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By Luke Sumpter

Breaking down the relationship between cannabis and anxiety.

Humans have used cannabis for thousands of years in attempts to soothe both mental and physical maladies. Modern science has probed cannabis and its constituents over the past few decades—with some promising results. Despite the association between the cannabis high and paranoia, several compounds have shown potential in easing the symptoms of anxiety.

What Is Anxiety?

Defined by feelings of unease, worry, and fear, anxiety can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life. The condition can occur at any time and ranges from mild to severe. Although it has no single cause, researchers believe both genetics and environmental factors play a role in its onset.

As one of the most common forms of anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) affects around 6.8 million[1] adults in the United States alone. The condition can stem from several factors, including:

Overactivity of the brain Past trauma
Genetic inheritance Hormonal imbalance
History of drug abuse

People diagnosed with GAD often feel restless and worried, have a hard time concentrating, and can even experience dizziness and heart palpitations. GAD can spike during social situations, work, and public gatherings. Ultimately, the condition can rob people of the joy of socialising and enjoying special moments in life. A range of natural lifestyle interventions exist to help tackle the symptoms of GAD, such as:

Adequate sleep Meditation
Self-help courses Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
Regular exercise Quitting cigarettes

However, these lifestyle changes don’t work for everybody. Some people have to rely on pharmaceuticals to tackle their feelings of anxiety. Yet, for others, cannabis works as a viable alternative to ease some of the symptoms. Let’s take a look at why cannabis might be a suitable option for some people.

Cannabis For Anxiety: An Overview

The cannabis plant produces a plethora of unique phytochemicals—among these are over 100 cannabinoids and over 200 terpenes. Different strains and extracts contain varying concentrations of these chemicals and therefore produce different effects. Although touted as a “drug”, the complexity of cannabis chemistry eclipses this term. The terpene and cannabinoid profile of one strain can produce psychoactive effects entirely different from another cultivar.

Research in the field has revealed that cannabinoids and terpenes synergise to enhance and modify each other’s effects—a phenomenon known as the entourage effect[2]. Many of these molecules may affect anxiety symptoms in different ways, and certain strains and extracts might work well for different people.

Let’s take a look at some of the most well-understood cannabinoids and terpenes below to see how they might combat or give rise to anxiety.

THC Underpins The Cannabis High

THC underpins the quintessential psychoactive effect associated with cannabis. It does so by binding to CB1 receptors in the brain, which causes a wave of dopamine to surge. Generally, the more THC a person consumes, the higher they feel. Breeders spent most of the last few decades selectively breeding cultivars to produce high levels of this cannabinoid. Some of the positive effects of THC include:

Euphoria Creativity
Increased appetite Relaxation

These effects may help to ease anxiety in some cannabis users. However, new users and those sensitive to THC can experience effects that might increase their anxiety, making it worse in both the short- and long-term. These negative side effects may include:

Anxiety Paranoia
Confusion Impaired short-term memory

So, THC can be a double-edged sword. Some users find great peace of mind when using high-THC strains, whereas others may experience worsening symptoms. Moreover, research[3] shows that low doses of THC can help to quell anxiety, whereas higher doses can cause it to spike. For this reason, it makes sense to use moderate to low-strength strains. Luckily, breeders have started creating cultivars that possess lower levels of THC and higher quantities of non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as CBD.

THC and the Biphasic Dose Response

New cannabis users have a lot of questions. They often ask, “how many milligrams of THC do you need to feel relaxed?”, or more simply, “how much THC gets you high?”. It turns out the answers to these questions are nuanced and more complex than you might think.

Ongoing trials have thus far found THC to exert a biphasic dose response. Put simply, this means it produces a certain effect at a low dose, and an opposite effect at a high dose.

Research conducted at the University of Illinois in 2017 found that this principle also applies to THC in the context of anxiety[4]. In order to explore the relationship between cannabis and anxiety, researchers recruited 42 healthy volunteers. Aged 18–40, the participants had some experience with the herb but weren’t regular users.

They randomly divided the subjects into three groups. The low-dose group received 7.5mg of THC, the moderate-dose group received 12.5mg of THC, and the placebo group received no THC. The double-blind nature of the study ensured that both the participants and the researchers remained unaware of who received what dose.

