Can We Reduce Stress With Medical Marijuana? New Research Says Yes
Thousands of Americans experience stress and anxiety every day. In fact, The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 40 million adults suffer from anxiety, stress, and depression every year. And sadly, stress and anxiety are not emotions reserved only for adults. Research shows that 1 in 20 children suffer from anxiety as well. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress and anxiety is how your body and brain react and respond to any demand.
When your brain registers a threat — whether perceived or real, physical or emotional, it automatically triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for that “fight or flight” state. In other words, when our brains perceive danger, they throw us into a state of stress and anxiety as a defense mechanism.
It’s the same mechanism our brains have used for thousands of years to make us run from danger. Feelings of stress and anxiety are usually triggered by an event or situation in our lives, but in modern times, it usually isn’t because we’re being chased by a saber tooth tiger. Typically, these feelings are triggered by unexpected changes, work, personal relationships, family, financial responsibilities, and school, among many others. People may feel especially stressed and overwhelmed when multiple demands are placed on them at once.
Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can be marked by a sense of worry or fear, along with any combination of both physical and mental symptoms. These symptoms vary from person to person. Some people report having an elevated heart rate whenever they are feeling significant stress or anxiety, while others may notice that they start breathing more shallow or grinding their teeth. Other physical symptoms of stress and anxiety include:
- Stomachache and nausea
- Change in appetite
- Frequent urination
- Chest pains
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
Stress and anxiety can also produce a variety of mental or emotional responses, including:
- Feelings of doom
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irrational anger
- Feeling overwhelmed or isolated
- Feeling constantly worried or agitated
Just as everyone has their own unique stress and anxiety triggers, the physical and mental effects manifest differently in each of us, often producing multiple and varied responses in each person. This writer’s, for example, includes biting cuticles and chewing the inside of the mouth. While there are many potential symptoms, few of them are pleasant, and they may not be the same from one day to the next, even within the same individual.
The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety
It’s important to know that stress and anxiety are not the same, even though the terms are often used interchangeably. While stress and anxiety are both emotional responses and usually result in similar symptoms, they have several important differences.
Stress is usually triggered by an external event or situation. An upcoming college exam, money problems, or even a recent fight with a spouse could cause stress. Furthermore, stress is usually a short-term response and generally goes away once the triggering situation has been resolved or the stressful event has passed.
Anxiety disorder can be even more of a burden. Unlike stress, anxiety doesn’t always have an external trigger. In many cases, anxiety has an internal trigger and results in worries and fears that don’t go away. For some people, anxiety can persist even in the absence of a trigger or may linger long after the trigger has passed. Many people with anxiety find themselves persistently in that “fight or flight” mode, even when there are no reasons or triggers they can identify. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31% of Americans will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime.
Types of Stress
Typically, stress is categorized into three different types:
Acute stress is the most common type of stress experienced by Americans and is usually short term. It can temporarily create the type of pressure that causes people to feel a slight rush of thrill or excitement. This type of stress usually causes symptoms like jittery feelings, sweaty palms, stomachache, clenching jaw, and muscle tension.
Episodic Acute Stress
Episodic acute stress is usually what people experience when they are late, rushing, disorganized, or find themselves confronted with chaos of some kind. Typically, the people who suffer from episodic acute stress are the ones who have a habit of saying yes to too many things or taking on more than they can comfortably handle.
Those with episodic acute stress habitually find themselves in crisis or panic mode — so much so that it becomes their norm, and they may not even know there is another way to be. Because they experience it all the time, some with this form of stress may feel like there is nothing wrong with them. They may even fear they would be less productive without being in panic mode regularly. Unfortunately, these long-term stress spikes can negatively impact our health, causing side effects like hypertension, tension headaches, migraines, and even coronary heart disease.
Chronic stress is what people often experience when they feel they are locked into a helpless situation or unending cycle that is out of their control. For example, poverty, abusive relationships, or even feeling trapped in a job you hate could lead you to develop chronic stress. Many people with chronic stress may become so used to it that they don’t even know it’s there. Chronic stress, too, can negatively impact health, causing side effects such as fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, and even increases the chance of frequent illnesses.
Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety
Unfortunately, there are not many medically recognized ways to treat stress aside from certain behavioral stress and anxiety management techniques. For the most part, managing stress involves making choice lifestyle changes — for example, prioritizing self-care and ‘me-time,’ or exercising. If you suffer from episodic acute stress, learning to say no, recognize your limits, and stop over communicating is important.
Engaging in relaxing activities is another good way to combat all three types of stress. Activities such as tai chi, yoga, deep breathing, and meditation have all been effective in helping people manage stress and anxiety. Spending time doing a relaxing hobby can help as well, such as fly-fishing, wood carving, gardening, or knitting. If none of these activities seems to help, long-term therapy can help you learn to identify your triggers and develop the skills to stop the stress response before it happens.
Cannabis Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Cannabis has been used for centuries to relieve stress and promote relaxation. Cannabis users have been saying that cannabis helps them relax for many years, but it is only recently that researchers and scientists have begun looking into it. In a recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers at Washington State University made some interesting discoveries about the effects of marijuana on stress, anxiety, and depression.
