Many find marijuana useful for dealing with stress and anxiety, and research points to its effect on the brain as the explanation.
Published last month in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, a team of experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), University of Calgary and The Rockefeller University summarized the current body of research on cannabis and anxiety.
As it turns out, despite marijuana’s wide range of effects, relief from anxiety and stress happens to be the most commonly reported reason for using marijuana.
“Cannabis and its derivatives have profound effects on a wide variety of behavioral and neural functions, ranging from feeding and metabolism to pain and cognition. However, epidemiological studies have indicated that the most common self-reported reason for using cannabis is rooted in its ability to reduce feelings of stress, tension, and anxiety.”
Studies involving THC also show that it “can reduce anxiety in patients with anxiety disorders,” continue the authors. On the other hand, too high of a dose can have the opposite effect in certain people.
But while marijuana has long been regarded as an effective stress reliever, recent research has focused on the neurological activity responsible for this effect. What scientists now know is that marijuana acts on a system in the brain called the endocannabinoid system.
Interestingly, the authors also note evidence that suggests anxiety disorders could be caused by abnormalities of this biological system.
“The discovery of the ECB (endocannabinoid) system raised the possibility that ECBs (endocannabinoids) could be important modulators of anxiety, and might contribute to individual differences in anxious temperament and risk for anxiety disorders.”
Among its various functions, the endocannabinoid system is believed to naturally regulate anxiety and stress levels. It does this through the release of chemicals that belong to the same class of chemicals found in marijuana: (endo)cannabinoids.