Cannabis for Natural Stress and Anxiety Relief

Understand how cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system to mitigate stress & anxiety.

Cannabis medicine today is being used by persons around the world to manage stress and anxiety. But the question is, does it really work? There is enough global research today, especially in vitro, buttressed by scores of observational studies, that have established that the two principal cannabinoids – unique compounds found in the cannabis plant – namely tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), reduce stress and anxiety via the mediation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Anxiety is part of the human body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response to a perceived threat. While this response can be beneficial in moments of genuine danger, data suggests that a significant portion of the population experience excessive fear/worry disproportionate to the realities of a given situation, such as public speaking. Patients who experience this heightened fear/worry that persists after the perceived threat has passed, may be suffering from chronic stress/anxiety disorder. These feelings of unease can impact a patient’s ability to cope with daily life. When left untreated, they can negatively impact work and/or social activities, significantly reducing one’s quality of life. 


Cannabinoid Medicine: An Introduction

Utilizing cannabis for its medicinal properties is hardly a new concept. Historical evidence shows that for thousands of years cannabis has been cultivated and utilized worldwide by various cultures for its therapeutic applications. In India, there is a rich tradition of cannabis use in traditional systems of medicine such as Ayurveda. Classical texts record more than 190 distinct cannabis formulations for application across a host of indications.


Today, ongoing research and product development suggests that we have barely scratched the surface of cannabis medicine’s treatment potential and applications. Thus far over 600 chemical compounds have been discovered in the cannabis plant, including over 160 phytocannabinoids and over 200 terpenes. This growing body of research has informed us not only of the various therapeutic potentials of these chemicals individually, but also of their synergistic effects when working together to create what is referred to as the ‘entourage effect.’ The therapeutic benefits of “whole-plant” medicine are espoused in Ayurveda as well.


The Endocannabinoid System

The human endocannabinoid system consists of an extensive network of cannabinoid receptors (most notably the CB1 and CB2 receptors) found in the brain and throughout the body’s central nervous system, immune system, endocrine system and much more. Additionally, the body also produces its own endocannabinoids (over 120 known endocannabinoids), of which Anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are best known, and which are structurally similar to THC and CBD. 

The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating many of the body’s natural functions including, Appetite, Inflammation, Mood, Pain, Sleep, Stress and Weight. While currently ongoing, there is still much research to be done to fully understand the endocannabinoid system and its role in maintaining homeostasis within the human body.




An analysis of the ECS and stress response published in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology1 stated that “The stress response is a biological cascade of events that occurs in response to a real or perceived threat to homeostasis.” Stress and anxiety induce a reaction in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which regulate the body’s response to managing stress and anxiety. Reductions in both 2-AG and AEA which are understood to regulate dopamine especially AEA, leads to a decrease in pleasure signalling, thus elevating stress.


Treatment with Cannabis Medicine

Patients continuously report using cannabis medicine to manage stress2. This points to the therapeutic value of cannabis medicine, even as clinical data continues to grow on the therapeutic application of cannabinoids. An article in the Journal of Affective Disorders3 showed that 58% of users reported a reduction in stress and anxiety following cannabis medicine administration. Cannabinoid formulations, especially products high in CBD with lower concentrations of THC, have been shown to aid in the management of symptoms of stress and anxiety. There is a high concentration of cannabinoid receptors found in areas of the brain responsible for emotion and impulse control (the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the anterior cingulate). CBD stimulates these cannabinoid receptors, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, thus helping to slow/reduce the body’s ‘flight or fight’ response.


Conclusion

While there is room for some healthy debate as to which is the best natural treatment option for stress and/or anxiety, a strong argument can be made for the use of cannabinoid medicines. Feelings of stress or anxiety can impact one’s overall quality of life, and when left untreated, these feelings can negatively impact work, relationships, and social activities. Additional research is certainly needed to fully understand the therapeutic potentials and possible side effects of cannabis medicine as a treatment for stress and anxiety. While cannabis medicine has a well-established safety profile with mild side effects, it is always important to seek medical counsel before undertaking any therapy.


References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26068727/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29257781/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29656267/

Further Research Reading


- Neurobiological Interactions Between Stress and the Endocannabinoid System: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26068727/ 

- The Endocannabinoid system in guarding against fear, anxiety and stress: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871913/ 

- Endocannabinoid system and stress and anxiety responses: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0091305705001346 

- Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6326553/ 

- Dose-related effects of delta-9-THC on emotional responses to acute psychosocial stress https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S037687161730220X 

- Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881110379283 

- Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2338251 

 

Originally published in the Mental Health Issue of iThive magazine