Using medical marijuana for anxiety and depression

*Not all states recognize anxiety & depression as qualifying conditions. Please check your state regulations.

Living with mental illness isn’t easy, and without the right treatment, can make daily life feel like an uphill battle. One thing is for sure: if you’re struggling with a mental health issue like anxiety or depression, you’re not alone—the most common anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), affects about 3% of Americans annually, while about 7% of Americans experience one or more major depressive episodes each year. 

Because mental health disorders vary in severity and symptoms, they can be difficult to treat. One of the many options emerging as a potential treatment for anxiety and depression is medical marijuana. Research on its effectiveness is limited, but we have gathered any existing information you may want to know before using cannabis for your mental health. Note: it is important to discuss medical marijuana use with your doctor to learn how it may interfere with your other medications.

What is anxiety?

Many people experience some type of anxiety—you may feel anxious about a big life change like moving, or before performing in a play. Healthy levels of anxiety are manageable, coming and going throughout daily life; however, for people with an anxiety disorder, feelings of anxiety and fear can be constant, intense or even debilitating. There are many types of anxiety, and as with depression, individuals can have a wide range of experiences with anxiety disorder. Some common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) include:

  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worry, fear or uneasiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing

What is depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder that causes intense sadness and a lack of interest in life and activities you once enjoyed. Those suffering from depression can have feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and may have difficulty functioning through daily routines at home and work. Because everyone experiences depression differently, symptoms vary, but they can include the following:

  • General loss of pleasure in many activities
  • Sadness or overall depressed mood
  • Changes in appetite
  • Oversleeping or trouble sleeping
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Difficulty focusing, making decisions and remembering things
  • Slowed movement or speech
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you are in distress and thinking about harming yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).

Common treatments for anxiety and depression:

When it comes to anxiety and depression, treatment is specific to each individual and their unique symptoms. Typically, both are treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication, such as antidepressants. Lifestyle changes such as exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet can also help. In addition,  many people have found medical marijuana to be beneficial for anxiety and depression. Here’s everything you may need to know.

How marijuana helps to relieve anxiety

In addition to more traditional treatments, research now shows that medical marijuana can be beneficial for people with anxiety disorders. The main ingredient in cannabis that helps reduce anxiety is the compound cannabidiol, or CBD. Unlike the better-known compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects. Both compounds are thought to work by binding to interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system.

According to a 2017 review of the potential benefits of CBD for panic disorder, people who took 300 milligrams of CBD after a simulated public speaking test experienced a notable decrease in anxiety levels. Additionally, a 2019 study found that 300–600 mg of CBD significantly decreased anxiety in 57 adult males.

How to use marijuana for managing anxiety

Particularly if you’re new to cannabis, it’s important to start slow to determine your sensitivity and find the dosage and strains that work for you. While lower doses can alleviate anxiety, too much cannabis (particularly higher levels of THC) could exacerbate your symptoms. Start with a low dose, then increase it if needed. Cannabis with lower THC content is recommended for anxiety.

Indica vs. sativa: dispensaries often categorize cannabis strains as “indica” or “sativa.” Indica strains usually have lower levels of THC and are known to have a relaxing effect on the body, while sativa strains are higher in THC and have a more energizing effect. When using medical marijuana strains for anxiety disorders, it is more important to choose a lower-THC concentration than to focus on the indica vs. sativa distinction. Higher doses of THC should be avoided, since they could increase your anxiety.

Best marijuana strains for anxiety

There are many medical marijuana strains that may be helpful for anxiety. Here are just a few that are highly recommended:

  • Grandaddy Purple
  • ACDC
  • Cannatonic
  • Jack Herer
  • Canna-Tsu
  • Pennywise
  • Northern Lights
  • Harlequin

How marijuana helps to relieve depression

Information about how cannabis use affects depression is limited, but with each new study, we continue to learn a bit more. Basically, it’s believed that stress disrupts the production of endocannabinoids—or chemicals that impact our emotions, behavior and more—and the deficiency of these chemicals can cause depression. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC are thought to interact with endocannabinoid receptors, thus helping restore the endocannabinoid system and alleviating symptoms of depression.

It’s important to note that while medical marijuana may be helpful for immediate, or short-term, relief of these symptoms, it is not recommended as a primary, long-term treatment for depression. That being said, it could be beneficial as a mood booster to supplement your regular treatment (as previously mentioned, patients should discuss using cannabis with their medical professional first). 

Animal studies have shown that THC may stimulate serotonin production, resulting in mood improvements, but high doses of the compound may worsen depressive symptoms. Non-psychoactive CBD is also known to alleviate stress and improve mood, and therefore, strains with higher CBD content may be a helpful option for those seeking depression relief.

How to use marijuana for managing depression

Since higher doses of THC could worsen symptoms, individuals struggling with depression should seek strains with lower THC content. Try a strain containing CBD with a low dose to start, and use only when needed. Again, occasional use of medical marijuana can be helpful—but shouldn’t be your main form of treatment.

Every strain has a different chemical makeup, and as a result, will have slightly different effects. Terpenes, which give cannabis distinct tastes and aromas, are also known to have beneficial properties that help relieve stress, and each strain has its own unique terpene profile. Don’t be afraid to try a few different ones to see what works for you!

Best marijuana strains for depression

Finding the right medical marijuana strain may involve some trial-and-error since it’s all about determining what helps your specific symptoms. These are just some of the strains that others have found beneficial for depression:

  • Blue Dream
  • Pineapple Express
  • Harlequin
  • Girl Scout Cookies
  • XJ-13
  • Sour Tsunami
  • Jack Herer
  • Blackberry Kush
  • Grandaddy Purple

Legality of medical marijuana

Not all states where medical marijuana is legal include anxiety and depression disorders as approved uses. First, check your state’s regulations to see if you can obtain a medical marijuana card for these symptoms (you can browse Leafly’s helpful state-by-state guide). Then contact Canna Care Docs when you’re ready to take the next step; we’ll give you the information you need and help you start your medical cannabis application!

Medical cannabis has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of anxiety or depression. For more information on cannabis research and drug approval at the federal level, visit the FDA website.

*Not all states recognize anxiety & depression as qualifying conditions. Please check your state regulations.


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