Using cannabis to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation
Amid a global pandemic threatening society, effective ways of soothing stress, anxiety, and fatigue are progressively more important. Cannabis has a famed ability to calm the mind, ease the nerves, and boost emotional elasticity. Cannabis is a genetically diverse plant, with a wide range of possible effects. While some cannabis products can have a stimulating effect, other cannabis products have a soothing, relaxing, and potentially drowsy effect. In this article, I’ll explore methods for using cannabis to promote relaxation, and the various products available at your local dispensary.
Let’s start with an overview of the two main varieties of cannabis: sativa and indica. While both sativa and indica varieties often have high levels of THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid produced in cannabis flowers), they have subtly different ratios of trace cannabinoids and terpenes. These slightly different genetic makeups influence the unique characteristics, or personality, of each strain.
THC and CBD are two examples of commonly known cannabinoids (chemical structures produced by the cannabis plant that interact with our bodies). THC induces the psychoactive “high,” while CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid often used for wellness applications. While both THC and CBD can help with stress-relief, some people find the intense mental effects of THC to be over-stimulating.
While these two common cannabinoids alone can restore a sense of calm for many people, newly emerging science indicates that certain trace cannabinoids can also promote relaxation. Trace cannabinoids, as the name implies, are cannabinoids from cannabis just like THC and CBD, except they occur in smaller, trace amounts. Common examples include THCV, CBN, and CBG, to name a few; however, there are dozens of trace cannabinoids with a myriad of potential effects. Since cannabis science and research are relatively new topics, and because many of these trace cannabinoids occur in such small amounts, we don’t yet understand how many of them work or how they affect the body.
One trace cannabinoid, in particular, CBN (cannabinol), is produced as cannabis ages, causing the cannabinoids to gradually shift in chemical structure from THC to CBN. CBN has been preliminarily researched as a mildly psychoactive cannabinoid that can induce sleep and ease physical pain and tension. For this reason, some users of cannabis who struggle with insomnia or anxiety select aged cannabis with higher levels of CBN.
Certain terpenes, aromatic compounds that give cannabis its unique fragrance, are renowned for their stress-relieving and relaxing qualities. The concept is similar to aromatherapy: the physiological effects of aroma combine with the effects of the cannabinoids to produce an entourage effect. For example, linalool is the chemical structure that smells, to us, like lavender; linalool is found both in lavender flowers and some cannabis flowers. The presence of this terpene can have a similar effect to a lavender aromatherapy diffuser, such as anxiety relief and tranquility. In addition to linalool, myrcene is a terpene shared between cannabis and mango fruit. Myrcene, like linalool, is prominent in indica strains and is thought to help induce their stereotypically relaxing and sedating qualities.
In a first-of-its-kind study, Washington State University compared how peoples’ self-reported levels of stress, anxiety, and depression were affected by smoking different strains and quantities of cannabis at home. The research was published in 2018, and suggests smoking cannabis can significantly reduce short-term levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. “Existing research on the effects of cannabis on depression, anxiety, and stress are very rare and have almost exclusively been done with orally administered THC pills in a laboratory,” said Carrie Cuttler, clinical assistant professor of psychology at WSU and lead author of the study. “What is unique about our study is that we looked at actual inhaled cannabis by medical marijuana patients who were using it in the comfort of their own homes as opposed to a laboratory.” The WSU research team found that one puff of cannabis high in CBD and low in THC was optimal for reducing symptoms of depression, two puffs of any cannabis was sufficient to reduce symptoms of anxiety, while ten or more puffs of cannabis high in CBD and high in THC produced the most significant reductions in stress.
Additionally, cannabis massage, which features a CBD or THC infused massage oil, is an increasingly popular stress-fix. Direct application of cannabis oil through massage improves circulation and streamlines the soothing effects of cannabis directly to tense and tired muscles. Unique formulas for various cannabis oils can provide effective relief for specific ailments, such as a high-CBD joint/tissue gel for arthritis pain, or a cooling mentholated balm for a sore back or stiff neck.
As a final piece of advice, conventional wisdom suggests that lower doses are best for relaxation and stress relief, especially in regards to the potent psychoactive cannabinoid THC. Additionally, set and setting are critical considerations. “Set” refers to your mindset, meaning that cannabis is only so effective on its own, and becomes even more effective with the proper expectations. “Setting” refers to your physical environment, suggesting that a cannabis bubble bath, or cannabis yoga/meditation, will likewise augment the stress-relieving qualities of either THC or CBD.