Recreational marijuana a tempting treatment for anxiety

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With the legalization of recreational marijuana set to come into effect on Oct. 17, Canadians will now have the option of purchasing cannabis without a medical license. With this, the lines between the medical and recreational cannabis users may begin to overlap.

Many physicians are still hesitant to prescribe marijuana to patients, according to the Canadian Medical Association. For anxiety sufferers, self-medicating may be the only way to access cannabis in order to ease symptoms.

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Forty per cent of respondents to a CAMH survey said they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it. Additionally, according to a recent Abacus Data survey for Yahoo Canada, 41 per cent of Canadians say they experience symptoms of anxiety — but 32 per cent say they don’t think there’s a cure. The importance of making an informed decision when it comes to self-medicating with marijuana is now more relevant than ever.

Seeking out help

“If you have a real deficit in quality of life because of anxiety, cannabis might only be part of the solution,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Zach Walsh. “If you have a serious mental or physical health condition, it is important to seek help from an expert. I would not recommend that people stop at cannabis if they have a serious anxiety issue.”

The primary use of recreational or medical marijuana for anxiety is as a form of reducing stress and social anxiety, in much the same way some people like having a glass of wine. Dr. Walsh stresses, though, that using recreational marijuana to help mitigate these situations should be done on a case by case basis.

“Cannabis shouldn’t be your excuse from seeing a doctor,” says Walsh. “One of problems that we have with mental health is that people don’t seek help. I would always encourage people to check in with their doctor and work through it with professional help.”

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Key questions that people seeking marijuana as a way to manage anxiety include:

  • Is cannabis something you are using in addition to existing medication?
  • If it is, is it safe to consume with your other medication?
  • Can you use it instead of other medication? Is it actually effective for you?

Not all pot is equal

While recreational marijuana favours blends with higher amounts of the psychoactive component-THC, CBD is extracted from the hemp plant and has more effective medicinal qualities as a result of its non-intoxicating composition. THC may actually trigger anxiety in some people. However Walsh says that CBD can counteract some of the anxiety increasing effects of THC.

“It is best to have some CBD in your cannabis at a 1:1 ratio of equal CBD to THC or a higher CBD ratio of 3:1. That is where you need to be careful when you are seeking effectiveness,” he explains.

For first time marijuana users, a vital part of the treatment is to find an effective low dosage and not  exceeding that. “The best advice I can give for new users is to start low and go slow,” says Walsh.

Edibles will eventually be an option

The cannabis industry is looking to profit from the passing of Bill C-45 by bringing the substance to the market in various forms, ranging from baked goods to beers. If you are looking forward to relying on these products as a part of the treatment for anxiety, a key factor to consider is the reaction time. Edibles can take over an hour to kick in. However, it can still be extremely effective as a way to get a good night’s sleep when taken at the right time.

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The danger that comes with consuming cannabis is that it can be habit forming. “If you use it for a long period of time there could be withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptom from cannabis is similar to what you see in caffeine,” Walsh says.

There is not enough research on the direct impact of anxiety and cannabis. “Currently we have not reached that level of distinguishing specific types of anxiety with specific types of cannabinoids. We are still at a trial and error stage.”

In the meantime, if you have severe anxiety you should speak with a doctor rather than resorting to self-medication with any substance.

During the month of October, Yahoo Canada is delving into anxiety and why it’s so prevalent among Canadians. Read more content from our multi-part series here.

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Abacus Data, a market research firm based in Ottawa, conducted a survey for Yahoo Canada to test public attitudes towards anxiety as a medical condition, including social stigmas and cultural impacts. The study was an online survey of 1,500 Canadians residents, age 18 and over, who responded between Aug. 21 to Sept. 2, 2019. A random sample of panelists were invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.53%, 19 times out of 20. The data was weighted according to census data to ensure the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region.