Research is scarce about how marijuana can affect anxiety symptoms like irritability, muscle tension, and excessive worrying. For some people, marijuana may even increase anxiety.
Here’s what experts know so far about how chemicals in marijuana affect the brain and why that may help, or enhance anxiety.
As more states legalize marijuana, both for medicinal and recreational use, more and more people are turning to cannabis in hopes of managing anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Although scientific research in this area is still sparse, there are anecdotal and new scientific reports of marijuana creating a calming experience that temporarily relieves symptoms of anxiety for many people.
Sativa or Indica for Anxiety – What fairs well?
Before we move on to the best strains for anxiety and panic attacks, let’s first help you decide how you can make a decision based on the type of strain.
The world of cannabis made a very clear distinction between ‘Indica’ and ‘Sativa’ strain, which the former one is more relaxing and calming and the later one depicting all the qualities of being physically high and euphoric. This distinction is mostly carried out in your local dispensaries, but in no way is a clear definition of the effects that you can expect from the buds.
It is a better way to make the distinction between the buds considering their THC and CBD level. Since a higher THC level can leave a person paranoid, newbies should start with a lower THC content strain and then if needed, move ahead with other ones. If you’re not a fan of getting high or being intoxicated, look for CBD-high strains to fight the anxiety and panic attacks.
What are the Best Strains for Anxiety?
The key to finding the best cannabis strain for anxiety is determining your personal tolerance and sensitivity. Lower doses of cannabis reduce stress, while higher doses can increase anxiety. Therefore, it is crucial that you begin with low dose to avoid inadvertently exacerbating your symptoms.
Indica vs Sativa for Anxiety
Marijuana dispensaries often define strains as either “indica” or “sativa” or a “hybrid” of both. These terms are intended to help consumers identify the potential effects of any given strain. As mentioned earlier, strains with a lower THC content are preferable for treating anxiety.
- Indica strains are generally low in THC and are believed to have a sedative effect that calms and relaxes the body.
- Sativa strains, on the other hand, are typically higher in THC and are believed to have a stimulating, energizing effect.
However, we do not recommend that you rely on the indica vs sativa distinction. It’s much safer to choose a marijuana strain based on the THC/CBD concentration and use your personal tolerance as a guide. THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the drug’s mind-altering effects, whereas CBD is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid. CBD does not trigger a “high” or alter consciousness and has been shown to reduce anxiety.
Preclinical and clinical trials show that CBD has a calming effect on the central nervous system. However, marijuana can produce different reactions in individuals prone to anxiety. While some people experience instant relief from stress, worry, and other anxiety-related symptoms, unfortunately, others find marijuana heightens their paranoia and exacerbates their symptoms. These adverse psychological reactions can be attributed to the marijuana strain’s THC content. Fortunately, today, different strains of marijuana are grown to contain varying amounts of THC and CBD. Anxiety sufferers can find both low-THC and high-CBD strains. Most reliable products will display the cannabinoid concentration.
Another factor that you should use to guide your decision is the terpene profile. Terpenes are organic compounds produced by marijuana, and most other plants, that are responsible for each strain’s distinct aroma. However, terpenes also work with cannabinoids to decrease or increase particular effects. We recommend speaking with a qualified physician who can evaluate your individual case and determine an appropriate treatment based on your medical needs.
Here are five strains for treating anxiety:
One of the most commonly recommended strains for anxiety, Granddaddy Purple is a hybrid made from two indica strains: Purple Urkle and Big Bud. It has oversized buds and flowers that bloom in deep shades of purple, two traits inherited from Big Bud, while also possessing a sweet aroma reminiscent of blueberries and grapes due to an abundance of terpenes (notably, caryophyllene and myrcene) passed on through Purple Urkle.
Granddaddy Purple has around 20% THC. The potent effects of Granddaddy Purple are felt throughout the mind and body, with sedative properties that relax muscles, alleviate pain, and calm racing thoughts. Granddaddy Purple is effective for relieving various symptoms, including:
- Muscle spasms
Although users should be prepared for adverse symptoms, including dry mouth and dry eyes.
Amnesia Haze is a sativa-dominant strain primarily used during the day for its uplifting, energetic effects. It has been popularized by the coffee shops of Amsterdam, due to its psychoactive properties, but it also appears to be very useful for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The lineage of Amnesia Haze can be traced back to Jamaican Landrace, Afghani Indica and Cambodian Sativa. It contains approximately 20% THC, which is mostly responsible for the strain’s psychedelic head high. The cerebral high is reportedly intense, yet mellow enough that it can be enjoyed before bed without keeping you awake.
Amnesia haze is used for:
- Anxiety and depression
- Migraine headaches
- Neuropathic Pain
- Social anxiety
Chocolate Chunk Strain
As you might imagine, Chocolate Chunk is a tasty bud with an earthy aroma reminiscent of cloves and featuring subtle hints of cocoa. But, it’s also one of the best marijuana strains for anxiety, especially if your worries keep you awake at night. Derived solely from indica strains, Chocolate Chunk is commonly taken during the evening as it has a strong sedative effect that calms racing thoughts and results in an inevitable “couch lock” effect (e.g. your muscles are so relaxed, you don’t want to move).
Chocolate Chunk may help relieve:
- Chronic pain
- Muscle spasms and tension
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Keep in mind, this strain causes drowsiness, slows cognitive processing, and may impair coordination. It is therefore not advised when operating heavy machinery or a vehicle.
Jack Attack Strain
Jack Attack is a sativa-dominant strain with a high percentage of THC and very low CBD, which is normally considered contraindicated for patients with anxiety. However, due to its diverse genetic background, which combines both sativas and indicas, users say that Jack Attack delivers a steady flow of endorphins that taper into an overall calming sensation. Research indicates that strains with low amounts of THC have the potential to alleviate symptoms of anxiety by rebalancing neurotransmitters present in the limbic system that controls emotions.
Those who are sensitive to high-THC strains may prefer a hybrid with a higher percentage of CBD, such as Cannatonic. This strain has a balanced 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC, which enables the two cannabinoids to work synergistically together, blunting the paranoia that’s often experienced by anxiety-sufferers when using cannabis. The THC content is rarely above 6%, while the CBD content can range from 6-17%. Considered a leading medical strain, Cannatonic has a citrusy, earthy flavor with subtle hints of spices that provide an uplifting effect and transitions into a powerful relaxant.
Cannatonic may help with:
Northern Lights Strain
Known for its potent psychoactive effects—particularly euphoria—Northern Lights is one of the most widely-used strains for reducing anxiety, pain, and insomnia. It’s an indica-dominant strain consisting of approximately 90% indica and 10% sativa. In addition to offering a blissful high, Northern Lights appears to have a tranquilizing “couch lock” effect, which temporarily inhibits synaptic transmissions throughout the brain and body, helping to relax muscles and slow down racing thoughts.
The euphoric effects are likely the result of a relatively high THC content, which is approximately 22%, compared to just 1% CBD. According to recent lab tests, Northern Lights also has an abundance of myrcene (0.97%) and pinene (0.35%). These terpenes are responsible for the strain’s woodsy, pine-needle scent, but also help to counteract the potentially adverse psychological impact and contribute to the calming, soothing effect.
According to patient reviews, the overall effect is calming, with the sensation of being pleasantly high without racing thoughts.
Northern lights may help relieve:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
With the right guidance, medical marijuana can provide effective relief for those suffering from anxiety disorders. However, finding the best strain for anxiety may require some trial and error, which is best performed under the supervision of a qualified medical marijuana doctor.