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3 Ways to Use Cannabis to Manage Stress

Emily Fisher
Emily Fisher - CEO

Apr 17 2020 - 5 min read

Table of contents
  1. Microdosing Could Be Key
  2. Take Note of the Terpenes
  3. Figuring Out the Right Dosage & Ingestion Method for You

With half the world shutdown and people stuck at home not being able to go out very much (if at all), it comes as no surprise that people seek alternative ways to entertain themselves. People also need a way to relax and unwind from thinking about a virus that, if left unchecked, could kill thousands if not hundreds of thousands. This is distressing, and doubly so for those who suffer from serious health problems.

When people are stressed, they produce more of the hormone cortisol. When the human body heals, inflammation becomes a response to stress. In the short-term, stress & inflammation can be very useful. Long-term stress and inflammation, however, breaks down tissue and impairs the immune system. Between 75% and 90% of human diseases are related to the activation of the body’s stress system. In the midst of a viral outbreak, an impaired immune system is not ideal. Here’s how you can use cannabis to beat stress and anxiety and maintain the homeostasis that stress breaks down.

3 Ways to Use Cannabis to Manage Stress
Using cannabis to manage stress.

Microdosing Could Be Key

There are several studies showing that cannabis can help beat stress. However, cannabis’ stress- and anxiety- busting properties could be most effective when microdosed. Due to cannabinoids’ biphasic effects, compounds like THC can beat anxiety in low doses and promote anxiety in higher doses.

CBD is similarly effective in low- to moderate- doses for anxiety, but there are reports that CBD can be wake-promoting. This wake-promoting effect of CBD may depend upon physiology to some extent, as others report that high doses of CBD induce sleepiness. Also, it is worth noting that, as CBD does not bind directly to CB1 or CB2 receptors, it does not beat stress in the same way as THC. Instead, CBD’s anxiolytic effects seem to be due to its ability to activate the 5HT1A serotonin receptor.

When it comes to sleep problems and insomnia, CBN, small doses of THC, myrcene and linalool may be more useful than CBD on its own. For people with PTSD, cannabis’ (and specifically THC’s) ability to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep can help prevent nightmares. In fact, one of the reasons why CBD could help aid sleep for some is because of the range of terpenes present – if it’s linalool, myrcene and humulene, expect more sleepy effects. If it’s limonene, pinene and beta-caryophyllene, then combined with the CBD it could be wake-promoting. THC could work in a similar way and, due to THC’s partial agonism of CB1 receptors, could potentially boost other cannabinoids’ and terpeneoids’ effects. This is more of a theory, though!

Biphasic effects of stress hormones.
Diamond DM, et al. (2007). “The Temporal Dynamics Model of Emotional Memory Processing: A Synthesis on the Neurobiological Basis of Stress-Induced Amnesia, Flashbulb and Traumatic Memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson Law”. Neural Plasticity: 33. doi:10.1155/2007/60803. PMID 1764173. CC0 1.0.

Take Note of the Terpenes

Terpenes can affect the way cannabinoids behave. Different combinations of terpenes at different dosages may also determine the effect a particular cannabis strain or product can have. Beta-caryophyllene, for example, has stress-busting properties. However, when combined with high amounts of THC, THCV, limonene and pinene (which also have stress-busting properties), some people report an energetic feel.

Whilst the combination of THC, THCV, beta-caryophyllene, limonene and pinene can be used to beat stress and anxiety, in some people too high a dose of this combination may produce an “edgy” feeling. This sort of combination may be most useful for those needing a daytime boost, and is perhaps usually best taken in low doses. Those who suffer from both anxiety and depression may also find particular use with such a combination of cannabinoids and terpenes.

terpenes in cannabis cannabis - myrcene, limonene, caryophyllene, linalool
Crash course in terpenes by THC Design.

Figuring Out the Right Dosage & Ingestion Method for You

Everybody has their own endocannabinoid system (ECS), meaning that they can react very differently to the same sets of cannabinoids and terpenes. Although there are some patterns in terms of what cannabinoids and terpenes are useful for which condition/s, this does not necessarily hold true for everyone.

