With new research — and expanded availability — of cannabis products for anxiety unfolding exponentially over the past year or so, they're starting to become much more commonplace in many people's daily lives. Stress relieving practices like meditation, exercise, and communicating honestly with loved ones and/or professionals are still very much in play, but the evolution of goods touting CBD and THC has some experts believing they could be just as beneficial of an addition.
"Cannabis has been used by humans for more than 5,000 years, and one of the common traditional ways to use cannabis is to ease stress and nervousness," says Dr. Lindsey Elmore, PharmD, BCPS to TZR. "Some studies [...] have claimed that cannabis in many forms — smoked marijuana, ingested or topical CBD, THC, or both — can ease anxiety and anxiety sensitivity, which is the fear of anxiety symptoms."
Now, for those unfamiliar with THC and/or CBD, here's a quick rundown. According to Dr. Elmore, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) can be found in both marijuana and hemp plants. "While marijuana and hemp are not the same plant, they are both cannabis sativa, years of selective breeding has lead to dramatically different plant characteristics," she explains. "THC is found in high concentration in marijuana and CBD is found in high concentration in hemp plants." Although CBD and THC have the same molecular structure, CBD does not contain the psychoactive compound found in THC that delivers the "high" effect.
Cannabis Research To Consider Before Jumping In
A 2019 study published by the Journal of Affective Disorders found that inhaling cannabis reduced short-term symptoms of anxiety in a total of 93.5 percent of tracked sessions. Another 2015 analysis concluded that CBD oil is a "promising treatment for numerous forms of anxiety." While this information seems encouraging enough, Dr. Kate Denniston, licensed naturopathic doctor and founder of Los Angeles Integrative Health says there is still a lot of missing clinical evidence out there to truly confirm it as a valid solution. "A lot of questions remain unanswered in terms of its mechanisms and safety with long term use," Dr. Denniston tells TZR. (In fact, some studies have found that long-term use of cannabis can actually exacerbate depression in some individuals.)
The question of legality is also something to consider here (especially if you're going the THC route), as many states haven't quite jumped on the marijuana bandwagon just yet. "Many states still consider THC and marijuana a Class I illegal controlled substance, and therefore these forms of cannabis cannot be recommended," says Dr. Elmore. "Federal law allows isolated CBD products obtained from hemp and with less than 0.3% THC in all 50 states, and certain states allow much higher levels of THC for either medicinal or recreational use." Make sure you educate yourself on the legal parameters in your specific state and proceed with your options from there.
THC Options For Stress Management
After you've done the due diligence, consulted with a physician, and have the green light to try cannabis for your stressful self, you've got products to consider. Dr. Elmore says one of the first questions she asks patients is whether or not they want to consume THC. "While THC has medical benefit, it also brings a 'high' that many patients find undesirable," she explains. "THC is also detectable on a drug test, and therefore a THC-containing product is inappropriate for anyone who undergoes drug testing in the workplace or as a part of professional sports."
Melinda Adamec, senior director of strategic partnerships and business development for OMI Industries (which formulates cannabis odor-eliminating brand Cannabolish), says taking a visit to a local or trusted and established dispensary could be a great first step in understanding and getting more comfortable in the cannabis space. "Dispensaries and other retail environments have educated, trained professionals behind the counter to walk people through each cannabis product and guide consumers on its potential uses and benefits," says Adamec to TZR. "Those who are on the fence may not understand what’s now available on the market and how cannabis can be used as a natural and plant-based remedy."
Sam Arellano, chief marketing officer for luxury cannabis brand Canndescent recommends those new to cannabis start low and slow. "Maybe one or two pulls of our Stylus vape pen or whole flower pre-rolls, then wait one to two hours before consuming more,” he says to TZR. If inhaling cannabis isn't your thing, Guy Rocourt, the chief product officer of cannabis product manufacturer Papa & Barkley, explains that you don’t necessarily have to go that route to reap rewards. “If you're looking for more discreet alternatives to smoking and inhaling, tinctures, edibles, patches, and even a bath soak are great products to get the benefits of cannabis for stress reduction,” says Rocourt to TZR.
CBD Options For Stress Management
If THC is out, CBD can also be a worthy solution. To be clear, CBD has the same calming effects of THC — sans the psychoactive impact. "Full-spectrum CBD oil is preferred because it contains other beneficial cannabinoid and terpene compounds in the plant that likely create a synergistic effect with CBD," Dr. Denniston explains. "Isolated CBD [which contains only the CBD molecule, with no accompanying terpenes, THC, or other cannabinoids] oil also has a narrower therapeutic window that can be harder to target than full spectrum CBD. Full-spectrum CBD is also required at a lower dose to gain beneficial effects."
Also like THC, CBD can be used in many forms. "Isolated CBD and combined THC/CBD products come in creams, sprays, candies, oil mixtures, vaporizers, and marijuana can be smoked, vaporized or ingested," says Dr. Elmore. "Many patients are uncomfortable with smoked preparations due to the aroma and social stigma. Vaporizers (aka vape) have earned themselves a terrible reputation online due to the lack of disclosure of vape pen ingredients leading to serious harm, and many patients choose to avoid them."
For stress-reducing purposes specifically, Dr. Elmore says she typically recommends candies, sprays, lozenges, beverages, and other ingestible forms of cannabis. "The downside of ingestible cannabis is that the duration of effect is long, and if you don’t love the feeling the product gives you, it can be difficult to get rid of," she explains. "For people who want a more reliable duration of action, vaporized or smoked cannabis may be more appropriate."
Whatever cannabis route you choose to take — THC or CBD — it’s helpful to complement your use with good-for-you practices like healthy diet and exercise. “In addition to trying cannabis, stay active and exercise,” says Rocourt. “Exercise releases endorphins which naturally reduce stress [...] Getting a good night’s rest lowers stress and keeps your immune system strong, which may help beat holiday stress before it starts. You may find that CBD or THC in small amounts can improve the quality of your sleep.”
Interested in taking a dip in the cannabis pool? Ahead, 10 THC- and CBD-infused items to help start your journey.
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*Readers should note that the regulations and data surrounding marijuana, CBD, and other related products are still developing. As such, the information contained in this article should not be construed as medical or legal advice. Always consult with your doctor before trying any substance or supplement.
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