In this study, researchers obtained archived data from a medical marijuana journaling app called Strainprint™. When using this app, medical marijuana users track the severity of their stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms as experienced before and after consuming different doses and chemotypes of cannabis; the change in the symptom severity is measured in percentage efficacy. This data is then anonymized and analyzed to identify the efficacies of medical marijuana products for symptom management. Because anyone using the app is required to first upload personal information like age, sex, medical conditions, and symptoms, the researchers were able to look at how different strains and doses of cannabis affected stress and anxiety levels in a diverse range of users. In this study, researchers analyzed the data from 11,953 users. To break it down, 3,151 users were analyzed for depression, 5,085 for anxiety, and 3,717 were analyzed for stress. The results for each were as follows:
Anxiety was significantly reduced with the use of medical marijuana in both genders. Anxiety was reduced by 93.5% of Strainprint users, while symptoms were exacerbated in 2.1% of tracked sessions. There was no change in symptoms for 4.4% of tracked sessions.
Using cannabis significantly affected stress levels as well. In users of both genders, stress was reduced in 93.3% of tracked sessions and increased in just 2.7%. In 4% of tracked sessions, there was no reported change.
Symptoms of depression were reduced in 89.3% of all tracked sessions and were exacerbated in 3.2% of sessions. In 7.5% of sessions, users reported no noticeable change in symptoms.
Medical Marijuana for Stress Relief
Medical marijuana is best thought of as a symptom management tool for stress and anxiety. What researchers found was that overall, marijuana is extremely effective in treating stress and anxiety symptoms — 95.51% of test subjects saw a reduction in stress and mental health-related symptoms, 2.32% said that their symptoms worsened, and 2.16% reported no change.
It is important to note that, while marijuana is overwhelmingly effective in relieving the short-term effects of stress and anxiety, it does not treat the underlying causes, and therefore does not prevent future stress or anxiety from arising again. Therefore, marijuana is best thought of as a stress or anxiety symptom management tool. However, at the same time, many other stress and anxiety medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs produce short-term results as well. When patients stop taking these medications, their symptoms can return.
The research also shows that medical marijuana is useful for treating depression symptoms in the short term. According to the WSU study, medical marijuana users experienced a 50% reduction in depression and a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress after inhaling marijuana. For most users, just two puffs were enough — and this was actually the most effective dose — for treating depression and anxiety. Two puffs produced better results than one puff but taking more than two puffs did not reduce symptoms any more than the first two puffs.
On the other hand, stress seems to require a higher dose. Reportedly, most medical marijuana users needed ten or more puffs to experience a noticeable reduction in perceived stress levels. Another interesting finding is that medical marijuana treated stress and anxiety more effectively in women than in men.
CBD or THC?
In the WSU study, results indicated that strains high in both THC and CBD were most effective in temporarily treating stress and anxiety. The research indicated that strains that were either high THC/low CBD or high CBD/low THC were less effective overall. However, this was not the primary focus of the study, so more research is still needed to be conclusive on this account.
In another study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois, 42 healthy volunteers were included in a clinical trial testing the effects of THC on stress. In this study, volunteers were put through a series of stressful tasks, like public speaking and impromptu math tests. Participants had their stress levels monitored during and after performing these tasks after receiving low, medium, and high doses of THC or a placebo.
After testing participants in each group, researchers found that strains high in THC were capable of reducing stress, but only at low doses. With higher doses, users experienced increased stress and mental distress. In another study published in The Permanente Journal, 79% of users said that after taking 25-75 mg of CBD every day for a month, their anxiety levels had significantly decreased. Another 67% of users in the same study said they slept better and experienced better sleeping habits after a month of supplementing with CBD.
Types of Cannabis for Stress Relief
Cannabis has hundreds of different strains, each of which has unique benefits and drawbacks. Medical marijuana cards allow patients to choose strains that combat unique issues or problems that they experience. When it comes to stress relief, there are certain categories of cannabis that may be more beneficial than others. Cannabis can be broken down into three distinct categories.
Sativa-forward cannabis strains tend to be more activating, which can be helpful for those who use cannabis for chronic issues. These strains don’t cause significant drowsiness, so users are more able to go about daily tasks. Sativas are associated with a cerebral “mind high.”
Indica-forward strains are often prescribed for insomnia and anxiety, as they have a high level of CBD, which is central in pain relief. Most users find indica strains to be relaxing rather than activating. Indicas are often described as causing a “body high,” where the user is less cerebral and more relaxed.
Hybrids are a mixture of sativa and indica and can provide the benefits of both while minimizing the side effects. Some people find that sativas make them anxious or paranoid, while others find that indicas make them uninspired to finish tasks or participate in activities. Hybrids are somewhere in the middle.
Hybrids are extremely common, and there are many different kinds. Some hybrids are more sativa dominant, while others are more indica dominant. Medical marijuana users can select hybrid strains based on their unique situation and needs.
