Does THC cause anxiety? Or does THC help reduce anxiety? The answer likely depends on how much THC you’re consuming, what strain you’re using, and how your body (and mind) reacts to THC.
What kind of THC you’re using and how high your dose is could change THC’s effects from anxiety-reducing to anxiety-inducing.
Plenty of people around the globe find cannabis useful for reducing feelings of anxiety. One national survey in 2017 found 81% of Americans believe cannabis has multiple health benefits, and nearly half listed “relief from anxiety” as one of them. However, is it really CBD, not THC, that reduces anxiety? Does THC cause anxiety?
The relationship between THC and anxiety is complex. Ongoing research indicates that while one compound of cannabis (CBD) could be beneficial for those suffering from anxiety, stress, and depression, THC may contribute to the worsening of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety and Cannabis: A Complicated Relationship
Anxiety is a feeling of tension, worry, and nervousness, often related to a specific event or situation, or is experienced for seemingly no reason at all. Many people naturally experience anxiety on occasion when presented with specific stimuli, such as a challenging task at work, or a family member suffering from an illness. However, when anxiety becomes a persistent and debilitating problem, and you’re often getting anxiety for no reason, it can become an anxiety disorder.
Cannabis Sativa is a plant used for both medicinal and recreational purposes in various parts of the world. Individuals who use this substance believe it can help reduce various symptoms related to anxiety, including tension, paranoia, and difficulty sleeping.
On the other hand, there are also people who find cannabis produces the exact same symptoms of anxiety when taken regularly. Does THC cause anxiety? The answer is that yes, sometimes THC use can induce feelings of anxiety, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Racing thoughts
- Trouble focusing or problems with concentration
- Decreased motivation
- Confusion or brain fog
Though research into why cannabis helps anxiety for some people and worsens it for others is still ongoing, experts believe it may have something to do with the dose, as well as two major compounds in the plant: THC and CBD.
Does THC Cause Anxiety?
While cannabis is made up of more than 120 active ingredients and compounds, the most plentiful are CBD (cannabidiol), and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol).
THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis, responsible for causing the sense of euphoria most people associate with smoking or eating the plant. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant, used for various therapeutic benefits.
Typically, CBD is the substance often suggested for minimizing anxiety and improving sleep, while THC can be more beneficial for combating poor appetite or nausea.
Although it’s not certain why THC and CBD have such different influences on the body and mind, researchers suggest it has something to do with the way these compounds interact with cannabinoid receptors in our body. THC binds with the receptors that control brain and mood, which is why it can make you feel euphoric, but can also increase heart-rate, paranoia, and exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
THC’s Side Effects That Mimic or Cause Anxiety
Some states have authorized the use of THC as part of medical marijuana remedies to help with issues such as nausea, nerve pain, chemotherapy side effects, multiple sclerosis pain, and Parkinson’s disease. However, while THC can have positive benefits on some parts of the brain and body, it also has a number of possible detrimental side effects. Taken regularly and in high doses, THC can cause:
- Problems with concentration
- Drowsiness or dizziness
- Memory loss
- Irritation or irritability
- Increased heart rate
Many of the negative side-effects of THC can mimic and worsen the symptoms of anxiety.
According to a study from 2014, participants using cannabis for the treatment of neurological conditions experienced worsened anxiety as an adverse effect.
When the researchers examined this response more closely, it was discovered that a higher concentration of THC was linked to a higher risk of anxiety.
Another study from 2020 looked at the potential of cannabis to cause feelings of anxiety, psychosis, paranoia, and panic. The researchers found the THC in cannabis is usually associated with an “anxiogenic response” (feelings of anxiety), while CBD is more likely to be attributed to a “anxiolytic response” (relaxation and calm).
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, people who abuse the use of cannabis are also more likely to have anxiety disorders. This means that consuming too much THC in high doses can cause anxiety.
How CBD Differs from THC
THC alone, or in high doses, seems to be associated with a higher risk of negative side-effects such as increased risk of anxiety. High levels of THC can contribute to greater feelings of paranoia, anxious thoughts, and even memory problems. However, CBD can help to counteract these effects.
Studies indicate that CBD can help block some of the negative cognitive effects of regular cannabis abuse, and minimize the psychiatric effects of THC.
Where studies into the interaction between cannabis and anxiety show higher levels of THC correlating with higher anxiety, greater levels of CBD could actually reduce your feelings of anxiety, and promote a greater sense of calm.
According to the authors of a study from 2015, CBD is capable of interacting with the type 1 cannabinoid receptor and the serotonin 5-HT receptor in the brain responsible for regulating fear and anxiety-induced behavior. The researchers in this review found clinical, and pre-clinical evidence indicating CBD could therefore be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
The review built on other studies conducted in the past which demonstrated the positive impact CBD could have on the brains of people with anxiety disorders. If you enjoy cannabis but struggle with anxiety, CBD oil with very small, trace amounts of THC might be better for you than high levels of THC consumed through the flower.
One study from 2010 found CBD oil significantly reduced anxiety symptoms in people with social anxiety disorder. In the study, participants had their brains scanned, and scientists discovered CBD oil could trigger changes in blood flow to regions of the brain linked with anxiety.
How CBD Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety
While additional research is necessary to confirm the findings gathered about the different impacts of THC and CBD on anxiety and the human brain, CBD is generally regarded as a much safer option for treatment, with fewer side effects.
Multiple studies currently exist to demonstrate the ability of THC to increase symptoms of anxiety, while no such reports demonstrate the same side-effects from CBD. Contrastingly, there are countless studies demonstrating the ability of CBD to significantly reduce anxiety.
According to a recent study in 2020, researchers looked at the effects of CBD (without THC content) on 397 adults from New Zealand. The participants in the study received CBD prescriptions for various ailments, including mental health symptoms, neurological symptoms, and pain.
All groups reported a significant improvement in their quality of life following 3 weeks of CBD treatment. The individuals taking CBD treatment for depression or anxiety said they saw improvements in daily functioning otherwise disrupted by anxiety.
As an added benefit, only 9.9% of the participants in this study experienced adverse side effects, such as vivid dreams and feelings of “sedation”.
By helping to calm the mind, minimize feelings of pain and discomfort, and even improve concentration, CBD can give people a sense of greater control over their emotions. One retrospective study even found CBD treatment could help to tackle sleep problems, which are a common symptom and side-effect of many anxiety disorders.
The Bottom Line: Choose CBD Over THC if You Struggle With Anxiety
The research into the potential of cannabis for the treatment of anxiety is still ongoing. However, high use of THC over the long-term seems to be more likely to worsen anxiety by creating symptoms which agitate existing issues of paranoia and panic.
A growing body of research indicates that CBD may help to relieve stress, anxiety, and many of the side-effects associated with it.
For those considering the use of cannabis compounds to treat anxiety, the best (and safest) option appears to be to keep doses of THC as low as possible, while increasing doses of CBD.
Anxiety sufferers will likely find relief from a high-quality CBD oil such as Wunderkind Extracts Full-Spectrum CBD Oil.