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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the world, affecting one in thirteen people around the globe. From specific phobias, such as a fear of flying to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety-related conditions affect people of all ages and circumstances.

Anxiety disorders are often treated with a variety of prescription medications, but for many people, cannabis can be a safer and more effective solution. Anxiety itself is not considered a qualifying condition for a Medical Marijuana Card in Utah, but it’s possible to petition the Utah Compassionate Use Board for approval.

What is Anxiety?

Just about everyone experiences anxiety. It’s a manifestation of our ancient fight-or-flight response to threats and dangers, when the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine flood the body’s many subsystems. That triggers a multitude of responses, like a racing heart, shortness of breath, and digestive upset. Anxiety can take many forms, but health experts have defined five major kinds of anxiety disorders:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive worry and anxiety that can affect nearly all aspects of a person’s life – even when there’s objectively little or nothing to worry about.

Panic Disorder causes sudden episodes of severe anxiety and terror. During panic attacks, people can experience symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, including chest pain, heart palpitations, or dizziness.

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by self-consciousness and anxiety in social situations. SAD can be limited to just one kind of social situation, such as public speaking, or it can be generalized, so that people experience symptoms whenever they are in public or around others.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an often severe anxiety disorder that involves unwanted, uncontrolled thoughts, or obsessions, and/or compulsive, repetitive rituals, like hand washing, checking things, or counting. These rituals help people with OCD feel safe and manage their unwanted thoughts, and not doing them correctly adds even more anxiety.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is caused by a traumatic event such as military combat, a natural disaster, or violent personal assault. It can even arise from chronically stressful circumstances. People with PTSD can experience symptoms, such as insomnia, hypervigilance, flashbacks to the original event, and severe anxiety for months and even years.

Because the stress hormones triggered by anxiety can affect many different subsystems in the body, symptoms of anxiety can vary widely. But they typically include a rapid heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, or fatigue. People with anxiety disorders may also feel a sense of doom or impending disaster, experience feelings of weakness, or have gastrointestinal symptoms, like diarrhea or nausea. 

The causes of anxiety disorders are not well known. Anxiety can run in families, so there may be a genetic component. But other factors can also play a role, like stressful events and life circumstances, other health conditions, or addictions. Even some medications can cause anxiety.

Since so many different factors contribute to anxiety disorders, treating them can be challenging. But because cannabis works with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system, research suggests that it may help to restore balance in brain signaling and other subsystems that contribute to anxiety disorders.

How Can Cannabis Help Relieve Anxiety?

Although many people use cannabis to feel relaxed and euphoric, under some circumstances, it can cause anxiety and paranoia. Those reactions are typically caused by higher amounts of THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabis compound responsible for the famous marijuana “high.”

But a growing body of research reveals that cannabis products with a high content of cannabidiol (CBD) relative to THC, or products with CBD alone, can help to relieve anxiety. The human body is home to a large receptor network called the endocannabinoid system, which responds both to cannabinoid chemicals naturally produced by the body, and to cannabinoids from plant sources, particularly cannabis. The endocannabinoid system plays a major part in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, among the body’s many subsystems, including brain signaling that manages emotional responses, like fear and anxiety.

Natural cannabinoids appear to modulate activity in brain pathways that maintain a balance between emotional distress and feelings of comfort and safety. Cannabinoids from cannabis, especially CBD, can work in the same way. These compounds can promote the expression of oxytocin and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals that boost feelings of calm and relaxation, without the side effects of many prescription medications.

Do Patients in Utah with Anxiety Qualify for Medical Marijuana Use?

With the exception of PTSD, anxiety disorders are not included in the list of qualifying conditions for a Medical Marijuana Card in Utah. But patients with other types of severe anxiety can try to obtain a card by petitioning the Utah Compassionate Use Board. However, if you have another qualifying condition, like pain or persistent nausea, your provider can make recommendations for strains and dosages that also help with anxiety or depression.

For more information or for a consultation, schedule an appointment with us today.

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