Physiology of Anxiety & Cannabinoids (Part One)


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Physiology of Anxiety & Cannabinoids

Part one in our blog series on Understanding the Relationship Between Cannabis and Anxiety

Written By: CannaRanda B

“Educated – Medicated – Dedicated”

If you have ever experienced anxiety, you know how much it can impact your life. I have suffered from many forms of anxiety: from social anxiety, to the unexplained gurgling pit of doom in my stomach. None of these experiences allow me to function at my best. My experiences with anxiety have spawned a great interest in understanding anxiety itself. Further, as a cannabis user, it is super important to understand how cannabis interacts with our bodies. Cannabis has the power to both temporarily relieve and cause anxiety in different circumstances. In this series of blog posts, I will share what I have found in my research and try to make it a little more digestible. My hope is to help you avoid negative experiences so you can enjoy the fun of cannabis and learn how to utilize it to its fullest potential!/p>

So let’s begin: what is anxiety? Essentially, it is our body’s reaction to fear or uncertainty. As an evolutionary tool, our ancestors survival depended on our ability to detect danger quickly and react. So when we have a thought that triggers our fear, our bodies release hormones that send us into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. However, in our current culture, often times there is nothing to flee from and nothing to fight, so the brain essentially loops the panicked thoughts and thus: anxiety. If you are a person prone to anxiety, certain stressful life experiences or things we consume can induce anxiety. This makes it ever more important to understand the effects of the things we put in our bodies.

The Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS) is a naturally occurring set of receptors inside each person’s body: they exist as part of almost every organ, including your brain. There are numerous cannabinoid receptors in the body and you may have heard of the two most well known and researched; CB1 and CB2 receptors. Research suggests that the primary job of the endogenous cannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis (or keep the body in balance). Phytocannabinoids ( or cannabinoids derived from plants, usually cannabis) bind to the receptor sites in your endogenous cannabinoid system. Since cannabinoids bind to the receptor sites of an important whole body system, it will have effects on your body and mind. Our mood and stress are regulated within our limbic system by making an endogenous cannabinoid known as the “Bliss Molecule,” scientifically named anandamide. Anandamide is primarily responsible for our happy feelings. Another important part of the endogenous cannabinoid system is FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase). FAAH is an enzyme that breaks down our endogenous cannabinoids naturally within our bodies. When we experience stress, panic, and anxiety it causes FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase) to break down and degrade this bliss molecule, which can leave us in a lower state. 

Cannabidiol (CBD), one cannabinoid from the hemp and cannabis plant, can interact with multiple cannabinoid receptor sites and modulate non-cannabinoid receptors. CBD has a weak binding affinity for the CB1 and CB2 receptor sites. What CBD is known for is slowing down the reuptake of naturally occurring endocannabinoids. Current research suggests that CBD could function as an allosteric receptor modulator (Fancy words that mean it can change the shape of our receptors). This rewires the signals from being sent to FAAH to be broken down, which has the potential to amplify the calming effect. Research indicates it is possible that CBD can increase the binding of the naturally occurring “bliss molecule” therefore discouraging the good stuff from degrading. This is one of the ways that CBD heavy cannabis has the potential to increase uplifting feelings.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has a strong binding affinity for the CB1 receptor, which you can find in the brain and central nervous system. One scientific study shows that CBD can have anxiolytic effects on humans and animals by interacting with the CB1 receptor. Many people experience that by having a small amount of THC with their CBD, they experience increased effects of the CBD. This is one of the many ways that cannabinoids work better together in the well known “entourage effect.” That said, if you are new to cannabis use, It is very easy to take too much THC which results in overstimulation of the endogenous cannabinoid system resulting in unwanted side effects. It only takes a very small amount of THC (even just 1%) work synergistically with the CBD. 

Now that we know what is happening in our bodies naturally, if you are choosing to use cannabis, it is important to learn some tips that most likely will increase feelings of happiness and decrease anxiety. Always remember that each person’s endogenous cannabinoid system is unique. Furthermore, your cannabis experiences will vary depending on the method of ingestion, dosage, cultivar selection, terpene content and cannabinoid ratio. In our next blog from this series Dosing Cannabis Effectively for Relaxation we will focus on ways to dose cannabis that encourage the possibility of calming your mind and your body.

If you are interested in learning more about how to enjoy cannabis recreationally, look for part three of this blog series “How to Avoid and Manage Cannabis Induced Anxiety.”

I am a fulltime budtender at Portland dispensary Urban Farmacy. If you have questions, feel free to come by, I am happy to help! Thanks for the read! Until next time.



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