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Anxiety Prevalence in the USA
According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million adults in the United States each year. This is approximately 18.1% of the population, making anxiety disorders the most common mental illness in the country. Yet, the stigma surrounding the words “anxiety” and “mental illness” drive many individuals away from seeking help. There are varying treatments available, but only 36.9% of those who are suffering actually receive treatment. This is an especially pressing issue during the global COVID-19 Pandemic as it has caused feelings of uncertainty and a loss of control, which could lead to a heightened sense of anxiety even if you are not diagnosed.
Is THC a Long-Term Solution?
As states continue to legalize cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use, more people are utilizing the substance to alleviate their own symptoms of anxiety. Johnston and O’Malley (1986) found that 72% of daily cannabis users were using it to relax or relieve stress. Furthermore, Sexton et. al. (2016) disclosed that 58% of medical cannabis patients used cannabis to manage their own anxiety.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical compound responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis such as: a possible sense of euphoria and relaxation, heightened sensory perception, altered perception of time, and an increase in appetite.
Unfortunately, these effects are not universal.
Instead of a feeling of elation and relaxation, some users report an increased sense of anxiety, panic, and fear. THC is classified as an anxiogenic substance at higher doses, meaning that it works to increase anxiety. Cannabis dosing is also notoriously finicky, thus giving rise to a conundrum. Why would I want to use a substance that can cause anxiety to treat my anxiety?
Even if THC does not induce anxiety in an individual, the alleviation of anxiety symptoms are only temporary. Although it is debated heavily among users, there is substantial evidence in clinical studies that indicate cannabis dependence exists (Budney, 2006; Budney and Hughes, 2006; Copeland, 2004; Roffman and Stephens, 2006). Thus, individuals using THC as a short-term solution to their anxiety may develop a long-term psychological dependence and increase total feelings of anxiety over time.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another active ingredient in cannabis, and can actually be used to counteract the anxiogenic characteristics of THC (Niesink & van Laar, 2013). It does not cause psychoactive effects, and has been associated with the same sense of relaxation and pain relief that THC can provide. This is because CBD is an anxiolytic compound (reduces anxiety) at both low and high doses. When used in conjunction with THC, CBD will regulate cannabinoid stimulation in the brain and weaken the overall strength of the mind-altering substance.
Since hemp-derived CBD does not share the same psychoactive properties as THC, the potential for abuse is near zero.
Blessing, Steenkamp, Manzanares, & Marmar (2015) provided evidence that “strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
General anxiety and anxiety disorders are becoming more prevalent in our society, especially in the current times of pandemic-induced uncertainty. Whether somebody is diagnosed or not, it is important to find a proper coping mechanism. Science has provided evidence that CBD may be a safer alternative treatment to THC due to its anxiolytic properties at all doses. As CBD oils and other products become widely available and more commonplace in our society, continued research surrounding its potential benefits is imperative
Consult with an Expert
Living with anxiety can deplete your quality of life. It may be tempting to dive-in head first due to the potential benefits of CBD, but you should always consult a health professional regarding your individual needs before beginning a new treatment. If you live in a legalized state, many dispensaries have experts on staff that can provide a consultation regarding the basics of CBD and dosage recommendations.