Managing Stress & Anxiety with Cannabis

Managing Stress & Anxiety with Cannabis

 

Managing stress isn’t always easy, especially in today’s turbulent times. The pandemic has added significant stress to people’s daily lives. Adults are juggling constantly changing restrictions and closures around childcare, education, and workplaces, on top of already busy schedules and in addition to the mental toll of prolonged isolation and anxiety. To keep our minds and bodies healthy, stress management is more important than ever.

According to Health Canada, some Canadians are turning to cannabis to help manage their mental health. Approximately 1 in 3 Canadians (34%) say their consumption has increased compared with the pre-pandemic period. Stress, boredom and loneliness, and ease of access to cannabis, were all cited as reasons for the increase. Looking at data from the past 3 years, 1 in 5 Canadians (20%) have used cannabis in the past three months. Daily use has increased 1.8% since legalization, 7.9% of consumers reporting regular use.[1]

 

Why are people turning to cannabis in times of high stress?

The relationship between cannabis and stress is more than just a placebo effect. Cannabis is made up of cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, that work directly with our endocannabinoid system. After ingestion, inhalation, vaping, etc., these cannabinoids interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body.[1] By interacting with our bodies’ natural endocannabinoid system, cannabis can influence how we perceive and react to stress.[2]

The endocannabinoid system plays a pivotal role in the regulation of emotional states. Brain regions like the amygdala, hippocampus and cortex are directly involved in regulating emotional behaviour. These regions of the brain contain high densities of CB1 receptors that can be influenced by cannabis.[3]

While we are still learning about cannabis, there has been promising evidence that cannabis may alleviate depression, anxiety, and stress. Cannabidiol (CBD) shows particular promise when it comes to easing stress and anxiety, working with the endocannabinoid systems CB1 receptors.[4]

In a comprehensive review, researchers strongly endorsed CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely.[5]

There are multiple ways CBD may help with emotional behaviours like stress. Clinical research on cannabis and emotional behaviour has primarily been done by testing stress reactions in mice. These studies revealed that CBD administered daily helped test subjects by reducing avoidance, fear, heart rate, blood pressure, and preventing long term effects of stress.[6]

 

How does Cannabis Impact Mental Health?

One of the most commonly reported motives for cannabis use is to cope with stress; 72% of daily cannabis users reported using cannabis to relax or relieve tension.[7] Medical cannabis can be authorized by doctors in Canada to treat various illnesses, including mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

According to a study using self-reported Strainprint data, cannabis significantly reduced ratings of depression, anxiety, and stress. The app records how consumers feel before and after consuming cannabis to track dose, effects, and frequency.[8]

Of the 11,953 sessions studied, two puffs of cannabis were sufficient to reduce ratings of depression and anxiety, while 10+ puffs produced the greatest perceived reductions in stress. Unlike clinical studies, which focus on oral administration, 92% of recorded sessions were vaped or smoked dried cannabis flower. [9]

Patients reported that low THC and high CBD was best for alleviating stress. A lot of new users to cannabis may mistakenly believe that high THC is the best and only option for stress management, but the study emphasizes the importance of CBD – especially when looking to reduce stress. High CBD (>9.5%) and low THC (<5.5%) cannabis was most effective at influencing depression Overall, medical cannabis users perceived a 50% reduction in depression and a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress following cannabis use.[10]

 

Tools for Managing Mental Health (hint: It’s not just cannabis)

When using cannabis to manage stress, it can be helpful to keep a journal or app to track how you feel. Since there are a variety of ways to consume cannabis, as well as influencing factors like terpene profiles and cannabinoid content, keeping track can help individuals learn what products work best for them.

Right now, self-care is less of a luxury and more of a requirement for healthy stress management. Cannabis can be a powerful tool in your toolkit when it comes to managing mental health and stress; however, it is only one tool, not a cure-all.

In addition to cannabis, it is important to cultivate other tools for managing mental health. To reduce stress, WebMD recommends a balance of physical and mental activities that support a healthy lifestyle.

 

Exercise – Working out can be a helpful way to relax both body and mind. Regular physical activity and time in nature is an essential tool in your toolkit for healthy stress management. Exercise can be tailored to your needs and ability, whether that is gentle stretching or more vigorous activity. It is helpful to set fitness goals and remember, any exercise is better than no exercise.

Meditation – Set aside time to meditate each day, when possible. Focusing on breathwork and calming the mind also eases physical tension held in the body. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes, and slowly take deep and intentional breaths.

Healthy Foods – A well-balanced diet is an effective way to curb stress. Focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can increase energy and improve mood. Avoid high sugar and simple carbohydrates, as well as processed foods.

Hobbies – Prioritize things you enjoy, not just things you have to get done. Something as simple as spending 15 minutes reading, writing, doing puzzles, or whatever brings you joy, can relieve stress.

 

And remember to be gentle with yourself, these are unprecedented times.

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[1] Viveros MP, Marco EM, File SE. Endocannabinoid system and stress and anxiety responses. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005 Jun;81(2):331-42. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2005.01.029. PMID: 15927244

[2] Viveros MP, Marco EM, File SE. Endocannabinoid system and stress and anxiety responses. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005 Jun;81(2):331-42. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2005.01.029. PMID: 15927244

[3] Viveros MP, Marco EM, File SE. Endocannabinoid system and stress and anxiety responses. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005 Jun;81(2):331-42. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2005.01.029. PMID: 15927244

[4] Blessing, E.M., Steenkamp, M.M., Manzanares, J. et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics 12, 825–836 (2015).

[5] Blessing, E.M., Steenkamp, M.M., Manzanares, J. et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics 12, 825–836 (2015).

[6] Blessing, E.M., Steenkamp, M.M., Manzanares, J. et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics 12, 825–836 (2015).

[7] Hyman SM, Sinha R. Stress-related factors in cannabis use and misuse: implications for prevention and treatment. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2009 Jun;36(4):400-13.

[8] Cuttler C, Spradlin A, McLaughlin RJ. A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect. J Affect Disord. 2018 Aug 1;235:198-205.

[9] Cuttler C, Spradlin A, McLaughlin RJ. A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect. J Affect Disord. 2018 Aug 1;235:198-205.

[10] Cuttler C, Spradlin A, McLaughlin RJ. A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect. J Affect Disord. 2018 Aug 1;235:198-205.

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