Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States, affecting up to 18 percent of the adult population on an annual basis. More than one in five of these disorders can be classified as severe, with symptoms that are highly stressful and disabling.

Only about one third of those who battle anxiety disorders will ever seek the assistance of a medical professional. Treating anxiety disorders usually involves combining some form of psychotherapy with mind-altering psychiatric medications, the latter of which are difficult for many people to take because of the serious side effects.

But an alternative form of treatment does exist. Several studies have verified the effectiveness of medical marijuana use to counteract anxiety symptoms, either by reducing their intensity or by preventing their outbreak altogether. Treating anxiety disorders with medical marijuana can provide a successful breakthrough where other treatment options have failed.

Which Types of Anxiety Disorder are Helped by Cannabis?

There are six categories of anxiety disorder, and scientific testing plus anecdotal evidence suggests all are responsive to medicinal cannabis.

In particular, it is one primary ingredient in medical marijuana—cannabidiol, or CBD—that shows an advanced capacity to suppress or eliminate anxiety disorder symptoms. THC, the most well-known ingredient in medical marijuana, can occasionally cause further agitation in anxiety suffers because of its psychoactive effects.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

A team of researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro carried out an extensive review of previous studies on the effects of CBD on generalized anxiety symptoms (common in GAD). This research revealed that CBD is highly useful in preventing anxiety symptoms in vulnerable men and women, and it does so without any noticeable side effects.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

In the January 2011 edition of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers headquartered at the University of São Paulo in Brazil discussed their study on the effects of CBD when used by people diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. Compared to those treated with a placebo, SAD sufferers taking CBD reported dramatic reductions in their anxiety symptoms and significant improvement in their overall social performance.

Another study, which was highlighted in the May 2011 edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, revealed that SAD victims given CBD before public speaking assignments experienced lower levels of anticipatory anxiety (nervousness before their speeches), in-performance anxiety, cognitive impairment and self-conscious inhibition.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Several states have now legalized medical marijuana for use in the treatment of PTSD, in response to research studies that prove it can help reduce the suffering of those diagnosed with this condition.

For example, one 2015 study looked at the effects of CBD on military veterans with PTSD and found that it helped restore their emotional balance, increase their tolerance for stress, end their insomnia and reduce their daily risk of anxiety attack. Meanwhile, another 2016 study from the University of Birmingham in England found that CBD could take the edge off the fear responses common in PTSD victims, while reducing the intensity of the experienced memories that can trigger PTSD attacks.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Many people don’t realize OCD is an anxiety disorder, but it is—and the evidence shows medical marijuana can work as a remedy for OCD symptoms in many instances.

In addition to ample anecdotal evidence (patient testimony), two recent studies (Psychopharmacology, February 2012 and Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology, October 2013) detailed some encouraging laboratory results that showed CBD could inhibit OCD behavior and calm areas of the brain that show unwanted agitation in those suffering from this persistent disorder.

Specific Phobias

Phobias manifest as intense, nearly impossible-to-manage fears. While the sources of phobias are diverse, research reveals that medicinal cannabis can be effective against phobias regardless of their cause.

As explained in an article published in the December 2016 edition of Frontiers in Pharmacology, medical marijuana products high in CBD can drastically reduce the intensity of fear responses in all situations, making it easier for those with phobias to cope with and manage their extreme fearful responses.

More experimental work needs to be done in this area, but the capacity of CBD to counteract fear, stress and anxiety seems indisputable.

Panic Disorder

No studies have been carried out into the specific impact of medical marijuana on panic disorder. However, anecdotal evidence that establishes its effectiveness against panic is plentiful; users report lowered intensity in panic symptoms and reduced frequency of panic attacks.

Some patients experiencing these effects were actually taking medical marijuana for other conditions and were quite surprised by the positive impact it had on their panic disorder.

What Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder are Reduced by Cannabis?

Everyone experiences anxiety, nervousness and worry from time to time, often based on authentically stressful circumstances. But people with anxiety disorders respond with exaggerated intensity to situations that cause them difficulty, and in most instances the sources of their anxiety are benign and highly unlikely to cause any real harm.

Medicinal marijuana / cannabis can help anxiety disorder sufferers in three ways:

  •  It can dampen or eliminate frightening physical symptoms associated with extreme nervousness (sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, stomach discomfort, dry mouth, etc.).
  •  It can help calm excited states of mind that leave anxiety disorder victims unhappy, uncomfortable and unable to speak or think clearly.
  • It can defuse anxiety responses so thoroughly that some anxiety triggers lose their ability to cause any reaction.

Medicinal cannabis isn’t a cure for anxiety disorders, but it can help anxiety disorder sufferers improve their daily functioning. Anxiety disorder victims suffer before, during and after bouts of anxiety, and medical marijuana can help reverse this cycle of misery.

Why Do Anxiety Disorders Sufferers Choose Cannabis?

The traditional approach to anxiety disorders is medication combined with psychotherapy. This works for some, but the pharmaceutical drugs normally prescribed to anxiety disorder patients (Xanax, Prozac, Klonopin, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.) are powerful medicines that can be addictive and often cause disturbing side effects.

Medical marijuana is a different class of drug. Its side effects are few and generally quite mild, and that is especially true with CBD since this cannabis ingredient is not responsible for the drug’s euphoric, mind-altering effects.

Medicinal cannabis is a kinder, gentler alternative to anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs and has proven to be a safer, more effective choice for many anxiety disorder victims.

How Is Cannabis Used for Treating Anxiety Disorder Symptoms?

Medicinal cannabis products can be consumed in edible or liquid forms (tinctures), and each is a legitimate option for those who plan to take cannabis for their anxiety disorders.

But vaporized cannabis extract, which uses specially-prepared cartridges for the vaporization and inhalation process, is probably the best bet for users targeting anxiety disorders. By their nature, anxiety disorders can be triggered at any time, and vaporized cannabis circulates throughout the body more rapidly than medical marijuana taken in other forms.

One warning: while medical marijuana is often an effective alternative to pharmaceutical medications, it should not be used as a replacement for psychotherapy. Psychological intervention is vital for most anxiety disorder sufferers and is a necessary complement to any type of medication-based treatment regimen.

What Cannabis Products Work Best for Treating Anxiety Disorders?

Most forms of medicinal cannabis contain a mixture of THC and CBD, including those used to treat anxiety symptoms.

The important factor in this case is the ratio: strains with greater quantities of CBD than THC are preferred and are more likely to give relief to people struggling with anxiety disorders. THC can cause agitation and paranoia in some (but not all) cannabis users, and CBD must be present in abundance to counteract this risk.

While ratio is important, it is not a good idea to consume medical marijuana products with significant quantities of THC, even if CBD still predominates. If THC levels are high the CBD can enhance its disturbing effects rather than counteract them, making the THC user more likely to experience fear and excessive nervousness.

Dispensary staff members are always available to answer clients’ questions, and they can recommend specific strains of medical marijuana with favorable CBD-to-THC ratios.

Dosages

There is no clear answer as to what constitutes a proper daily dosage of medical marijuana for an anxiety disorder. It will depend on the physiology of the user and the type and depth of the anxiety problem. Generally, doctors will recommend patients start out with relatively light doses of medicinal cannabis products, and to only increase usage (slowly and gradually) if improvements are not experienced.

When visiting their doctors, patients suffering from anxiety disorders should discuss their preference to purchase products with a positive CBD-to-THC ratio. Physicians are usually informed about the latest research and will likely recommend products that contain ample amounts of CBD, but that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Dispensary employees are also trained to advise patients who have questions about dosage and/or product choice.