Medical Marijuana Has Proven Effects In Easing Anxiety – And It’s Easier To Get Than You Think
Medical marijuana is legal in Australia, and its impacts on long-term sufferers of anxiety can be extraordinary.
Early last month, seeking solutions for the anxiety that had affected me since my teenage years, I turned to medical marijuana.
It was not the first treatment option that I had tried. Cycling through solutions — from different medications to ongoing therapy — I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office. “There’s no magic bullet for this,” the doctor said, simply.
I know now that he’s right. There is no magic bullet. Rehabilitation for mental health disorders is a slow process, one that requires a global rather than localised outlook. There is no one pill that you can take that will transform your life. Finding your own path to mental flourishing requires a multi-faceted treatment program that involves exercise, changing sleep patterns, diet, mindfulness, medication, and an ongoing process of re-wiring negative associations. And even then, you will still have bad days. Anxiety isn’t something that gets cured. It gets managed.
But that’s precisely what’s so insidious about the disorder. The condition can negatively affect your ability to do those very things that you know will help. At my most anxious, in my twenties, I was sleeping irregularly, stuck in a holding pattern that heightened my fear. In recent years, I was generally more used to these symptoms — meditation, above everything, helped a great deal — but they still flared up. And then I tried medical marijuana.
Bud Or Oil?
Medical marijuana in Australia comes in two forms: a bud, also known as flower, and oil. As the doctor at Alternaleaf, the medical marijuana treatment centre that I used to get my prescription, explained, bud is for recreation, and oil is for treatment. While bud only stays in your system for a couple of hours, oil has a twelve-hour half life, meaning that most people who take it have a program of two doses per day: one in the morning and one in the evening, with the evening dose considerably higher to improve sleep.
Oil can come in one of two varieties — it can either contain pure CBD, or it can be balanced with THC. THC has psychoactive properties — it will make you feel stoned — while CBD has none. My doctor prescribed me a mix of THC and CBD, with a two to one ratio going CBD’s way. This is because small amounts of THC can increase what is known as the “entourage effect.”
Basically put, the entourage effect speaks to the way that CBD and THC interact with one another. Higher levels of CBD reduce the anxiety-producing effects of THC, and modulate the psychoactive experience.
If you’re worried about the psychoactive properties of THC, then you can ask your doctor for pure CBD oil, entourage effect be damned. Pure CBD oil still has considerable benefits when treating anxiety — you don’t need to worry about being forced down a particular treatment path.
For me personally, a small dose of my oil doesn’t make me feel stoned, exactly. In finding my correct dose, I did have days where I took too much, and discovered myself looping through the usual psychoactive thought patterns, going down rabbit holes that meant I got distracted and found productivity hard.
But when I got the dosage right, I found that the effects are minor enough that they feel like background conditions: I get the slightly spacey sense of embodiment that comes with getting stoned, without any of the impacts on my motivation or thought process. In fact, the biggest and most immediate effect of the oil was on my productivity.
Medical Marijuana Increased My Focus
There is no current consensus in the medical literature as to whether marijuana actually increases focus. In fact, as John Salamone, a psychopharmacologist told Mashable, “most of the research on cannabis and motivation shows no effect, or if anything, reduced motivation.”
However, though marijuana might not target productivity specifically, what it can do is reduce anxious thought patterns, decreasing “psychological pain” and making tasks easier. This was my experience, almost immediately. During my worst periods of anxiety, a decade ago, I found it impossible to focus on anything but prospective negative situations — my mind was constantly flung forward into the future, obsessing over that which had yet to come to pass.
The oil re-directed my brain. I found that I was deeply present-focused, able to think about the tasks at hand. That meant that my work improved — I could dive into my articles without becoming distracted — and I was able to sleep without waking, going through long, natural periods of rest without being startled back into consciousness at random.
I was able to sleep without waking, going through long, natural periods of rest without being startled back into consciousness at random.
That, indeed, is what I would highlight as the biggest effect of medical marijuana. It has not solved my anxiety completely — re-wiring the brain takes time, and no one drug will ever quieten all the anxious thought patterns that those who suffer from the disorder have experienced for years. But I am better able to help myself. The multi-faceted approach to treatment that had, in my teenage years, seemed so overwhelming now feels much more pleasant; easier. I am motivated. I am focused.
And these things have knock-on effects. The better that you live, the easier it becomes to live well. CBD oil doesn’t drag you immediately into better mental health. But it kickstarts a cycle of increased positivity that can have profound impacts on your mental wellbeing
It’s still early days for me: CBD oil increases efficacy when used regularly, and I’m in the process of trying to get into good habits, and to carry out my new schedule. It’s also worth noting that my experience is not totalising. You will have your own experience with the oil, and you shouldn’t jump to abandoning a treatment plan if you already have one, particularly if it works. Oil can be used in conjunction with other practices — it needn’t replace them.
Again, there is no magic bullet. And yet the positive effects of the oil are deeply noticeable; more so every time I take a dose.
Side-Effects Are Limited
As anyone has been through the process of seeking medical treatment for their mental health will know, most commonly-prescribed drugs have significant side-effects. For a while I was on Lithium, which can lead to hair loss and dizziness. After that, I was on Olanzapine, which raises cholesterol and can lead to significant weight gain. And then there are the benzos, which your body builds up a tolerance to over time, requiring higher — and more dangerous — doses.
Deciding which medications to take is a process of balancing these side-effects with their outcomes. Often, even despite the worst of these physical effects, it is still worth taking the drug.
Understanding this balance is easier in the case of medical marijuana. The treatment is not without some side-effects, certainly. It can cause diarrhoea, changes in appetite, a dry mouth, and tiredness. But, when the oil is taken in the right doses, these side effects can potentially be basically unnoticeable. I certainly feel that my mouth is drier. But I have noticed no change in my food consumption, and my morning dose doesn’t make me drowsy.
The evening dose that I take makes me feel pleasantly tired — a stark difference from the sleeping medications I have tried in the past
Indeed, the evening dose that I take makes me feel pleasantly tired — a stark difference from the sleeping medications I have tried in the past, which knocked me out for 12 hours at a time. My sleep is natural, and I wake up in the morning feeling refreshed.
It’s worth noting that, paradoxically, medical marijuana can increase anxiety in some people. The literature is divided on why exactly this happens — most highlight THC as the element that causes panic and fear in high doses, even as it reduces it in low doses. But that doesn’t mean that one bad experience with the oil should necessarily turn you off. Most medical marijuana clinics advocate for a process of trial-and-error, finding the exact proportions of THC and CBD that work for you. When compared to many over-the-counter medications, the process of finding that balance is easier, quicker, and significantly less draining.
How To Get Medical Marijuana In Australia
In order to get medical marijuana in Australia, you need to be assessed as to the severity of your mental illness. This process is surprisingly easy — most marijuana clinics require you to fill out a brief questionnaire about your symptoms. A C-PTSD diagnosis from a doctor will get you over the line, but so will a number of symptoms associated with GAD, AKA Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
You also need to have tried other forms of medication first. That means you won’t be approved if you’ve never been on an SSRI, or taken a dive into the world of pharmacology. But if you fulfil this condition, you will find that the process of obtaining the oil is shockingly easy.
For me, all it took was one phone call with a nurse to assess eligibility, one late-night consultation with a doctor, and two weeks of waiting for the oil to be shipped to me. That’s it. The whole process was painless, particularly when compared to the stop-start trials of SSRIs that I had been through in the past.
Oil is one part of my treatment process — not the whole of it. But there is, simply put, no one drug that has had such an effect on my anxiety and motivation in such a short time. And for that I am grateful.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.