Alleviating Anxiety & Depression with Cannabis

Girl in gray sweater and golden hair facing away from the camera, indicating depression. She may benefit form cannabis to alleviate anxiety.

How to Appropriately Boost Your Mood with Marijuana.


Feeling anxious or depressed? You’re not alone. Anxiety and depression are two of the more common issues we hear about at the dispensary where I work, especially around the holidays. As a patient consultant and educator I see hundreds of patients a week and help them find relief with cannabis. Here are some of the successful medicating strategies I’ve learned:

There is no standard dosing that fits everyone.

Much comes into play when you’re looking at the right amount of cannabinoids for an individual — personal metabolism, genetics, hormone levels, how much you’ve eaten, and how you feel that day in general.

THC in lower doses soothes both anxiety and depression.

Some patients get nervous about trying THC, but starting with a small amount and working up to the desired goal can be a way to avoid unwanted effects. A small puff of sativa lifts a mood and motivates without causing anxiety and a very low-dose Sativa edible or sublingual preparation can create the same effect.

CBD is an excellent solution for treating depression and anxiety.

High-CBD flowers, edibles and sublinguals are available in many different ratios. I explain to patients that cannabidiol is about homeostasis rather than euphoria. CBD generally takes people to a base level where they can be functional and calm without the grogginess of benzodiazepines. Experimentation with various ratios is essential, as we all metabolize cannabinoids differently. More balanced ratios (1:1-1:4) often are helpful for depression while larger ratios (18:1 and higher) are exceptionally useful for anxiety and anxiety-causing disorders such as OCD. As with THC, microdosing is key — the goal is to find the optimal amount for balance and relief in the body. It’s important to note that large amounts of high-ratio CBD can act as a depressant.

Strain selection is important for appropriate therapy.

Different strains contain specific terpene profiles that influence effects. Sativas are uplifting and for overcoming a depressive episode. Some strains can exacerbate anxiety — another reason microdosing is the best approach to successful medicating. Hybrids are effective for both depression and anxiety.  They can range from calming and functional to uplifting and creative. Be aware of strains that cause negative effects for you personally and look out for those genetics in new strains you try. Indicas can be helpful for anxiety, but be careful when you’re dealing with depression as they can exacerbate mood, making it harder to get out of bed or leave the house if there is too much sedation.

A man in blue plaid shirt holding a bud, he could be contemplating using marijuana to treat depression/anxiety.

All plants, including cannabis, have naturally-occurring terpene molecules, which create the unique scents of strains and display specific effects in the body.

Terpenes that alleviate depression are beta caryophyllene (β-caryophyllene) and limonene. Beta caryophyllene, one of the more common terpenes found in cannabis, can be found in hops and black pepper and is known to have more stimulating effects. Limonene, more often found in sativa-dominant strains, is also found in citrus and has uplifting antidepressant properties. Terpenes that help anxiety are linalool and myrcene (β-myrcene). Linalool, primarily in indica-dominant strains, has anti-anxiety properties and is found in lavender. Myrcene, another common terpene found in cannabis that is also in mangoes. Note that both terpenes have sedating properties not ideal for treating depression.

Mode of medication is important.

Smoking/vaporizing cannabis metabolizes differently in the body than consuming edibles. When smoking or vaporizing dried flowers the effects are felt almost immediately, including the therapeutic effects of the flower’s terpenes. Edibles are great for microdosing and have a longer therapeutic effect. Higher dosages of edibles can be problematic — the way we metabolize them produces a drowsier feeling towards the end of the experience whether they be sativa or indica which is undesirable in cases of depression. They can also create a next-day “stoned-over” effect, which can make motivation difficult.

It’s amazing to have patients come in to say they’ve been able to stop taking Xanax, Ativan, etc. These drugs are debilitating, addictive and make it hard to have a functional and productive lifestyle. As cannabis use evolves and becomes normalized, people are discovering they can take control of their depression and anxiety on their own terms using natural medicine that lacks the side effects of pharmaceuticals.

This article was originally published in Issue 24 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

TELL US, have you used cannabis to treat your depression or anxiety? What were the results?

Sara Payan is an award-winning cannabis educator specializing in cancer related therapies. She is the director of education at the Apothecarium, vice-chair of the San Francisco Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, writer, industry consultant, patient advocate and stage-three colon cancer survivor. Sara has presented at Patients Out of Time, Women Grow and The Women's Visionary Congress. Her work has been highlighted in Dope Magazine, Cannabis Now, and Ladybud.

