Anxiety and stress are two of the most pernicious afflictions in modern society. They are especially challenging because they are largely products of an enculturated lifestyle, problems of the system without concrete substance. There’s no specific poison to point to, no tumor to surgically remove.
They are phantoms that rob us of health and happiness.
Diseases of Civilization: The Hard Facts
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., afflicting 40 million adults every year. That’s an astonishing 18.1% of the population—nearly 1 in 5 people.
The numbers for stress are even more alarming. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% experience psychological symptoms.
Chronic stress has a tremendously negative impact on your health. It suppresses your immune system, overloads your adrenals, and imbalances your hormonal systems. It can create systemic inflammation that wreaks havoc on your skin, digestive system, and hair.
The thing is, stress itself is not a bad thing. Anxiety serves a purpose. They both help us survive.
We are mostly not in any real danger.
So how can we turn off this circuit that keeps us disconnected, unhappy, and unhealthy?
Medical Marijuana for Anxiety: A Cause or a Cure?
When it comes to cannabis, the story goes both ways. For some people, it is the perfect way to relax and wind down, to let the problems of the world drift away in a gossamer wisp of smoke and abide in a state of present-moment pure being.
But for others, it catapults them into a paranoid hell of frantic thoughts and intense anxiety.
So what’s going on here? How can cannabis both relieve and exacerbate stress and anxiety?
Biology of Endocannabinoids and Stress
There are many factors at play when it comes to stress and anxiety. Let’s look at 3 of the most important.
- Strain and Chemical Profile: In general, THC exacerbates anxiety. THC stimulates the CB1 receptor, and there is a higher concentration of these receptors in a brain region known as the amygdala, the center of fear and anxiety. So, if a strain is high in THC, it will stimulate the amygdala and may result in an experience of stress and anxiety. CBD, on the other hand, has been found to relieve anxiety.
- Individual Biochemistry: Every individual has a unique biochemistry with unique sensitivities. What works for one person may not work for another. There is tremendous variety in chemical composition between strains, not just THC vs. CBD. There are over 100 different cannabinoids and countless terpenes that all combine to create a net effect known as the entourage effect. You have to find out what works for you, and it may take some experimenting. Leafly’s strain explorer is a helpful a starting place to see what has worked for others.
- Set and Setting: Cannabis can heighten sensory stimulation, so you need to take care and choose the right situation for you to use it. A relaxing, peaceful environment where you feel safe is ideal. Take a bath, go for a walk in nature, or just listen to your favorite music. If you choose your set and setting consciously, you set yourself up to enjoy the benefits of cannabis and minimize the downside.
Stress and anxiety are very real challenges, but ultimately, they are afflictions of perception. By altering your perceptions, you can change your experience.
With the right strain in the right situation, medical cannabis can help turn off those hyperactive circuits of chronic stress and anxiety and return you to your natural state of easy health and relaxed happiness.