Feeling like there just aren’t enough cups of hot cocoa in the world to help you shake off feelings of fatigue and sadness? It’s not uncommon during colder months for people to experience seasonal affective disorder or SAD, perhaps better known as the winter blues. The onset of SAD is often attributed to a lack of vitamin D that occurs as seasons change and the long, dark days of winter set in. Symptoms of SAD include:
- Changes in appetite
These are similar symptoms experienced by folks with anxiety—an umbrella term referring to disorders characterized by feelings of tension and stress. Additionally, people who suffer from an anxiety disorder might also experience: trouble breathing, panic attacks and paranoia.
A multitude of treatments are available for both conditions ranging from prescription drugs—antidepressants and sedatives—to natural supplements and herbs. Unfortunately, there’s still quite a stigma surrounding the subject of medical cannabis. However, research continues to show the potential of the herb as a natural form of treatment for several conditions with minimal side effects—including SAD and anxiety.
The Science Behind Cannabis for Mood Disorders
Marijuana plants contain more than 100 different types of active chemicals called cannabinoids. These compounds bind with cannabinoid receptors—present throughout our bodies—that influence functions such as cravings, immunity levels, metabolic regulation, appetite, mood, pain, memory and sleep.
The cannabinoids we’re most familiar with are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Marijuana growers often manipulate plants to grow cannabis with varying levels of CBD and THC, depending on what consumers are looking for.
One remarkable difference between CBD and THC is their reaction with the central nervous system. THC is known to produce psychoactive effects by activating CB1 receptors found in the brain. On the other hand, CBD doesn’t bind with CB1 receptors and so doesn’t induce the psychoactive effects or anxiety sometimes caused by THC. CBD is also renowned for combating depression. So if you’ve been avoiding medical marijuana to treat anxiety for fear that it will make you more anxious, cannabis products high in CBD could be just what you need to help ease your symptoms.
What the Research Says About Cannabis as an Anxiety Treatment
A study on the effects of cannabis and cannabinoids on anxiety confirms that moderated amounts—especially of marijuana strains high in CBD—act positively to spur creativity and ease panic by encouraging relaxation and euphoria. Data from the same study show that quantities of CBD in hybrid compounds can reduce the anxiety brought on by high THC doses.
Research on the health aspects of cannabis show that regular use isn’t associated with toxicity. Although it’s always a good idea for everyone, especially people with pre-existing medical conditions, to consult with their doctor first. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, as with most medicine, the use of marijuana isn’t recommended.
How to Choose Marijuana to Help With Anxiety & SAD
Anecdotally, marijuana strains people recommend to mitigate SAD and anxiety symptoms include:
- Granddaddy Purple, said to produce full body relaxation and a sense of calm
- Jack Herer, used by folks to promote creativity and uplifting mood
- Sour Tsunami, which works well to calm the mind and reduce stress
- Cinex, a mild sativa hybrid with energizing and mood-boosting effects
- Northern Lights, helpful for inducing deep and restful sleep, beneficial for severe instances of insomnia that are a result of anxiety disorders
- Charlotte’s Web, which is high in CBD so it acts like an anti-depressant without feeling high
- Harlequin, said to reduce anxiety, stress and pain properties with its 5:2 ratio of CBD:THC
Edibles are probably not the best consumption method to treat anxiety or SAD as they have a delayed onset time and can produce more intense and longer-lasting effects. The best ingestion method might be CBD oil, an easily administered and effective way to treat anxiety and SAD symptoms. A tincture with liquid cannabis concentrate can be used to administer drops of cannabis oil under the tongue. CBD-infused bath salts can also help induce calming effects and provide soothing effects.
Other Ways You Can Treat SAD & Anxiety
To complement any cannabis therapies, there are some non-marijuana measures you can take to ease SAD and anxiety:
- Regular exercise
- A healthy diet
- SAD lamps and light boxes that simulate sunshine to boost serotonin
- Supplements such as GABA, L-theanine powder, St. John’s wort
- Herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint, green, rooibos, lemon
Cannabis doses and results will differ from person to person. When starting out with cannabis treatments for anxiety or SAD, look for strains that suit your individual preferences, use small amounts and wait to see how it affects you before consuming more.
Be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a nutritious diet, engaging in moderate physical exercise several times a week and getting enough sleep each night. This, along with cannabis, will aid in your recovery from SAD and anxiety.
Photo credit: Nik Shuliahin