During the experiment, the researchers measured their blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. Interestingly, the participants who received the lower dose experienced less tension, and their tension levels dissipated faster. In contrast, the moderate-dose group experienced a negative mood before and during the programmed tasks.

These results suggest that THC causes a biphasic dose response in terms of anxiety. Lower doses appear relaxing, whereas higher doses seem to cause more tension. However, THC affects people differently, and our unique endocannabinoid tone and genetic expression mean we all experience the herb in our own ways. Moreover, this study focused on isolated THC. Cannabis flowers contain other phytochemicals that synergise with the molecule, potentially making it possible for people to tolerate higher doses of THC.

THC and the Biphasic Dose Response

CBD and Anxiety: A Look at the Research

CBD is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid in most strains. Researchers are keen to see how the cannabinoid performs in models of anxiety. Let’s take a look at some of the studies.

CBD appears to act as an allosteric modulator[5] at the 5-HT1A receptor. This means it could be capable of facilitating signalling in the serotonin system, a network associated with mood, and the main target of existing anxiety treatments.

A host of animal studies[6] have tested CBD in cases of induced anxiety, and researchers are looking into the effects of different dose patterns, taking the biphasic dose-response into consideration.

Human studies have also looked at the effects of CBD in people with anxiety during stressful situations. Research published in Neuropsychopharmacology administered the cannabinoid to participants diagnosed with generalised social anxiety disorder before a simulated[7] public speaking event, and another human study looked for changes in blood flow in the brain after CBD application[8]. These studies have helped to lay the groundwork for more comprehensive clinical investigations in the future. 

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Using THC And CBD Together

CBD produces a clear-headed and relaxing sensation without any psychoactive effects. This makes the cannabinoid more of a feasible option than THC for many anxiety sufferers. However, people can benefit from both cannabinoids at the same time.

Some strains contain varying ratios of the two chemicals. CBD:THC ratios of 1:1 provide a balanced effect, whereas ratios of 8:1 or higher provide almost no psychoactive effects at all. Interestingly, CBD appears to block THC at the CB1 receptor[9], meaning it might help to reduce the intensity of THC. These findings suggest that those sensitive to THC might experience its benefits when using CBD at the same time.

Using THC And CBD Together

Terpenes Matter

If THC and CBD exist in most strains, why do different cultivars produce different effects? Although these cannabinoids largely underpin cannabis’ effects, terpenes add a unique spin that makes each strain different. Just like cannabinoids, terpenes offer their own unique benefits. Check out the terpene profile of a strain before you consume or cultivate it to maximise the outcome. Below are some of the most promising terpenes when it comes to anxiety:

  • Myrcene: The most abundant terpene in most cannabis strains, myrcene features an earthy, musky scent. It also heavily contributes to the stoning high of many indica varieties. The terpene exerts sleep-promoting effects that might help to improve sleep quality and relax the body. Via the entourage effect, myrcene may increase the soothing properties[10] of THC.
  • Limonene: This terpene adds a citrusy scent to cannabis flowers. Strains high in limonene literally taste like oranges and lemons! In animal studies[11], the molecule has demonstrated an ability to boost serotonin and dopamine. Limonene also appears to enhance the anxiolytic action[12] of CBD.
  • Caryophyllene: Both a terpene and a dietary cannabinoid, caryophyllene binds to the CB2 receptor of the endocannabinoid system. Caryophyllene imparts a peppery, spicy taste, and has produced anxiolytic[13] effects in animal models.
  • Pinene: Responsible for the fresh smell of pine, pinene unleashes an earthy and piney aroma. The terpene has demonstrated an anxiolytic effect in animal studies[14], and it may help to counteract some of the negative side effects of THC, such as short-term memory impairment.


Aids Memory




Protects Cells Lining The Digestive Tract


  Contributes To Sedative Effect Of Strong Indicas
Sleep Aid
Muscle Relaxant


  Treats Acid Reflux

Timing Is Important

After deciding which strain and mix of phytochemicals works best for you, it helps to determine the best time to take it. Not much data exists on timing, so you’ll have to find what works best through trial and error.

For some users, taking CBD-rich cannabis in the morning might help keep their anxiety low throughout the day. Others might find it more helpful to take extracts or hit a joint right as their symptoms begin to occur. For those who have trouble sleeping, enjoying an indica strain rich in THC and myrcene before bed may help them wind down.

