Dr. Dustin Sulak
December 20, 2022
Anxiety, Trauma, and the Endocannabinoid System
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of psychiatric disorders, and they’re one of the most common conditions for which people use cannabis. One review found that among 6665 cannabis users with data collected from 13 different studies, 52% of the subjects reported using cannabis for anxiety, making it the second most commonly treated symptom, following pain (1). Anxiety disorders come in many forms, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorders.
While symptoms vary depending on the specific anxiety disorder, it’s been my clinical experience that any of the anxiety disorders can be treated with a high rate of success when cannabis is used appropriately. Perhaps this is related to the high density of cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors in a brain region called the amygdala and in the sympathetic (that is, fight or flight) centers of nervous system. The amygdala plays a large role in modulating fear and anxiety, and its response to anxiety-provoking cues is exaggerated in people with anxiety disorders; stimulating CB1 can dampen this excessive activity. Similarly, the sympathetic nervous system contains CB1 receptors that will also dampen excessive activity related to the physical effects of anxiety like racing heart rate, sweating, or trembling.