Every day millions of people battle with social and daily anxiety. It's something more and more people are speaking up about, which is a strong and beautiful thing. Depression and anxiety is not to be ashamed of: It's to be talked about.
Taking antidepressants is something I chose to do a few years ago, because medicine and therapy work. But I didn't want to rely on pills such as Xanax for anxiety, so I looked elsewhere. The research in how marijuana affects mental health is extremely rare, but has picked up some traction recently as caretakers deal with troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We know of the many benefits cannabis has in regard
to physical health, but could it have the same effect on the brain?
After smoking pot in college, I stopped in my early twenties for ten years. It had started to make me anxious and uncomfortable when I'd smoke, so I just stopped. After living in Vail for three years and Dallas for seven, I was in New York City as I turned 31 — when, suddenly, it hit me: Anxiety and fear in general blanketed me. Each day, it got worse. Luckily, every person in New York is anxious, so it was easy to find advice.
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Graduate students from Columbia and New York universities ran a service that would deliver pot to your door in two types of flower: sativa and indica. They would explain the difference, so it was like getting a minor pot education, like Marijuana for Dummies. Marijuana was what people had recommended the most, and staying natural was a big appeal. I was scared it would have the same effect it did ten years prior; anyone who's had a bad experience with pot but wants to try it for medicinal reasons later in life knows that feeling.
Relaxing indica strains seemed best, so with little knowledge on much else, I reintroduced myself to a plant that does much more than get people high. After two years back in Colorado, my marijuana knowledge is massive. The amount of research I've done to see how flower can help my anxiety is extensive. So here's what I've learned works for me:
The key thing is to not dive in, but just dip a toe and see how the water feels. I would take one puff, then relax. The next night, maybe two puffs. I did it very gradually; as with starting any medication, I wanted to find the right amount that worked for me. This wasn't about getting stoned: It was about relaxing my mind and nerves.
Being alone was important to me at first. I feared I'd act weird or freak out being around people after smoking. After becoming more comfortable with cannabis, though, I began smoking with people I was close to and felt ultra-comfortable with. Using cannabis doesn't have to be a social thing – it can be a "you" thing, too – but it can also help with social anxiety, so it can be both a "you" thing and a social thing.
I tried not to overthink it, telling myself in no way would I trip out or lose control. I would fill my mind with positive thoughts, and the amount I started with had minimal-to-no psychedelic effects. I changed my thinking from "getting stoned" to "getting natural anti-anxiety.”
I read reviews on products and read up on dispensaries. I knew not to go to the corporate places with multiple locations. I found a place where I felt comfortable talking about what was ailing me, a place where I could get flower and have a five-minute therapy session at the same time — that’s what good budtenders do. I asked questions and read articles. The more I educated myself, the safer I felt easing back into the cannabis pool.
As with all things we put into our bodies, I wanted to know about what flower and product I was buying. I made sure the flower was organic, pesticide-free and “clean cannabis.” If a dispensary or budtender told me they didn’t know if their product wasn't organic or pesticide-free, I knew that it wasn’t and would walk out.
I didn’t start with edibles. For me, the results of ingesting edibles were either very body-heavy or very mind-heavy – not the soft, relaxing benefits that help ease my anxiety. When talking with others about this, I heard the same thing. Unless it was a CBD pill, tincture or treat, I stayed away in the beginning.
Speaking of CBD…
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CBD is amazing. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects, but it still has high medicinal value. Research has shown it to be effective in treating everything from inflammation to multiple sclerosis to even anxiety. It has been a major focus of scientists, researchers and doctors in the ongoing medical marijuana marathon. Many dispensaries have CBD-heavy flower and products, including tinctures, edibles, pills, lotion, oils and more. I've also found specific high-CBD strains like Cannatonic, Pennywise and Spectrum 12. For me, this was the best step I took using marijuana for its medicinal purposes.
In time, I found out that marijuana and I were a good mix, and I am gradually exploring all kinds of new, fun ways to use marijuana. One strain will help me with social anxiety, while another will give me that extra focus before morning yoga; a few drops of CBD oil in my morning coffee gets me relaxed and ready to take on the day.
All of these good things can happen when using marijuana in an educated way — a way that worked for me.
My hope is that writing about my experience will make people feel more comfortable talking about pot and anxiety. If you're interested in trying marijuana to treat it, take the time to learn why and how it can help, then find your own plan. Whether you use marijuana or not, remember that it’s always okay to talk to someone about anxiety or depression. Cheers to a healthy and happy you.