About ten years ago is when I first started smoking cannabis to help with my anxiety, and it worked like a charm every time. It didn’t matter the strain or dose—cannabis always aided in relaxation no matter the circumstances.
But as I grew up, things became more complicated. I started to realize that some strains made me progressively anxious. Consuming high doses led to paranoia eventually. Using cannabis with people or in places that were alien to me always resulted in hypervigilance, uneasiness, and anxiety.
I slowly switched to strains of marijuana that had an even THC to CBD ratio and I found much better results, especially when taking only a few hits from a bubbler. For me, 5mg THC edibles offer a significantly better experience than those with 10-20mg THC levels. Additionally, rather than smoking high-THC weed first thing in the morning, I now start my day by using CBD tincture oil drops.
Just as anxiety changes over time, so might the methods you use to cope with it.
Cannabis is a complex topic, as is anxiety. The strain, product, dose and regimen that work for me might not be the same for you. And just like anxiety evolves and changes over time, so might how you treat it with cannabis. There are also many different types of anxiety and cannabis may affect each one differently.
This guide is designed to help you understand your options and find the perfect product and routine for you. It will require some personal experimentation, but we’ll walk you through all the first steps to get started.
Research on marijuana and anxiety
According to research, when using cannabis for anxiety, lower doses may be more beneficial. Your ideal dose will depend on your individual body and symptoms, but it is usually recommended to start with a very low dose (for example, 2.5mg of THC) then slowly increase the amount—preferably adding only another milligram or two—until you reach optimal symptom relief.
Cannabis is typically known for being relaxing, but if you’ve ever smoked a little too much or underestimated an edible before, then you know quite well that THC can sometimes turn on this reputation.
Research shows that high doses of CBD help to reduce anxiety, while lower doses of THC seem to help with anxiety and higher doses worsen it. So if you’re going for a high-THC cannabis, be mindful of your dose (which is explained more below).
To understand why cannabis has different effects on anxiety at different doses, we need to look at the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is the main biological system that it interacts with.
The ECS is a large system of receptors found throughout our bodies: in our brains, organs, guts, skin—these cannabinoid receptors are common and play an essential role in guaranteeing that the body is functioning properly. Our bodies naturally produce cannabis-like compounds—called endocannabinoids—that act similarly to cannabis compounds and also interact with the ECS, but sometimes their production doesn’t meet the demand. That’s where cannabis comes in as a potential therapy.
Our behavioral response to stress is, in part, regulated by the endocannabinoid system. This system affects how we process anxiety, fear, and stress responses. Cannabinoid receptors are found in great numbers within the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex–areas of the brain responsible for processing anxiety. Additionally THC (the main psychoactive compound in cannabis) can have differing effects on anxiety depending on dosage; this is because neuron activity is affected differently at varying doses via cannabinoid type 1 receptors.
Another study published in January 2020 found that 2-AG, a cannabinoid similar to THC (which activates the same receptors), could reduce anxiety by affecting the connection between the amygdala and frontal cortex. This suggests that cannabis relieves anxiety in some cases by engaging with these areas of the brain.
Another area of focus when understanding the plant’s effects on anxiety is cannabis terpenes. Terpenes are fragrant oils that make up a plant’s aroma, and researchers want to know how much they contribute to additional therapeutic benefits. For example, one studied terpene is limonene, which has shown anti-anxiety benefits. We need more research to understand how different terpenes individually change the overall therapeutic experience with cannabis as a whole.
Does marijuana interact with anti-anxiety medication?
When it comes to mixing cannabis with other anxiety drugs, there are a few things to consider.
Although not much research has been done on the relationship between cannabis and anxiety medications, we do have some understanding of which combinations may be more dangerous than others. Without many scientific studies to support our claims, however, it is always best to talk with your doctor before taking any risks.
SSRIs (such as Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, and Lexapro), which are among the most common prescriptions for anxiety diagnoses,… have very few reported adverse interactions with cannabis use. The same seems to be true of NDRIs (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors) like Wellbutrin, Aplenzin, and Forfivo.
Some other medications require more care when used with cannabis as it could make adverse side effects, such as an increased heart rate and blood pressure, worse. These combinations include:
- Sedatives (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., imipramine/Tofranil, amitriptyline, doxepin, trimipramine/Surmontil)
- MAOIs (e.g. tranylcypromine/Parnate, phenelzine/Nardil, isocarboxazid/Marplan)
If you’re thinking about taking cannabis while also tracking your symptoms, you may want to consider how the two substances might interact. If you’ve just started taking anti-anxiety medication, for example, it’s probably best to see how the medication affects your symptoms before adding cannabis into the mix.
Learn more about how cannabis interacts with antidepressants and other drugs by reading our guides on GasDank.
How to choose the right strain for anxiety
Although scientists have found that some cannabis strains work better than others for anxiety, we’re all unique and what works for one person might not work for another. Experimenting a bit to find the right strain for you is normal, and GasDank’s Cannabis Guide makes it easy.
Weed lovers rejoice! GasDank’s Cannabis Guide is here to help you get the most out of your dispensary visits. By sorting strains by shape and color, it’ll be easier than ever before for you to find what you’re looking for (and avoid any disappointing surprises).
Here are a few strains that are generally rated well for anxiety that you might consider trying.
The Harlequin strain is one of the more commonly found 1:1 balanced CBD/THC strains, but there are other varieties that look similar. With a moderate dose of THC and a lower dose of CBD, Harlequin’s cannabinoid profile works well for those who want to fight anxiety without experiencing too much euphoria. Its most prominent terpene is myrcene, which has been used as a sleep aid throughout history because of its believed relaxing effects.
