Anxiety is one of the major reasons why people consume cannabis. Even before this was an area of scientific interest, cannabis lovers knew this plant could calm them down. But today, science is backing what stoners have known for years.
Of course, like all things, it’s more complicated than “cannabis fixes anxiety.” There are complex interactions between cannabinoids, terpenes, the endocannabinoid system, your hormones and your brain, and research is still in the early stages, so there’s a lot we don’t know. But what we do know is certain terpenes and specific types of cannabis have been linked with reducing anxiety or its symptoms.
And nearly all of us could use help relaxing. One study found 44% of American adults say their stress levels have risen over the past five years, and most report “moderate to high” levels of stress.
For ease of use, this article includes suggested strains to help with anxiety. But strain names don’t hold much weight in an industry with no standardized testing, and chemical compounds can vary within the same strain name. Take this list as a starting point, and focus on finding cannabis with a chemical makeup similar to these, not necessarily the same name.
Chemovars mentioned in the article include:
How cannabis can help with anxiety
Anxiety is an umbrella term, and is actually part of our evolution. Fear and anxiety are important feelings, but it’s when they become frequent and overwhelming that problems can arise. So while fear, anxiety and even sadness are unavoidable human emotions, feeling them intensely and perpetually is not normal or healthy for the body. 1
Anxiety disorders are psychiatric disorders that are characterized by excessive anxiety and associated behavioral disturbances. These can include, but are not limited to:
panic disordersgeneralized anxietysocial anxiety agoraphobia
Anxiety affects millions of people, and recent COVID-19 complications have increased the prevalence of anxiety. It presents in many ways, from panic attacks and an overactive mind to disrupted sleep patterns, increased stress or tension in the body, and low mood or energy levels.
So how can cannabis help with these symptoms?
By improving your quality of sleep, lifting your mood, relieving stress, and calming an overactive mind through endocannabinoid stimulation. All of these things together can lead to less overall anxiety.
The ECS can control excessive activation of brain regions associated with anxiety while dysregulation of this system can lead to disorders like anxiety and depression. Additionally, stress disrupts the production of endocannabinoids.
Most studies are still in preclinical phases, but there have been a few human trials.
A 2011 double blind trial gave 24 participants either CBD or a placebo. Participants given CBD reported fast acting benefits including reduction in anxiety. 3A 2019 study found that 79% of patients who used CBD reported improvements at their monthly check up as well as better sleep. 4
THC & anxiety
Cannabis and anxiety have a complex relationship, as cannabis can both help alleviate symptoms or it can make them significantly worse. Part of this comes down to the dose of THC.
THC has biphasic effects, which means different doses cause opposite reactions. At low doses, THC can help reduce anxiety, provide mood boosting effects, and calm an overactive mind, but at high doses, THC can make anxiety worse. 5
CBD & anxiety
CBD is thought to slow the decay of anandamide, the joy molecule, helping it work longer in your body. 6CBD can encourage signaling in serotonin receptors in the brain as well as increase anandamide signaling. Both of these neurotransmitters help regulate your mood and can make you feel happier. 7Leweke, F., Piomelli, D., Pahlisch, F. et al. Cannabidiol enhances anandamide signaling and alleviates psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia. Transl Psychiatry 2, e94 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2012.158 CBD can reduce panic and decrease autonomic nervous system arousal, a symptom of anxiety. 9Some have speculated that CBD may reduce anxiety and excitatory signals by activating the TRPV1 receptor, although one study found that this mechanism was not involved in anxiety 10
How to choose a cannabis strain for anxiety
If you’re using cannabis to mitigate or alleviate anxiety symptoms, don’t be fooled by the indica/sativa debate. This classification method only tells you the type of cannabis plant your weed was grown on, and doesn’t offer any guarantee as to how you’ll react to it. And since strain names don’t predict effects, you’ll need to look at the chemovar of the plant first.
Chemovars are types of cannabis grouped together by the most abundant cannabinoid. Currently, there are three types of chemovars:
Type I: High THC, low CBDType II: balanced THC: CBD Type III: low THC, high CBD
Type I is the most popular type on the market right now, but that doesn’t make it the most effective for anxiety. In fact, Type I cannabis may be the worst type of cannabis for anxiety.
As mentioned above, THC’s biphasic effects can make it helpful in managing anxiety in low doses, but also make anxiety symptoms worse at high doses. That makes Type II and III preferable for treating anxiety, since THC is present in lower quantities and CBD can temper the psychoactivity of THC.
How you consume cannabis can also have an effect on anxiety symptoms. Daily oral cannabis consumption is better for controlling your anxiety on a day-to-day basis, while inhalation has the potential to be more helpful for situations where stronger, more immediate dosing is needed, like a panic attack. Of course, when it comes to dosing by smoking or vaping, it’s very easy to overshoot the anxiety-busting dose and instead induce a state of anxiety – a common side effect of THC consumption. 1112
Best terpenes for anxiety
Terpenes are an essential part of the entourage effect, but they’re also pharmacologically active in your body. Many terpenes act as anxiolytics, or anxiety reducers, so they have a direct effect on stress and anxiety in the body.
Unfortunately, finding terpene profiles is rare on many cannabis strains. It is becoming an increasingly common practice within the industry, but for now, you still won’t see terpenes profiles on many packages. If the product comes with a certificate of analysis (COA), you can check the testing results. Some labs are expanding their testing to include the terpene profile, or at least the top three terpenes.
If all else fails, your nose knows. With so many variables in how cannabis can smell, there’s a reason some strains smell better to us than others. Keep an eye out – or rather keep your nose ready – to find these terpenes.
Additionally, essential oils are rich sources of terpenes, so you could combine these the next time you consume cannabis.
Scent: floral, lavender
A preclinical study on mice found inhaled linalool had anti-anxiety effects and increased social interaction. 13
A preclinical study found BCP alleviated stress in mice through targeted CB2 interaction.
Scent: woody, pine
Pinene had anxiolytic effects in the brain of mice in a preclinical study.
Best weed strains for anxiety
The following list of strain names is meant to serve as a guide for finding strains with similar chemotypes and terpene profiles as mentioned above. Since there is no standardized testing, it’s highly likely the strains you buy with these names will have varying chemical profiles. Focus on the cannabinoid and terpene profile to find the best strain for you.
Strains to help with sleep
The best strains to help you shut down an overactive mind and get some shut eye are Type II strains. THC can help your mind relax while the presence of CBD will keep the negative side effects of THC from taking hold. Strains with this chemical profile include Critical Mass and Stephen Hawking Kush.
Strains to help your mood
Mood boosting strains can be of any type, but Type II or III are best for people with anxiety. THC has mood-boosting properties, but including CBD is important to balance the potency. Chemovars that have a similar profile to this include Cannatonic and Harlequin.
Strains to relieve stress
When you just need something to take the edge off, reach for a Type II or type III chemovar. THC can exacerbate stressful thoughts and anxiety, so CBD is a necessary cannabinoid for relaxing without spiraling. Strains that have this chemical profile include Canna-Tsu and ACDC.