Remember, different products take effect at different times. Edibles take an hour or more to set in, but the effect lasts longer. Vaping and sublingual administration work much faster, but the effects are more transient.

Many users also find great success with microdosing, which involves taking a sub-perceptual amount of cannabis in order to address symptoms without feeling high.

Cannabis Can Help, But Shouldn’t Be A Crutch

Cannabis can make a big difference in some anxiety sufferers, but it shouldn’t be overused or relied upon. However, it can form part of a wider holistic approach. Diet, meditation, therapy, exercise, and communication all play an important role in such a strategy. Balance is the key.

Which Cannabis Strain To Choose?

The following three strains are three that we think cover most bases when using cannabis as a means of managing anxiety. It is impossible to say how you will react when consuming cannabis but understanding the different effects that can be obtained will help you to make an educated and informed judgement. Finally, starting with a low THC and/or high CBD strain is more than likely the best place for most anxiety sufferers. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that can help combat anxiety with attributes such as a clearer head and a stronger feeling of calm.

Stress Killer

Kicking things off you couldn't get a more apt name. Whilst primarily a sativa dominant strain, it still possesses a strong indica pairing. Sativa strains typically uplift and energise the user which can be detrimental when trying to calm oneself. Stress Killer mixes the best of both worlds. It has a THC content of 11%, whilst also being high in CBD to provide that clear head high. Bursting with citrusy flavours, this is a surefire strain to kick start your day.

Stress Killer Automatic CBD Royal Queen Seeds

Stress Killer Automatic CBD
Lemon Shining Silver Haze x Juanita la Lagrimosa x Ruderalis
450 - 500 gr/m2
90 – 140 cm
7 - 8 weeks
THC: 11%
Sativa 60% Indica 30% Ruderalis 10%
110 - 160 gr/plant
120 – 160 cm
11 - 12 weeks after sprouting
Clear, Focus

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Royal Jack Automatic

Named after a tireless cannabis activist, Jack Herer. Royal Jack Automatic, whilst still slightly sativa dominant is a more balanced strain. Because of the higher indica DNA, it gives a slightly more body stoned feeling to help when that anxiety starts to build and you need some time to yourself. Despite this, a medium CBD content still helps to keep things clear so you can think with renewed clarity.

Royal Jack Automatic

Royal Jack Automatic
Jack Herer x Ruderalis
350 - 400 gr/m2
40 - 80 cm
7 - 8 weeks
THC: 16%
Sativa 40% Indica 30% Ruderalis 30%
70 - 120 gr/plant
60 - 80 cm
11 - 12 weeks after sprouting
Creative, Motivating

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Northern Lights

Being an indica dominant hybrid, this strain is very much an end of the day affair. Boasting some award-winning genetics is provides a strong stone able to couchlock the user whilst they enjoy the high. Perfect for when some contemplation time is needed or for when the days events can become too much. Providing a medium strength of CBD it also has the highest THC content of all three strains.

Northern Light Royal Queen Seeds

Northern Light
Northern Light S1
500 - 550 gr/m2
100 - 160 cm
8 - 9 weeks
THC: 18%
Sativa 0% Indica 100%
575 - 625 gr/plant
180 - 220 cm
Late September
Balanced, Clear, Stoned

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Finally, this list is by no means exhaustive. As every person is unique so is your choice in weed, so experiment until you find the right strain for you. The key is to get a feel for the high before you commit to a lengthy session. Typically smoking or vaping allow you to control the high a lot more than dabs or edibles, so these methods of consumption are recommended.

External Resources:
  1. Facts & Statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA
  2. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects
  3. Low-dose THC can relieve stress; more does just the opposite -- ScienceDaily
  4. Low-dose THC can relieve stress; more does just the opposite
  5. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders | SpringerLink
  6. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders | SpringerLink
  7. Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients | Neuropsychopharmacology
  8. SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research
  9. Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads - ScienceDirect
  10. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects
  11. Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads - ScienceDirect
  12. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects
  13. β-Caryophyllene, a CB2 receptor agonist produces multiple behavioral changes relevant to anxiety and depression in mice - ScienceDirect
  14. Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads - ScienceDirect
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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