Cannabis and Alternative Therapies for Anxiety: A Quick Reference

Updated: Jul 26


Around 13 percent of Australians were diagnosed with an anxiety-related condition between 2017 to 2018, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That’s approximately 13.2 million people – some of whom have looked into medical marijuana for potential relief.


Here’s what every Australian needs to know about anxiety and how the condition can be treated.


What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is defined as your natural reaction to difficult or tense situations. However, if you find yourself experiencing feelings of terror when there are no stressors or that this fear is taking over your mental health, you may have an anxiety disorder.


There are several different anxiety-related diagnoses, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, illness anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and phobias.


When you experience anxiety, it’s a feeling beyond what could be characterised as a normal response. You may find that your negative feelings stick around for six months or longer, or that you are constantly in a state of worry and dread.


The fear and terror that characterise anxiety can prevent you from going about your daily activities, as well as make you avoid situations that may trigger the symptoms of anxiety.


Symptoms of Anxiety

Depending on your diagnosis (or diagnoses, as you can have more than one) and your own unique physiology, the symptoms of anxiety can vary. For one, you may find that your heart rate has increased, your mind is racing, you’re sweating, and you’re having trouble concentrating.


Additionally, you may breathe faster than you normally do, as well as experience shaking or trembling. That can be accompanied by a feeling of impending doom or dread, and the sense that you’re losing control of your mind or body.


Additional symptoms of anxiety include difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal (GI) issues, difficulty sleeping, and nightmares. It’s also possible that you try to avoid certain activities or places that cause you to feel worried or stressed, like driving or high places.


It’s not surprising that one or more of these symptoms can also make you feel exhausted and fragile.


Causes of Anxiety

While anxiety is a very real condition with very real symptoms, the precise cause of anxiety isn’t something that science fully understands. It’s likely a combination of a person’s brain chemistry, their genetic makeup, and their environment.


There are also events and factors that are decisively known to cause the onset of anxiety in people who are medically susceptible to it. These include neglect or abuse as a child, traumatic events, certain medical conditions, and substance use.


You’re also more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if you don’t have good self-esteem, or you were super shy and alone as a young person. If you have had to be the caretaker of someone you care about for a long period of time, that can trigger anxiety, too.


As more research is done on the cause of anxiety, the specific mechanisms in the brain that are linked to it may become better understood.


Treatments for Anxiety

While anxiety is a lot to deal with as those who have it know all too well, the good news is that there are many treatments for the condition. These include medication, psychological counselling, lifestyle habits and changes, and alternative therapies like CBD and medical marijuana.


When it comes to pharmaceutical anxiety medication, there are several options ranging from benzodiazepines to antidepressants, from beta-blockers to antipsychotics.


There are also non-pharmaceutical options, as many people prefer to avoid the challenging side effects of these medications. Many people living with anxiety benefit from individual talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, or other counselling-type sessions. These are designed to help you manage and understand your anxiety.


Lifestyle habits like journaling, avoiding caffeine, and meditation can also help you manage or decrease your anxiety levels. So can sleeping well, eating a healthy diet, and spending quality time with loved ones. Finally, self-help groups can help you develop a positive outlook.


Then there are alternative therapies for anxiety such as medical marijuana. A review of major studies found that it’s helpful in alleviating anxiety in both humans.


Specifically, much of the cannabis for anxiety research focuses on cannabidiol (CBD)-rich products. In preliminary studies, CBD helped reduce social anxiety triggered by public speaking. Cannabidiol is non intoxicating, and doesn’t stimulate any high.


Living With Anxiety

Living with anxiety isn’t always easy, but it is a condition that’s manageable with therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and healthy habits. Alternative treatments like medical marijuana can also help you manage your anxiety, often in tandem with other vetted treatments.