Looking for a safe and effective way to try cannabis? A CBD-dominant strain like ACDC can offer all the benefits of marijuana without the high. With only trace levels of THC, ACDC is perfect for those new to cannabis who want to avoid experiencing any psychoactive effects. The powerful combination of CBD and terpenes like myrcene work together to create a calm and clear state of mind. So if you’re looking for a gentle introduction into the world of weed, give ACDC or another similar strain a try!
One big caveat to keep in mind is that when it comes to THC-dominant strains, there can be a lot of variation in the types of strains that different consumers prefer. If you take a look at GasDank’s strain database and sort by highly rated anxiety relief, you’ll see many different terpenes (colors), indicating that people may not agree on the “best” strain for anxiety. Imagine that!
Experienced cannabis smokers would most likely advise you to try Bubba Kush. This strain is notorious for its relaxing, content high that helps you sink deep into your relaxation routine, no matter what it may be. With flavors of rich coffee and black pepper, Bubba Kush creates a sense of comfortableness for those accustomed to a fairly strong THC high.
If you’re looking to discover strains of marijuana that have relieved anxiety for other users, explore our database.
Find the right cannabis product for anxiety
A sea of options such as bud, oils, lotions, and capsules can make it difficult to know where to start when entering a cannabis shop for the first time.
Different ways of consuming cannabis and different types of product result in different general effects.
- Inhaled medical marijuana (vaporization and smoking) provides the quickest relief, but the effects don’t last as long as ingestible forms.
- Methods of ingestion such as edibles, tinctures, and capsules take a little longer to show results, but the effects last much longer.
- You should always be careful when consuming cannabis, whether you’re inhaling it or eating it. Edibles in particular can have strong effects that last for several hours if you consume too much at once.
Keep the differing effects of CBD and THC on anxiety in mind when choosing a product, so you always select one with appropriate levels of each.
Here are some key points about cannabis products that are often used to relieve anxiety.
- Cannabis flower — Dried cannabis buds that can be smoked or vaporized. Find a strain you like, probably one with moderate to high levels of CBD, and inhale it for speedy relief. Unlike ingested methods, inhalation takes effect almost immediately.
- Pre-filled oil vapes — A vaporizer pen that comes with cannabis oil already inside so you don’t have to go through the trouble of setting it up. Take a small puff and gradually take more if needed; the effects are quick, but if you’re new to cannabis, wait a few minutes before trying another puff to make sure the dose is correct.
- Cannabis tincture — CBD oil is a popular liquid extract that is applied and absorbed under the tongue. It typically takes effect faster than other ingestible methods, but takes longer than inhaled cannabis. Its many benefits include precise dosing and a clean, smoke-free experience. CBD oil is especially well-known for its ability to relieve anxiety.
- Cannabis edibles — Foods and drinks containing cannabis oils are called “cannabis edibles.” Cannabis edibles can take up to two hours before you feel their full effects, which can last several more hours. If using cannabis for anxiety relief, begin with an extremely small dose. A microdose (a amount too tiny to produce euphoric effects) might help consumers struggling with anxiety while maintaining a clear head.
- Dosing marijuana for anxiety
Dosing guidelines for cannabis varies depending on two things:
- How you consume it
- The THC and CBD levels of your product
CBD products are an excellent place to start. CBD is not only known for reducing anxiety, but it also does not make you high. So, with CBD products, you don’t have to be as cautious about dosage like THC products.
If you’re thinking about using CBD oil or eating edibles, start with a 10mg dose and observe how your body reacts. You can then increase or decrease the amount until you find what works best for you. Alternatively, take a few puffs from a CBD vape or smoke some CBD-rich flower to see if it helps reduce your anxiety.
If you’re interested in including THC, here’s what you need to know about dosage:
- The amount of THC or CBD in each serving is typically written in milligrams (mg) when you purchase edibles. For example, some edibles might have 10mg of THC or CBD per serving.
- A liquid tincture may show the total number of milligrams per bottle and recommend a serving size in milliliters. It is common to take one or two droppers-full.
- When smoking or vaporizing cannabis, the THC and CBD levels are typically presented as a percentage of the total weight. For example, a flower may have 16% THC while an oil could contain around 80% THC. New consumers should start with smaller percentages of THC and higher percentages of CBD.
In other words, if you are using cannabis for anxiety, start by taking a small dose. For example, if you purchase a 10mg THC edible, consume half or a quarter of it initially—you can always consume more later if you don’t feel any effects after an hour or two. However, reversing overly intense effects is much harder (and challenging).
Similarly, with cannabis oil from flowers or vaping, take a small puff and wait. You could also look into microdosing cannabis–that is, taking an itty bitty dose (like 2.5mg THC)–which isn’t enough to create any euphoric feelings but still provides advantages by jumpstarting our natural endocannabinoid system.
Making cannabis helpful, not harmful
Like any other tool, cannabis is useful only if it helps you achieve your goals; otherwise, it might be enabling you to avoid them instead.
Cannabis is not a cure, but it can function like other medications prescribed for anxiety by lessening symptoms and allowing patients to live relatively normal lives while still fostering healthy habits.
At its best, cannabis consumption can relieve stress while also motivating people to take care of themselves. It has the potential to spark creativity and curiosity, fueling projects and hobbies that help users stay present. Cannabis use may inspire people to cook a healthy dinner that tastes ridiculously good after consuming it. Additionally, it could ignite interest in getting outdoors with friends and family or allow us sit in meditation for a few minutes each day
Though it isn’t necessary, cannabis has been known to motivate people wanting to join a gym, create art, hike a mountain or be around others. There are times when all we need is our favorite strain and a video game while relaxing; feeling overworked and burnt out.
Pay attention to how you use cannabis if you rely on it to manage anxiety. Consider whether it is helpful in meeting your goals, or if instead it allows you to avoid them.