For many of us, being social doesn’t come easily. It’s one thing to occasionally avoid interactions with others. However, an intense, persistent fear of being judged by others is known as social anxiety disorder.
In the United States, 15 million adults suffer from this type of anxiety. And yet less than 37% of those suffering seek out treatment.
Although social anxiety is treatable, many doctors rely on medications like Zoloft and Prozac to treat their patients. That said, it can take up to three months on these drugs before seeing any improvement. And these medications can come with scary side effects like:
Meanwhile, in a survey of data from Strainprint, an app for cannabis consumers to track strains, doses and symptoms, there was a perceived 58% reduction in anxiety and stress following cannabis use. For these consumers, even two puffs of cannabis were sufficient in reducing ratings of depression and anxiety.
We asked HelloMD physician Dr. Richard Kim how cannabis works to reduce social anxiety.
“Cannabis promotes sociability by making us feel happy and relaxed. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) promotes happiness primarily by binding to the CB1 receptor in the brain, which responds by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine. The increased dopamine signals the pleasure center of the brain: the mesolimbic pathway.”
Dr. Kim also noted that cannabidiol (CBD) can also help with anxiety, saying “CBD (cannabidiol) can increase serotonin signaling at the 5-HT1A receptor—the same neurotransmitter and receptor that SSRIs like Prozac influence.”
Dr. Kim cautions, however, that too much THC can actually have the opposite effect. “Too much THC can increase anxiety, because THC binds the CB1 receptor in three areas of the brain which affect anxiety: the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus—each with their own dose-response relationship to THC.”
When it comes to cannabis, everyone responds differently. While some people can consume cannabis without anxiety, some people can unintentionally experience marijuana-induced anxiety. It really comes down to a bit of trial and error to see what cannabis strain works for you.
That said, we asked some HelloMD staff members, which marijuana strains help them feel more at ease in social settings.
Chris B., partner development associate, prefers the light effects of ACDC: “My favorite strain to alleviate social anxiety is ACDC, a classic high-CBD strain, because it has a nice calming effect. ACDC offers full-body relaxation without getting too heady or increasing paranoia, which can worsen your anxiety. I find ACDC to be a good strain for light effects, so I can use it without overconsuming. Then I don’t worry about being too elevated in public.
“When I’m at a large gathering, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the quantity of people, especially if I’m in a crowd of new people that I’m not quite as comfortable with. Any time that feeling kicks in, ACDC can bring me back to that relaxed feeling without the cloudiness that accompanies certain high-THC strains. I’m still very clear-minded, and I can socialize easily.”
** Melissa N., office manager**, tells us why Jack Herer is her go-to marijuana strain when she’s feeling anxious at a party: “To reduce social anxiety, I enjoy sativa-dominant Jack Herer. Sativa strains are generally uplifting, but some of them are heavy-headed. Jack Herer is more of a clear-headed high. It makes me feel less paranoid, and that makes it easier for me to be social.
“It’s a great strain for any time you’re feeling anxious. I like it if I’m going to a party or even in the morning. If I’m too tired, it's a good option to wake up and get the day started, because it provides good energy.
“I’d recommend Jack Herer especially for people who are new to cannabis, because it’s an uplifting sativa. It doesn’t have that sluggish feeling like some strains do. For me, there’s less paranoia, so it’s great for newbies. But advanced consumers love it, too.”
Ryan G., customer service manager, says Skywalker OG is his pick for when he has to do any public speaking: “I really like Skywalker OG to help me with social anxiety. I tend to overthink a lot, so having a strain that provides full-body effects really helps me.
“I can get really anxious when I'm speaking in front of large crowds or even just a small group of people. I feel I'm very socially awkward and that makes me very self-conscious, so having an indica-dominant strain like Skywalker OG helps quiet those thoughts, and it puts me at ease.
“Cannabis affects everybody differently, so it’s a good idea to start low and slow, and increase consumption as needed. But I’d suggest Skywalker OG, because it's not a super heavy indica that will make me feel lazy. This strain gives me energy, but at the same time reduces my self-consciousness, which helps alleviate my anxiety.”
** Bart S., customer service specialist**, says Wedding Cake tastes great and helps him start conversations without feeling self-conscious:
“Recently, I've been enjoying Wedding Cake, an indica-dominant strain also known as Pink Cookies. I think it's a very good strain for social situations because it makes me feel happy and relaxed. It's also energizing so it doesn't make me anxious, but it gives me the motivation to strike up a conversation.
“Sometimes I feel anxious before social situations like a big party or an event with large amounts of people. Wedding Cake helps to relieve that anxiety so once I arrive I can be relaxed, talking and happy.
“I would recommend Wedding Cake because it’s a great tasting strain, but it also helps me break the ice at a party or social gathering. It helps me start talking and go with the flow so I’m no longer worried about the situation that I’m in.”
** Kevin P., customer service specialist**, says 24 Karat Gold helps him be present in conversations with others: “My favorite strain to reduce social anxiety is called 24 Karat Gold, otherwise known as Kosher Tangie. It’s a cross between indica strain Kosher Kush and sativa strain Tangie.
“Since 24 Karat Gold is a hybrid, it doesn't get me too in my head or too sleepy. Although technically a 60/40 indica-dominant hybrid, it calms me down physically, so I don't talk as much with my hands. I'm also not as nervous, and it frees my mind up for really interesting conversation.
“It gives a really classic high feeling, where I feel like I could just sit around and talk to people for a really long time—that's a big part of being social for me. I find it's appropriate to consume anytime I'll be around other people.
“With so many different strains of marijuana out there, I like the ones that alleviate my social anxiety, but also taste great. The nice thing about 24 Karat Gold is it has really sweet citrus notes from Tangie and a little bit of pineyness from the Kosher Kush, so it always tastes really fresh. It feels like it cleanses my insides, and that psyches me up to get socializing.”
Nik S., customer service specialist, goes for indica-dominant Sunset Sherbet for the taste and physical effects: “To reduce my social anxiety, I like to go with Sunset Sherbet. Not only for the taste and effect, but because of the genetics: Sunset Sherbet is an indica-dominant strain descended from GSC.
“If I’m in crowded areas or any place I'm not familiar with, but I still want to remain social and have a good time, Sunset Sherbet works for me. With Sunset Sherbet, I notice the physical stress being relieved, and as a result it makes the social anxiety vanish. That iffy feeling and any feelings of anxiousness disappear. Not only do I get the physical relaxation, but mentally I feel more like myself. I get much more uplifted, and I start to notice that it’s easier to open up around people.”
Photo credit: Jens Johnsson
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.