11 Comments

  1. RM

    November 21, 2017 at 6:30 am

    I’m thinking of starting cannabis I have never tried it I take Xanax when I need to. I stopped my meds for depression and anxiety and am afraid of the consequences. But I don’t want to take meds anymore, (Abilify, welbutrin,) and topamax for migraines, my question is do I need a Dr referral to by it? Do I just go into a store and ask? I know there are some kind of drops to use but know nothing about cannabis other that what I hear on tv. Help

  2. Anonymous Jon

    September 24, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Medical cannabis has been a life changer for me. During grad school, I started struggling with a lot of social anxiety – and I’m someone who used to consider myself an extrovert. Using cannabis makes me anxious sometimes, so I have to use very small doses, wait for the effect, and then decide whether or not to use more. After a few months of “microdosing” I was able to titrate off of my Celexa (with the help of a physician… I would NEVER recommend going off meds without a doctor’s assistance).

    I used to be afraid to smoke or use tinctures with unknown amounts of THC or CBDs. There is a lab (PSI Labs) in my state that lets me test whatever samples I like, so I can make sure what I’m using is at a dose I’m comfortable with, and doesn’t have mold or bugs. That also helped my anxiety. If you want to look at their website you can see other samples with high CBD, but possibly only in Michgan. http://www.psilabs.org/results

    I work in government, so I’ve always had to be “in the closet” about my cannabis use – and I still do. It’s unfortunate. Medical marijuana has been such a powerful, positive force in my life – it helped lift me from depression, get me off of pharmaceutical drugs, and assists with my anxiety. I’m glad people are starting to come around, even at my work (with conservative republicans).

  3. M.M

    September 5, 2017 at 6:43 am

    I’m New to cannabis , my husband introduce me to it for my depression anxiety. I’ve been battling postpartum depression that turned into depression and anxiety for years. I’m still trying to figure out the correct combination that will work for me. But I can take it definitely see a change.

  4. Darin

    July 6, 2017 at 3:06 am

    I have always struggled with inflammation and anxiety. I’ve been through numerous prescribed medications and supplements, and NONE of them have helped me like BioCBD Plus. My mind is finally put at ease, allowing me to sleep, and think clearly with NO side effects. My inflammation is down and my appetite is up. I’ve noticed my brain fog is nearly gone! I truly believe in this brand, their products, and what they stand for. I recommend BioCBD Plus to anyone who wants a healthy & a holistic way of healing. – Darin

  5. Judy garcia

    July 6, 2017 at 2:26 am

    Interested in trying bilingual drops for anxiety. For many years had prescribed Xanax but because I’m over 60 my dr won’t prescribe anymore.

  6. dianne hirsch

    May 18, 2017 at 2:47 am

    I took Xanax for 30 years, 2mg 4 x day, for severe panic disorder. Since making cannabis oil, from the cush strains, granddaddy – indica strains, I have completely come off of the Xanax! I use the oil for pain issues, anxiety and appetite stimulate. Many studies have shown the terpenes that help with anxiety if they exhibit o.5% myrcene or more. Linalool also helps anxiety. I also use chamomile. passion flower, St. Johns’ Wort, Valarian, and Kava for stress and anxiety.

  7. S.G.

    February 16, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Do you have any written work with information on cannabis use for patients with different types of cancers? I have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, working in a medicinal dispensary I do have a small amount of knowledge on this topic. I have been medicating with CBD and phoenix tears daily, wondering if you have any other suggestions or advice on dosage?

  8. Jan

    February 13, 2017 at 3:06 am

    Regarding the use of Setiva and CBD. What are the effects of the use of these
    With people with Bipolar? Taking into account the hundreds of kinds and levels
    of it. Would it help? Which ones would -vs- cocktail of drugs they give someone
    That has it. You can be on any where from one to 5 or 6>.

    • Sara Payan

      February 13, 2017 at 5:29 pm

      Many patients with Bipolarism find high CBD ratios to be incredibly helpful, especially when taking a turn towards the manic. It’s been reported to help keep the mind clear and grounded.

      • TJ

        June 14, 2017 at 3:33 am

        What kind of strains are good for bipolar disorder? I’ve been trying to find the right strain for years but have yet to do so cause I also suffer from depression & ptsd.

  9. Toni Medford

    February 12, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    That closing paragraph says so simply what I need to regain a more well and balanced health. To find the mix of cannabis varieties that will make me feel better. That will help me stop taking pharmaceuticals in great numbers for years and years, and this possibility shows me it going to happen. For me. For thousands of others, too.

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