When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, you may have considered turning to marijuana for relief. After all, more than three quarters of American adults believe that stress-reduction is one of the benefits of using the drug. And of course, there’s the popular image associated with someone who has used weed -- the super relaxed and mellow “stoner” who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.
While those portrayals may sometimes veer into the extreme, and rely more on stereotypes than fact, there is some truth behind cannabis’ ability to reduce stress and anxiety. That said, the connection may not be exactly what you think.
Less is More When it Comes to Cannabis
As you may know, cannabis -- or marijuana -- has two primary components: THC, which is responsible for the “high” that you feel when you use it, and CBD, which provides most of the therapeutic benefits, including relaxation and pain relief. Many people opt to use CBD-only products, which provides all of the benefits of cannabis without the high.
However, there is evidence that using cannabis with THC does have a positive effect on stress -- but only at lower doses. Perhaps surprisingly, using cannabis at higher doses can actually increase stress. This was the finding of a small study at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago.
In this study, participants were given either 7.5 or 12.5 milligrams of THC before being asked to complete stressful activities, including preparing for a job interview and solving a complex math equation. Of all the participants, those who received 7.5 milligrams of THC were most relaxed and reported feeling the least amount of stress. Those who received the most THC (12.5 milligrams) reported feeling the highest levels of stress, even compared to those who received the placebo.
The researchers did acknowledge some limitations to this study, notably that ingesting THC in pill form may have a different effect than smoking. There’s also some question about how much THC is actually consumed when smoking marijuana; the researchers in this study assumed that 7.5 mg equals a few puffs of marijuana. However, other factors can also come into play, including the specific strain of cannabis being used, and the individual user’s endocannabinoid system and tolerance levels.
That said, this study does provide some significant evidence indicating that cannabis is helpful for stress relief, but only in moderation. Using too much cannabis can actually be detrimental, increasing anxiety and feelings of stress. Another study, this one at the University of Washington, supports these findings. Researchers there discovered that a single puff of cannabis that’s high in CBD provided more stress reduction benefits than 10 puffs of cannabis that’s higher in THC. In short, their findings reveal that when it comes to THC, more isn’t better, and that CBD may be the determining factor in how well cannabis helps with the management of anxiety.
Using Cannabis for Stress Safely
Although cannabis can be beneficial for helping to reduce stress, it can also have some downsides. Generally speaking, marijuana itself doesn’t typically lead to dependence, but it’s possible to become dependent on it as a “crutch,” rather than dealing with the issues that are causing the stress in the first place. There are also the dangers associated with smoking in general, and the risk that using too much could actually increase anxiety and stress.
That said, it is possible to use cannabis safely to alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety and stress and relax, which in turn can help with sleep, reduce panic and trauma/PTSD episodes, improve overall feelings of well-being. Doctors recommend:
- Only purchasing marijuana from safe sources, such as Michigan marijuana dispensaries. Not only can you rely on a safer, more pure product, but an experienced budtender can help you select the right strain to help you with your specific concerns and offer advice on the best ways to use cannabis.
- Focusing on CBD. Using products that contain only CBD, or have a higher concentration of CBD to THC, are likely to be most beneficial for managing your anxiety. Remember, less is more when it comes to THC, and too much THC can potentially worsen anxiety.
- Starting slow, and work your way to higher doses. Until you know how cannabis will affect you, keep the doses small. Give the compounds time to work, as well. You may not feel any different at first, but don’t use more right away. It can take some time.
- Talking to your healthcare providers. Be upfront about your cannabis usage with your healthcare providers, including mental health professionals. It can make a difference in your treatment plans, especially if you are taking other medications.
If you keep these recommendations in mind, and use cannabis in moderation, you may be able to to achieve the stress relief and sense of calm you’re searching for.