Using cannabis for anxiety is a time-honored method for calming down. This is because, along with the many anxiety-reducing benefits of cannabis, its impact on serotonin levels is thought to help those suffering from anxiety and depression. So how does it work? And is cannabis a better alternative to prescription medications for anxiety and depression? Read on to learn how cannabis can act as a natural therapy.
Marijuana and Serotonin
As a neurotransmitter, serotonin carries messages between the brain’s nerve cells. This chemical, 5-hydroxytryptamine, affects a range of functions, including sleep, appetite, pain, libido and mood — serotonin aids in producing the sleep hormone melatonin and is active in the digestive process. When serotonin levels are low, depression and insomnia may result. Chronic stress can lower serotonin levels.
The link between marijuana and serotonin is based primarily on cannabidiol, or CBD. The cannabis sativa plant contains CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) most prominently among its other cannabinoids. Researchers in a Brazilian
study published in 2014 found CBD exhibited antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects in animal models. The effect was similar to that of buspirone, an anti-anxiety medication marketed as BuSpar.
The Bliss Molecule
Anandamide, known as the “bliss molecule,” is similar in chemical structure to THC. Anandamide helps regulate mood, emotions, memory and sleep.
The body’s endocannabinoid system plays a role in regulating bodily functions, including sleep. Cannabinoids such as CBD interact with this system. Studies in rats show that anandamide caused drowsiness after injection and boosted the rats’ REM sleep. Anandamide appears to help the body move through the various sleep stages. CBD may interact with endocannabinoid brain receptors guiding the body’s sleep cycle.
Pain and anxiety disrupt the body’s sleep cycle. Low serotonin levels wreak further havoc. CBD’s pain-relieving and anti-anxiety properties partly contribute to improved sleep through its effect on serotonin receptors.
Serotonin and Anxiety
Doctors may prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for those suffering from depression or anxiety. SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft, well-known antidepressants, are examples of SSRIs. Cannabis may prove an alternative to these pharmaceuticals for some people.
The title of a later Brazilian
study, “Antidepressant-like effect induced by Cannabidiol, depends on brain serotonin levels,” published in Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry No. 86, 2018, explains the outcome of recent research. The purpose of the study was to further the understanding of the mechanisms of CBD-induced antidepressant effects in rodents.
This study concludes, as have others, that while CBD’s antidepressant effect depends on serotonin levels, the mechanism through which CBD facilitates serotonin neurotransmission is still unclear. More studies are needed to determine whether CBD use continues its anti-depressive effects over the long-term. In the short-term, CBD can alter the stress and depression cycle associated with low serotonin.
How Cannabis Can Help
Anxiety and depression take various forms. While research is still ongoing, cannabis may offer relief for those dealing with:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social anxiety
One caveat: Do not try to self-medicate if dealing with extreme forms of these conditions. Seek medical attention instead, as cannabis may help people with mild to moderate levels of anxiety and depression. If you are experiencing more extreme forms of these conditions it is always best to obtain advice from a healthcare provider familiar with cannabis’ medicinal effects.
While cannabis can help combat some forms of anxiety and depression, using the right strain is critical. Look for CBD-dominant strains, as well as strains that are dominant in terpenes like myrcene, limonene and caryophyllene, all of which are thought to help combat anxiety. THC-dominant strains may exacerbate anxiety in some individuals.
Dosage and frequency of use vary by individual. There is no set standard, but
the dosage is a determining factor in the efficacy of cannabis on anxiety. That is why patients should keep careful track of the cannabis strains used, their effects and the amount needed to lessen anxiety or depression.
Are you interested in trying marijuana to treat your anxiety? It provides benefits of regulating mood, emotions, sleep and more than contribute to a happier and healthier you.
As the only physician-led and woman-led dispensary in Massachusetts,
Garden Remedies is changing the conversation about cannabis. We are committed to helping as many people as possible by providing access to safe, legal and natural cannabis. Visit one of our three dispensaries, located in Marlborough, Melrose and Newton, or call us at
(844) 344-2420. For all other inquiries, email
Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications, including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.