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Anxiety disorders are mental conditions that are characterized by worry and fear. Studies suggest that cannabinoids may be beneficial for reducing anxiety by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system.
Anxiety Disorder – Medical Marijuana Research Overview
Anxiety disorders are a collection of mental disorders that cause such severe levels of distress and fear that they interfere with the ability to maintain daily life. There are several recognized types of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder. The anxiety associated with anxiety disorders lasts for at least six months.
Panic disorders cause terror sensations that strike suddenly and without warning. Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, causes feelings of overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. Specific phobias cause an intense fear of a specific situation or object. Generalized anxiety disorder causes excessive and unrealistic worry and tension over minimal or non-threatening situations.
In addition to feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness, anxiety disorders can cause sleeping problems, cold or sweaty hands and feet, breath shortness, heart palpitations, dry mouth, an inability to be still and calm, numbness in the hands and feet, nausea, muscle tension and dizziness.
The cause of anxiety disorders is not yet known, but according to WebMD, research suggests that they stem from a combination of factors, including environmental stress and changes in the brain. Anxiety disorders commonly arise in association with other mental or physical illnesses, such as alcohol or substance abuse.
Treatment efforts for anxiety disorders can include working with a mental health professional and medications to reduce symptoms. Other coexisting conditions, like alcoholism or substance abuse, may need to be treated and addressed prior to anxiety disorder treatment.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Anxiety Disorders
Evidence suggests that the cannabinoids can be beneficial for managing mood and anxiety disorders because of their ability to modulate the body’s endocannabinoid system. Multiple studies have found that influencing the endocannabinoid system can control the adverse behavioral and physiological consequences of stress by inhibiting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that degrades and breaks down one of the two major endocannabinoids that are synthesized by the body, anandamide3.
By inhibiting FAAH, anandamide levels are higher, which have shown to be beneficial for treating stress-related anxiety disorders3. Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system through its cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid receptor CB1 has shown to be associated with the inhibition of FAAH to reduce the vulnerability to anxiety6. Cannabinoid receptor CB2 has also shown to be related to reduced anxiety levels4,5.
Cannabis has also shown to be beneficial for dealing with anxiety-related disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)7.
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Anxiety Disorders
So far, North Dakota is the only state that has approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of anxiety disorders.
However, in Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment. In addition, various other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of anxiety disorders with the recommendation from a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other conditions subject to approval), Rhode Island (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Anxiety Disorders
- Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center: Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-anxiety-disorders.
- Anxiety Disorders. (2015, May). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.
- Bluett, R.J., Gamble-George, J.C., Hermanson, D.J., Hartley, N.D., Marnett, L.J., and Patel, S. (2014). Central anandamide deficiency predicts stress-induced anxiety: behavioral reversal through endocannabinoid augmentation. Translational Psychiatry, 4(7), e408. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4119220/.
- García-Gutiérrez, M.S., García-Bueno, B., Zoppi, S., Leza, J.C., and Manzanares, J. (2012, February). Chronic blockade of cannabinoid CB2 receptors induces anxiolytic-like actions associated with alternations in GABAA British Journal of Pharmacology, 165(4), 951-964. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312491/.
- García-Gutiérrez, M.S., and Manzanares, J. (2011, January). Overexpression of CB2 cannabinoid receptors decreased vulnerability to anxiety and impaired anxiolytic action of alprazolam in mice. Journal of Pharmacology, 25(1), 111-120. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0269881110379507.
- Moreira, F.A., Kaiser, N., Monory, K., and Lutz, B., (2008, January). Reduced anxiety-like behaviour induced by genetic and pharmacological inhibition of the endocannabinoid-degrading enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) is mediated by CB1 receptors. Neuropharmacology, 54(1), 141-50. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390807002146.
- Walsh, Z., Gonzalez, R., Crosby, K., Thiessmen, M.S., Carroll, C., and Bonn-Miller, M.O. (2016, October 12). Medical cannabis and mental health: A guided systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 51, 15-29. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735816300939.