Crazy or Calming: The Real Cannabis


By: Anna Rose Cooke

Cannabis is, rather notoriously, known for lessening stress levels. Think Bob Marley, Spicoli, and the guy at Toasted Subs who’s totally unconcerned that you asked for ham and he gave you eggplant.  

So how come some studies of Cannabis seem to discover that pot actually increases anxiety?

They’re all over. In one study of 207 medical school students, it was found that Cannabis, Tobacco, and alcohol use could be associated with higher rates of anxiety and other substance abuses. In another analysis of 10,461 Australian adults, initial results found that Tobacco and Cannabis use could both be correlated with increased rates of several different mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Could our everyday experience be tricking us? Is everyone at the Dead and Company show actually riddled with insecurity, nervousness and angst when they appear on the outside to be on the verge of falling asleep?

Well, yes and no. After looking into it, it seems that most studies done on the relationship between Cannabis and stress are done exactly backwards.

A lot of people with anxiety smoke Cannabis — but they’re trying to fix their jitters, not cause them.

After accounting for discrepancies such as demographics, neuroticism, and drug abuse, it was found that Cannabis use could be associated with but could not account for an increase in anxiety or mood disorders. Yet another study had the goal of deciphering the causal implications of a relationship between Cannabis use and anxiety, but remained unable to prove whether Cannabis use causes long-lasting anxiety disorders.

The general findings on relationships between Cannabis use and anxiety seem to reach one conclusion; there is no definitive evidence that Cannabis causes anxiety.

What we’re doing is flipping the script.

Instead of researching whether cannabis causes anxiety, we at the Cannabis Genomics Research Initiative are interested in looking at what Cannabis actually does.

In reality, certain varieties of Cannabis are already being used to treat anxiety disorders. This may be the reason, perhaps, for the high correlation between individuals with anxiety and Cannabis use. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions conducted a study which found that a strong correlation between lifetime Cannabis use and traumatic experiences does not necessarily indicate a correlation with Cannabis Use Disorders (CUD) — which is using Cannabis even though it negatively affects your life.

By the way, all of those anti drug campaigns — where a concerned mother would smash an egg with a frying pan with the ominous claim that drugs smash your brain — were worried about things like CUD. In other words, using Cannabis to treat trauma-related anxiety disorders has not been found to cause unhealthy dependence. What, then, does Cannabis use do for people suffering from anxiety disorders?

In a study done on a group of 5,672 United States veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there was a strong correlation between Cannabis use and PTSD symptoms. This correlation was especially significant when adjustments were made to account for concurrent anxiety and mood disorders. These individuals seem to think that Cannabis use does something for them. Why would someone suffering from anxiety pick up a pipe if smoking increased their stress?

While the use of Cannabis by those suffering from anxiety disorders is irrefutable, the data needs to be looked at from a new angle. Cannabis may not be the cause of anxiety disorders, but plenty of patients are utilizing it in hope of a solution.

Occasionally there’s a study that shows that. A study of 482 college students discovered that Cannabis was an effective treatment method for social anxiety disorders, as individuals who partook in the vaping experiment were frequently found to be more open to new experiences.

Certain combinations or variations of Cannabis have, however, been found to cause anxiety. The strain often found to have a more calming effect, with a higher Cannabidiol (CBD) content, has been found in increasing concentrations from samples of cannabis confiscated by the Drug Enforcement Agency. These complications, as well as the difficulties of conducting Cannabis research in legal and federally funded laboratories, make it difficult for both researchers and consumers to identify when, how, and why Cannabis can be used to treat anxiety.

One more word: for those looking for Cannabis that calms anxiety, there’s supportive evidence that strains that are high in CBD — often called the “medicine” part of the plant — calm you down. A small study (10 participants) scanned the brains of people who were sad while they used CBD. It found that the blood in their brain flowed more like a relaxed person does. The participants themselves said they felt tranquil.

The Agricultural Genomics Foundation and it’s partner researchers are homing in on which parts of the pot genome produce CBD with the hope that better understanding will lead to more responsible use.  

That way, anxious people who seek out Cannabis as a treatment — because that’s the order this seems to work in — can get the best treatment in the world.

Edited by Reilly Capps (@ReillyCapps)