In today's fast-paced, frenetic world, stress is something that affects pretty much everyone. When we face stressful situations or emotions, our brain releases chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline that put us into a fight or flight mode. While this can be helpful if you're, say, being chased by a bear, stress's effects can be brutal, with painful physical symptoms such as tight muscles, disrupted digestion, headaches, fatigue and chest pain.
You may be wondering about the difference between stress and anxiety. The two are similar and interrelated, but actually comprise very different situations. Stress is a reaction we have in response to a stressor—in other words, some life event or situation that causes a negative response. This response might be anger, frustration, sadness or anxiety. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a state of worrying that isn’t necessarily tied to an event (although it might be). This persistent sense of fear and dread is often—but not always—a symptom of stress.
Unfortunately, stress—and the symptoms that accompany it—are quite common occurrences. More than three-quarters (77%) of Americans say they experience physical symptoms from stress, while 73% say they experience its psychological symptoms.
When stress from an event is severe, it can even develop into a stress disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This common condition affects 8% of the population and is characterized by flashbacks to the traumatic event, coupled with extreme stress reactions.
Thankfully, many patients report that cannabis helps them cope with stressful situations as well as the symptoms they cause.
Take Alexis, a 23-year-old patient who uses cannabis to help cope with stress. Diagnosed with PTSD from a past trauma, Alexis was overwhelmed with painful and frightening symptoms on a daily basis.
“I was having flashbacks pretty much every single day about the event.” she recalls. “I would wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat, panicking and hyperventilating, sometimes even screaming. I was constantly in a heightened state of anxiety and hypervigilance. And I was jumpy; I was irritable, sometimes angry, and I just needed to be medicated.”
Alexis says that doctors first put her on Zoloft in an attempt to ease her symptoms, but it didn’t really help. “I was still having flashbacks.” she says, adding, “It was kind of artificial. I never actually felt any real feeling. ... I was just kind of numb.”
Then she tried cannabis and was amazed at how well it worked. “I no longer wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat and freaking out.” she explains. “If I consume a little bit of an edible before I go to sleep, it will keep me asleep the entire night.”
She also says that her daily anxiety levels have come way down, and “when I do experience flashbacks now, which is less common, I’m able to keep more of a level head to deal with it.”
With cannabis to ease her symptoms, she’s been able to completely get off of Zoloft. Alexis says cannabis has helped her “in so many ways.”
Alexis has found help with the use of cannabis, and she’s not alone. Many patients report cannabis helps with stress and PTSD symptoms. In fact, a 2015 study in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy found that “substantial numbers of military veterans with PTSD use cannabis or derivative products to control PTSD symptoms, with some patients reporting benefits in terms of reduced anxiety and insomnia and improved coping ability.”
This makes a lot of sense when paired with new research that shows cannabis actually reduces reactions to stress. In one study, patients were given stress tests, some using cannabis and some not. Those consuming cannabis not only reported having less stress during the test, but were also found to have lower levels of cortisol in their blood. Cannabis was able to reduce stress responses at the chemical level.
This is good news for patients with chronic stressors, or an overactive stress response. Cannabis can them help keep stress levels in a manageable range. For those suffering from occasional stress, cannabis can help lessen the physical and emotional impact of a really bad day. Either way, it’s no wonder cannabis is such a popular option when it comes to reducing stress.
If you suffer from stress and think cannabis might be right for you, the best first step is to talk to a doctor. You can consult with one HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it's easy, private and 100% online. Whether you have a medical marijuana card or live in a state where you can purchase through recreational means, you’ll want to start exploring which strains and methods of consuming cannabis are best for you.
In the next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies guide, we take a look at how cannabis can help alleviate back pain.
Photo credit: Louis Blythe