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Cannabis and Your Stress Response

More than 75 percent of Americans report stress in their lives. The normal worry, fear, anger and sadness we experience that lead to a stress response is usually healthy… until these symptoms interfere with other areas of your life, such as your job, health, or finances.  Especially when suffering from conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, or Depression, how you handle your stress response can significantly impact your overall health.  
While stress affects a large portion of the population, researchers have only recently begun to examine how cannabis may play a part in the stress response. 

 

About the Stress Response 

The stress response begins in the brain. The eyes or ears (or both) send information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that manages emotional processing. When the amygdala perceives danger, it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This triggers the pituitary gland, sending a rush of hormones to the adrenal glands. Also known as “fight or flight”, this response activates the sympathetic nervous system, inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system, and mobilizes the necessary energies to overcome these stressors.

Persistent stress can have long term effects on the body, such as: damage to blood vessels and arteries, increased blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

Stress isn’t a medical diagnosis, so there’s no specific treatment for it. However, if you’re finding it very hard to cope with stress to the point your life is negatively affected, you may be suffering from another mental health condition such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression. 

 

Typical Treatments

When diagnosing mental health conditions that cause stress, doctors typically use a combination of both therapy and medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is known as one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on teaching specific skills to improve symptoms and gradually return to the activities avoided because of anxiety.

Several types of medications are used to help relieve symptoms, depending on the type of anxiety disorderand whether you also have other mental or physical health issues.

Certain antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and beta blockers can be used to treat anxiety disorders. The antidepressants most widely prescribed for anxiety are SSRIs such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, and Celexa. SSRIs have been used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These drugs are not effective for some people with mental health conditions, and for others, the side effects can be harmful or can lead to dependence. 

 

Can Cannabis Help Treat Symptoms of Stress?

Existing research on the effects of cannabis on stress are very rare and have almost exclusively been done with orally administered THC pills in a laboratory. Researchers do know that the endocannabinoid enables the cells of our body to communicate, but how they affect the stress response is still being explored. 

A 2018 study from Washington State University examined how patients who reported levels of stress, anxiety and depression were affected by smoking different strains and quantities of cannabis at home. The team found that one puff of medical marijuana high in CBD and low in THC reduced symptoms of depression, two puffs of any type of cannabis was sufficient to reduce symptoms of anxiety, and 10 or more puffs of cannabis high in CBD and high in THC produced the largest reductions in stress. 

 

When Cannabis Can Increase Your Stress

A 2017 study from the University of Chicago also reported that low levels of THC does reduce stress, but in a highly dose-dependent manner. Very low doses reportedly lessened the jitters of public-speaking, while slightly higher doses — enough to produce a mild “high” — actually increased anxiety.

“A lot of consumers seem to be under the false assumption that more THC is always better,” said Carrie Cuttler, clinical assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the WSU study. The study concluded that CBD is a very important ingredient in cannabis and may augment some of the positive effects of THC.

 

Ways to Combat Stress Naturally

People can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response. These might include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as “peace” or “calm”), repetitive prayer or mantras. Practices such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, and mindfulness can also help manage stressors that come up. Other stress relieving techniques to consider include massage, acupuncture, art or music therapy. 

Additional ways to help ward off stress include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep each night, and keeping in contact with friends and family for support. 

 

Looking for additional stress management solutions? Duber Medical doctors can recommend medical marijuana to patients diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, depending on your state;s qualifying condition list. Check out your state’s list of qualifying conditions on our site, or contact us today to learn more.

 

Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca

Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.

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