida, have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) listed. Though PTSD has become a condition all on its own, it has been recognized as an anxiety disorder. Cannabis has shown to be effective in many different trials to treat varying types of anxiety. There are few main types of anxiety that cannabis could help treat.
Some anxiety disorders that people commonly suffer from include:
Panic disorder– About 2-3% of Americans will experience panic disorder in a year. These attacks will happen spontaneously and without warning. They can often happen while a person is waking up, or even while sleeping. This leads to a fear of a recurring attack, which can cause people to avoid going out in public.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD)- Social anxiety is also known as “social phobia.” It has been mentioned here already, but as one of the most common disorders, it deserves to be touched on again. This has shown to be the third largest psychological disorder in America, after depression and alcoholism. It’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable speaking in front of groups, or even to feel a little uneasy when in a crowd. But with SAD sufferers, this anxiety is elevated to a much higher level. SAD sufferers can be anxious in almost all social situations, though it varies depending on the person. They have an irrational fear of being negatively judged by others and often times feel embarrassed, inadequate and depressed when with other people. These feeling will go away once the person is alone, but return once they put themselves into the social situation that affects them such as school, work, parties and public speaking.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)- Generalized anxiety disorder affects over 6 million Americans every day. Those with this disorder tend to feel excessively worried and anxious about everyday life. GAD sufferers are always thinking of the worst case scenarios, and typically don’t like thinking about the future. Those with GAD can’t seem to stop worrying about general life issues such as family, friends, money and health. They often times have unrealistic views on problems, have difficulty concentrating, are restless, worry excessively, need to go to the bathroom frequently, have trouble falling asleep, are easily startled and will often times begin shaking in stressful situations. The cause of this disorder is uncertain. Brain chemistry, genetics and environmental factors (traumatic events that have occurred in their life) all appear to contribute to the development of GAD.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)- To be diagnosed with OCD you must have obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive behavior. Those who suffer from OCD often become rigid and distressed if things are not done exactly to their standards. These behaviors can include hand washing, cleaning, having things in a certain order, compulsive counting and having aggressive thoughts towards others or themselves. Some may even develop a tic where their body will have involuntary movements like shoulder shrugging or blinking the eyes.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)- Due to the increased focus on mental health in soldiers coming back from war, we are becoming more aware of PTSD. However, you don’t have to be a soldier to develop PTSD. Any life-threatening or shocking event such as a car accident, sexual assault, or the death of a loved one can trigger PTSD. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares and frightening thoughts. This can lead to avoiding any reminders of the event and even resisting the urge to think about the experience. PTSD can affect sleep, as the feeling of unease can disrupt a healthy sleep cycle. Angry outbursts are also common in PTSD sufferers.
The symptoms of these disorders are commonly treated with therapy or drugs. However, many of the currently available treatments commonly include medications such as benzodiazepines. Some common benzo medications are Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and Valium. These drugs can become highly addictive if misused. In fact, in emergency room visits that involved drugs, benzos were the number one drug involved. These were 20% more common than emergency visits which involved painkillers.
With this track record, those with anxiety disorders don’t seem to have a very bright future when it comes to treatment options. However, that all could change with one single plant.
Dangerous prescription drugs don’t have to be our only option in treating anxiety disorders. Cannabis could be a safer alternative.
However, because the cannabinoid THC is psychotropic and may increase the risk of paranoia, using a cannabis high in THC may not be the best idea for those with anxiety disorders. On the contrary, CBD lacks these qualities and has, therefore, become the main focus for anxiety treatments.
We have established that the cannabis plant contains cannabinoids, but did you know that your body produces its own cannabinoids as well? Don’t let the name fool you, these chemicals are not actually specific to cannabis. Studies have shown that the brain produces what is called endocannabinoids, while the cannabis plant produces phytocannabinoids. This means that when cannabis oils are ingested, the cannabinoids present actually bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. However, not all cannabinoids contain the same healing abilities. When THC is taken, this may result in feelings of paranoia or nervousness, which is not a good combination with anxiety. CBD, as opposed to THC, has been proven to be non-psychotropic, and could help with anxiety.
Though more research on exactly how CBD works is needed, we do know that CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in the body. CBD can also affect receptors other than those in the endocannabinoid system.
These receptors include vanilloid, adenosine and serotonin. Research has shown that cannabidiol has an anxiolytic-like effect in the brain, meaning it could help reduce anxiety. CBD can activate the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, which then increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical in the body that is responsible for mood balance. A deficiency in this can lead to depression and anxiety. Serotonin also affects sleep cycles. Trouble sleeping happens to be a symptom that most anxiety disorders have in common. Many sleep aids (such as Ambien) come with some pretty bad side effects. Having a safer option to help anxiety suffers get enough sleep could help them to better deal with their anxiety.
CBD obviously goes beyond a simple sleep aid, though. It can be helpful in managing anxiety disorders in general.
Participants in a study on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) reported feeling a significant drop in their anxiety while using CBD. Brain scans were done to investigate. These showed that cerebral blood flow patterns changed to imply an anti-anxiety effect was occurring. A study done on social anxiety suffers (which was mentioned earlier), proved to be successful as well. These participants reported feeling much less anxious during a public speaking simulation. When heart rate and blood pressure were monitored, this report was validated as both were kept at a healthier level than when the participants were not on CBD.
To add to this collection of studies, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has some proof under its belt as well. One study has shown that by increasing cannabinoid neurotransmission, this could help eliminate conditioned fear. PTSD sufferers are conditioned to fearing a particular traumatic to the point of avoiding even thinking about the event. Cannabis could help with facing these fears and coping with them accordingly.
Though CBD is a preferred method for anxiety, THC could help those with panic disorders. One study found that when THC entered the body it had similar effects as anandamide. This is because both chemicals work in the same brain pathways, and both help people to cope with stress. It would give us reason to believe that THC could be helpful in deescalating an attack when it begins.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is another anxiety disorder that could be helped by cannabis. Dr. Francisco Guimarães of the University of Sao Paulo’s School of Medicine led a study on how CBD effects animals with OCD. They found that when the animals were given CBD, even in low doses, their OCD symptoms were drastically reversed. This could have largely to do with the fact that CBD can help to increase serotonin levels. It is still unclear why CBD works, but according to the evidence found it was indeed effective. Another study was done on mice with OCD behavior. This study, however, was done with synthetic cannabinoids that resemble THC. The researchers found that the OCD behavior was reduced when the mice were given the synthetic cannabinoid.
Cannabis can be a scary word for some people. It’s a social taboo, and the laws that are enforced against it certainly haven’t help in bringing forward the facts on what cannabis can really do. More research is certainly needed to fully comprehend the healing powers that the cannabis plant contains. Those who suffer from anxiety deserve to have a healthy, effective treatment. Continuing to pump ourselves full of benzo drugs and sleep aids won’t fix the problem. Putting aside the negative stigma and looking at the facts about cannabis could make our society a happier and healthier place.
If you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, please seek help from a qualified physician to see what treatment is right for you.