It's important to note that cannabis effects each person differently - and that the indica/sativa/hybrid labels are largely outdated. Read more about the new way to view cannabis in our post, Learn Why You're Shopping Wrong for Cannabis When Searching for the Highest THC.
Stress Relief Preferences
A 2018 study found that individuals using cannabis for stress-related issues and PTSD seemed to prefer sativa strains for their condition. About 31% of users said that the sativa strain was their preferred method of stress and symptom relief. Approximately 28% said that they preferred the hybrid, while around 25% preferred indica for these purposes.
As sativas produce more of a cerebral or mind high, they likely have a more direct effect on stress and mental illness symptoms. Indicas are beneficial for pain relief because they produce a body high. This can create a numbing effect, which may help with pain and sleeplessness. It often has little effect on stress and mental illness, though. Knowing this allows medical marijuana users to tailor their cannabis use to their unique needs.
Perhaps what is most telling about these statistics is how close they are to one another. There is not a statistically significant difference between the preferences for each strain. No single category stands out as the best type of cannabis for stress relief, nor does any one category fail to alleviate symptoms.
This may be significant when discussing looking at physical stress symptoms rather than mental ones. Some people, such as individuals who experience Generalized Anxiety Disorder, have strong physical symptoms of anxiety rather than simply mental symptoms. For these individuals to combat stress, they may prefer something that benefits the body more than the mind, meaning that a sativa variety would not work as well in their situation.
Because stress is so varied, there is no singular strain that will automatically benefit every person using cannabis for stress relief. It ultimately depends on the individual. It does seem clear, however, that cannabis in general alleviates stress for the vast majority of individuals.
Methods of Consumption
The above study also assessed whether the patients seemed to prefer a particular method of ingesting cannabis for stress relief. Most of the mental health and PTSD patients seemed to prefer cannabis flower or vaporizer rather than an edible method. Only 11.5% of subjects preferred an edible or oral method over cannabis flower products.
It’s worth noting that cannabis edibles take longer to activate than smoking methods. Edibles must go through the digestive system and be processed through the liver before the user feels the effects. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the person and the dosage. For individuals experiencing stress and mental health symptoms, waiting for relief is likely not ideal. This is one possible reason that study subjects preferred smoking cannabis over ingesting it.
MÜV Products and Strainprint
Like WSU, MÜV recognized the value in Strainprint. Our Patient Pioneers, MÜV Patients who track with Strainprint, have tracked thousands of sessions, lending invaluable insights to the products and strains available at MÜV. This data is then analyzed and used by Cannabis Advisors and Patient Care Team to make educated product recommendations, and even in Research and Development to produce new or perfect old products. Across all marijuana products in all tracking sessions, the average efficacy for anxiety is 50% and stress 55% Here is what we’ve learned about the best MÜV Products for anxiety and stress symptom management*, by the numbers:
- Modified Grapes (Shatter) - 65% efficacy
- Ice Cream Cake (Flower) - 62% efficacy
- Northern Lights (Dart Pod) - 59% efficacy
- Maui Wowie (Püre vape) - 67% efficacy
- Canna-Tsu (Püre vape) - 58% efficacy
- Guru (Flower) - 56% efficacy
*Data submitted by MÜV Patients and collected via Strainprint
Remember: Everyone Reacts Differently To Cannabis
Cannabis can produce different reactions in everyone. Our bodies all respond to cannabinoids slightly differently, producing varied results from one person to another. Many people using medical marijuana to treat stress and anxiety experience almost instant relief of their symptoms, while in other users, the same symptoms could get worse. It should also be noted again that although medical marijuana can help manage depression by relieving current symptoms, it is not a true fix, and in fact, prolonged use without additional therapy and treatment can exacerbate symptoms of depression.
Overall, new research shows that medical marijuana can be extremely beneficial and provides an excellent treatment for stress and anxiety in most individuals. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your personal medical needs and if cannabis is right for you. If you have your medical card and would like to discuss the options best for you further, stop in to any one of our 50+ medical marijuana dispensary locations across Florida or contact our Patient Care Team today.
*This post was originally published April 23, 2021 and updated July 20, 2022 to reflect new Strainprint data.
- The effectiveness of inhaled Cannabis flower for the treatment of agitation/irritability, anxiety, and common stress - Journal of Cannabis Research. (2020, December 9). Journal of Cannabis Research. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://jcannabisresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42238-020-00051-z
- The Cannabis sativa Versus Cannabis indica Debate: An Interview with Ethan Russo, MD. (2016, January 1). NCBI. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5576603/
- Patterns of medicinal cannabis use, strain analysis, and substitution effect among patients with migraine, headache, arthritis, and chronic pain in a medicinal cannabis cohort. (2018, May 24). NCBI. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5968020/
- Tasty THC: Promises and Challenges of Cannabis Edibles. (n.d.). NCBI. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260817/
- Skelley, J. W. (2020, January 1). Use of Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Anxiety-Related Disorders. ScienceDirect. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S154431911930514X
Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.