It’s a normal part of life to experience occasional anxiety.
But you may experience anxiety that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming. If it’s an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be disabling. When anxiety interferes with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions – just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in many Western Countries, South Africa included.
The term “anxiety disorder” refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.
What Is Anxiety?
A helpful approach to distinguishing normal anxiety from an anxiety disorder is to identify the cause of the anxiety, and then assess whether the anxiety symptoms are a proportional response to it. Worries, fears, and intrusive thoughts that are extreme, unrealistic, or exaggerated and interfere with normal life and functioning could constitute an anxiety disorder. For instance, being concerned about getting sick and taking steps to avoid germs, like using hand sanitizer and avoiding touching door handles, does not necessarily constitute an anxiety disorder; however, if the concern about sickness makes it difficult to leave the house, then it is possible that the person suffers from an anxiety or anxiety-related disorder.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by a general feature of excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) and can have negative behavioural and emotional consequences. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts (e.g., constantly worrying about staying clean, or about one’s body size) that trigger related, compulsive behaviours (e.g. repeated hand-washing, or excessive exercise). These behaviours are performed to alleviate the anxiety associated with the obsessive thoughts. Trauma- and stressor- related anxiety disorders are related to the experience of a trauma (e.g., unexpected death of a loved one, a car accident, or a violent incident) or stressor (e.g., divorce, beginning college, moving).
There are several different anxiety disorders, each with a distinct set of symptoms. However, common symptoms can include:
- increased or irregular heartbeat
- back pain
- restlessness and fatigue
- muscle tension
- being easily startled
- recurring and ongoing feelings of worry, with or without known stressors
- avoidance of certain situations that may cause worry, often affecting quality of life
Treating Anxiety with Medical Cannabis
If you have made it this far, and you are feeling anxious to see whether medical marijuana may have a solution for you, take a deep breath! The answer is a resounding YES! Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders have turned to medical cannabis as an alternative and natural means to manage the symptoms of anxiety. Beware though! People who suffer from any form of anxiety and/or anxiety disorders, should not use medical cannabis high in THC. THC is the most predominant cannabinoid found in cannabis, and it is also the cannabinoid that causes the “high”. In short, THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Because of this, THC can cause anxiety in some people and exacerbate and heighten it in those already suffering from this debilitating condition.
Instead, the answer lies in cannabidiol, or full extract CBD oil. The minute amount of THC in cannabidiol is enough to ensure that anxiety sufferers benefit from whole plant medicine and the Entourage Effect, without the risk of the unpleasant side-effect of anxiety caused by THC.
While some studies suggest that “cannabinoid system activation could represent a novel approach to the treatment of cognitive deficits that accompany a variety of stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders”, a further study by Translational Psychiatry’s results suggest that increasing one’s levels of endocannabinoids, particularly anandamide, could be a viable treatment for stress-induced anxiety.
What Is Anandamide?
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid, which means our body produces it naturally. It operates in a similar manner to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and effects the CB1 receptors as well as the CB2 receptors.
Past research has shown that anandamide can fight against human breast cancer and aggressive skin cancer, among other benefits. It is also likely that anandamide plays a role in many of the benefits offered by cannabidiol (CBD), considering the fact that CBD inhibits the production of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that degrades anandamide.
A few months ago, we published a piece about the apparent relationship between CBD and social anxiety. However, the study offered little evidence as to the mechanisms underlying the cannabinoid’s benefits.
That being said, it’s entirely possible that anandamide was responsible for the significant improvement in anxiety experienced by patients in the previous study. The research performed at Vanderbilt University seems to increase the likelihood of this hypothesis.
Increased Anandamide May Help Treat Stress-Induced Anxiety
In order to test the relationship between anandamide and stress-induced anxiety, the Vanderbilt research team conducted a series of tests using mice as subjects. First, they shocked the mice’s feet six times for two seconds each to induce stress – there was a one-minute interval between each shock.
24 hours later, the mice were subjected to a number of behavioural assays to determine whether this foot-shock would result in an anxious response. The results of two different tests suggested that the mice were in fact dealing with anxiety, according to the research team.
“The endocannabinoid was able to reverse the stress-induced state of anxiety in mice.”
In an attempt to counter the effects of this anxiety, the researchers administered an inhibitor of fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) to prevent the enzyme from degrading anandamide. Their results suggest that the endocannabinoid was able to reverse the stress-induced state of anxiety in mice.
How Can Medical Cannabis Help Treat Stress and Anxiety?
Perhaps more interesting, the Vanderbilt research team reported that anandamide levels throughout the brain were reduced 24 hours after shocking the mice’s feet. This was negatively-correlated with their experience of anxiety (more anandamide = less anxiety), which lead researchers to the conclusion that “central anandamide levels predict acute stress-induced anxiety.”
The Vanderbilt research team explains that their findings “strongly support the utility of anandamide augmentation as a therapeutic approach for stress-related affective and anxiety disorders.”
Considering that cannabidiol (CBD) can inhibit the degradation of anandamide and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can mimic its effects, one can reasonably infer that cannabis-based therapies may help counter stress-induced anxiety. Of course, more research will be necessary to verify the effectiveness of such treatments.
Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil
Cannabidiol (CBD) refers to cannabis oil with a high content ratio of CBD which promotes general good health and well-being, benefits neurological disorders, and treats various ailments. CBD is a natural anti-inflammatory and effectively treats the pain associated with inflammation. CBD is not psychoactive, doesn’t get you ‘high’, but unlike the nutrient supplement Hemp CBD products sold at health shops, it has THC in it in order to render it effective.
Studies prove that medical marijuana with high levels of CBD provide a therapeutic effect on those with anxiety disorders. Sadly, the oils are often peoples last resort, finally getting the relief they have been seeking without any of the terrible side effects of western medicines. Ironic! We are finding more and more people choosing to use the oils as a more natural holistic alternative to western medicines.
Written by Lise Gatenby, April 2018
Disclaimer: Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary (MCDSA) aims to be a hub of information about medicinal cannabis, healthy living and the latest scientific research. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of MCDSA. Always consult your doctor before starting a new treatment.