Anxiety and Medical Marijuana: The Impact of Cannabinoids



Anxiety affects roughly 18% of Americans. This makes it the most common mental illness in the country, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Of the over 40 million patients in United States, many use conventional medications to deal with the problem. While effective, they often come with unpleasant side effects. Drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, weight gain and sexual dysfunction are just a few issues. Consequently, patients are caught between a rock and a hard place. They can’t function without their medication, yet they’re just as crippled while on it.

This is where medical marijuana comes in. Recently, this drug has become a jack-of-all trades, treating several physical and mental problems ­– anxiety being one of them. But unlike chronic pain, nausea or insomnia, for instance, anxiety is a bit tricky. In fact, properly treating anxiety with cannabis requires care. Using the wrong strain could actually make things much worse.

So how can we know which strain is right? The answer lies in marijuana’s active chemicals, called cannabinoids. Understanding what these are and what they do is critical for the effective treatment of anxiety.

THC, CBD and Anxiety

How marijuana helps (or hinders) the treatment of anxiety is entirely dependent on the cannabinoid concentrations. Understanding how each of them affect this condition is critical.


The first – and arguably the most well-known – cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the chemical that creates the euphoric “high” we’re familiar with. It’s the main reason people use marijuana, legal or otherwise. But while it may be a fun way to relax or ponder the mysteries of the universe, it’s not the greatest thing for anxiety.

THC has its share of negative side effects. One specific issue is how it can cause paranoia or fear. Naturally, this isn’t the type of thing you’d want if you’re trying to curb chronic anxiety. Unfortunately, many new users don’t understand how some cannabis strains can contain massive amounts of THC. White Widow or Royal Purple Kush, for instance, have THC levels in the low to high ‘20s. If these strains were alcohol, they’d be comparable to whiskey or vodka. Anyone with anxiety should steer clear of these strains (and others like them).


This brings us to the other cannabinoid of interest, cannabidiol (CBD). If high-THC strains are like hard liquor, CBD would be non-alcoholic beer. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive. It actually reduces the effectiveness of THC. This is why most medical strains will have a higher amount of one or the other. There are some exceptions, but they’re few and far between.

But the lack of a “high” isn’t the only reason why patients should use strong CBD strains. Peer-reviewed research supports its use as an effective treatment for anxiety. According to an article by the University Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute (ADAI), “…CBD may actually have anti-anxiety effects and lessen the psychoactive effects of THC.”


So how does CBD work? Without getting too technical, it all boils down to our internal cannabinoid receptors, labeled CB1 and CB2. According to Dr. Anany Mandal, CB1 receptors are located in the brain. THC is drawn to these receptors, hence the drowsiness, impaired motor function and overall sense of euphoria.

CBD, on the other hand, affects the CB2 receptors. Dr. Mandal explains that these are predominantly found throughout the body. In turn, CBD can still do things like mitigate pain or anxiety without making users high.

Picking the Right Strain for Anxiety

So now comes the question, “which strain should I use?” Strains vary by supplier. Fortunately, they have the good sense to label the THC and CBD content of their products.

Again, cannabinoid contents are stated in percentages. Anxiety sufferers can obtain strains high in CBD with negligible amounts of THC. The only way to know for sure is to research the product before purchasing it. It also helps to consult with your doctor (assuming he or she supports medical marijuana).


Using marijuana to treat anxiety requires careful balance and detailed research. Although research into the CBD aspect of medical cannabis is still fairly new, its importance is indisputable. Use caution, especially when beginning marijuana treatment.