You’ve likely seen it marketed somewhere: cannabis can help to treat your anxiety. But is that really true?
It may be, but unfortunately, there is little medical research to back it up. The groups of people who advertise this benefit the most are those who already use cannabis and those who want to sell it. Both of these groups have alternative goals in mind: the drug user’s want to magnify its benefits, and marijuana companies are trying to make money.
That’s why it’s important to look at the facts.
But do we have any?
It’s true that the research we have on cannabis and anxiety is minimal. The results we do have are also mostly inconclusive.
In a recent interview, cannabis-expert Dr. Jordan Tishler told The Guardian about one main reason many of these misconceptions about marijuana occur. According to Tishler, many people don’t realize the difference between anxiety and stress.
Stress is a response to challenging circumstances like a demanding job or a relationship issue. Anxiety is actually a kind of disorder that causes feelings of worry or fear to occur for no particular reason. So most people who are using marijuana to self-medicate for anxiety are actually self-medicating for stress.
So there aren’t as many people actually using cannabis to treat anxiety as there are people using marijuana to treat stress. This is another reason why the research on whether marijuana works to treat anxiety is “all over the map.”
In the small amount of research that we do have on the topic, the data is rather unclear. Dosing information, timing, and type of product is reported inconsistently, making the results inconclusive.
Does this mean we should discount the use of cannabis to treat anxiety disorders?
There are certainly doctors who believe in the potential for marijuana to help improve anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In fact, one main reason that many people push for the legalization of cannabis in the U.S. is the desire for military veterans to use it for PTSD, a syndrome that shares many commonalities with GAD. Tishler expressed concerns, however, that veterans could be more likely to become addicted to cannabis.
Jonathan Avery, director of addiction psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, doesn’t want to discount the use of medicinal cannabis to treat PTSD. He just wants to take a more cautious approach, which may include starting slowly and combining it with talk therapy or regular pharmaceuticals.