Different ingestion methods also have different effects, and some ingestion methods take longer to take effect. Smoking, vaping or inhaling cannabis has an immediate effect; tinctures take between 15 minutes and 1 hour to take effect; and edibles take about 1 – 2 hours to take effect (and is usually stronger & longer-lasting, too, as it passes through the liver first rather than through the lungs).

Some conditions require an ingestion method that takes immediate effect (e.g. the tremors associated with Parkinson’s), whereas other conditions require an ingestion method that is more long-lasting. Whilst inhaling or vaping cannabis can help for sudden anxiety attacks, a tincture can have longer-lasting effects. This can make tinctures useful for conditions like insomnia, where long-lasting effects can be particularly useful to aid sleep. Have a look at our Guide to Dosing for more detailed information on dosing cannabis.

Dosing cannabis for stress, anxiety and depression

When it comes to inhaling cannabis for stress, anxiety and depression, a study by the Washington State University (WSU) suggests that cannabis can be particularly useful in the short-term in the following dosages:

“[T]he WSU research team found that one puff of cannabis high in CBD and low in THC was optimal for reducing symptoms of depression, two puffs of any type of cannabis was sufficient to reduce symptoms of anxiety, while 10 or more puffs of cannabis high in CBD and high in THC produced the largest reductions in stress.”

Of course, the problem with measuring dosages by “puffs” means that precise dosages are not given. There are also a huge number of different types of cannabis, so it is questionable whether “any type of cannabis” is sufficient for reducing the symptoms of anxiety. It is possible to use CBD in equal ratios to THC (i.e. THC:CBD 1:1) to balance out the psychoactive effects of THC whilst still retaining some of its therapeutic properties. Many would also recommend utilizing tinctures of CBD:THC 3:1, 2:1 and 1:1 in small doses (0.1 ml – 0.25 ml) 2-3 times a day, and seeing which one is most effective for you, and at what dosage. As far as inhalation methods go, unfortunately smoking cannabis is not really the ideal way to consume a medication! High-quality vaporizers are a potential alternative, but many disposable ones are not necessarily always of the highest quality and could lead to lung injuries. Inhalers are another alternative, and can provide more precise dosages.

With cannabinoids, it seems that there is a particular therapeutic level at which it is effective without too many side-effects. This is similar to many medications, with one of the main advantages being that going a little overboard on the cannabinoids is unlikely to cause a deadly overdose!

Please also note that the above is for depression, as opposed to bipolar disorder (sometimes referred to as “manic depression”). Those suffering from bipolar disorder ought to avoid too much THC use, although CBD may have antipsychotic effects that may be beneficial.

Daily pill organiser; dosing; weekly dose set box.
Daily pill organizer. Credit: NIAID. From https://www.flickr.com/photos/niaid/24888074919. CC BY 2.0

Is there an ideal starting dose?

This very much depends on the condition. Those who are prescribed synthetic THC like dronabinol (Marinol) are often given a starting dose of 2.5 mg twice a day (so, 5 mg a day). If a person wanted to balance this out with some THC, they can take 2.5 mg of CBD alongside each dose, which would essentially end up being a 1:1 ratio.

In fact, this method may be one of the better ways to determine the ideal starting dose. This is where a person can start out with one THC products, another CBD one, and see their ideal dose for themselves. For example, you can have a THC:CBD ratio of 3:1 and another product that is 1:3, and you can use them together or at separate times to see what dosage is best for you, and at what time of day. This can help you find your ideal dose more accurately, but can take some time. Some conditions may also require precision from the get-go, so this sort of trial-and-error is not ideal for everyone.

If you suffer from anxiety, stress, depression or insomnia and find that other medications aren’t working, speak to a physician with Leafwell today!

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Written by
Emily Fisher
Emily Fisher - CEO

Emily is an entrepreneur and medical cannabis patient. In 2016 she began working with medical clinics in California and met with hundreds of patients who used cannabis to help them in their daily lives. Fascinated by its effectiveness and versatility as a medicine, she realized more research and education was needed to help patients. In 2019, Emily founded Leafwell, which aims to improve patient access to medical cannabis.

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