Marijuana has perennially held a reputation for mellowing people out–this is nothing new. Much like some of cannabis’s other effects, we’re now reaching a period where long-standing lived experience is finally converging with scientific reasoning, not only confirming marijuana’s benefits on a more thorough, peer-reviewed level, but also enlightening us as to why those benefits exist.
Elsewhere, you can find emerging science that reveals how medicinal marijuana may reduce nausea, headaches, and chronic pain. Here, we’ll take a look at the facts and theories concerning how the drug helps relieve stress and anxiety.
Amygdala: The Magic Word
The first study we’ll look at contains a lot of medical shorthand and MD jargon. But the most important word in Vanderbilt University’s scrupulous 13-page work is “amygdala.” Without getting too complicated, the amygdala is a pair of almond-shaped clumps in the temporal lobes of the brain, responsible for key functions such as memory, decision-making, emotional regulation, and–most important here–anxiety.
There’s a lot of dense research on the amygdala (it’s become a point of fascination for armchair psychologists and degree-holders alike), but what you really need to know is that panic attacks and most general unease come from the amygdala mistaking stress for physical danger, and thus activating the body’s heart-pumping, hand-trembling, lung-squeezing fight-or-flight response.
The study above was among the first to find a direct correlation between marijuana use and (temporary) effects on the amygdala–albeit in mice. It has since been heavily cited and circulated online, but it’s just one way to begin considering how pot can help relieve stress and anxiety.
Normalizing Unhealthy Levels
A joint study (pun intended) by the National Institute of Health, University of Calgary, and Rockefeller University, which highlighted stress and anxiety as the biggest reason for pot use, also mentions the amygdala, and goes on to say that as long as the dose is within reason, marijuana seems to have a clear ability to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, even among people with full-blown anxiety disorders.
Furthermore, this study posits that what pot is actually doing to mellow people out is regulate and modulate abnormal brain levels that cause stress and anxiety; in other words, medicinal marijuana, when properly administered, can actually help normalize an unhealthy brain.
An Additional Possibility
Finally, if we accept the evidence that marijuana has benefits for the management of chronic pain, we can easily conclude how this, in turn, can help feelings of stress and anxiety, which may cause, be caused by, or exacerbated by feelings of physical discomfort.
Of course, any scientist, doctor, or friend worth their salt will tell you that medicinal marijuana alone shouldn’t be relied upon as a crutch if someone is experiencing truly extreme and persistent stress and anxiety. It’s also important to note that some have said marijuana use worsens their anxiety: Much like any drug, pharmaceutical or not, the effects won’t be the same for everyone, not to mention the importance of other variables like the strain, amount taken, combinations with other drugs, and even your social setting.
But what the evidence on display here does suggest is that the drug’s long tradition of self-medication seems to be grounded in some genuine reasoning, and that those who feel that it helps them personally have solid motivation to continue using it.