Panic at the Disco: Can Cannabis Help Panic Disorders?
While everyone reacts to fear and stressful events differently, it’s a world away from how it happens to those who suffer from panic disorders. Simply put, it feels like the world is going to end.
Panic disorder is a serious condition that can happen without any sign or warning. It can take place anywhere: while you’re at work, showering, in a party, or even as you are relaxing at home. Panic disorders are characterized by sudden attacks of extreme nervousness and fear accompanied by a racing heart and sweating. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, feeling like you’re about to die, feeling faint, dizziness, trembling, chest pain, and intense feelings of dread. It usually occurs in non-threatening situations, but to the person who suffers from panic disorder, the fear response goes out of control. When this happens frequently, those afflicted with the condition become so afraid of the next panic attack that it affects their ability to live a normal life. Panic disorder is also a co-occurring disease to other conditions such as substance abuse, depression, and anxiety.
The exact cause of panic disorders is still not understood although it seems that a combination of factors contribute to a higher risk for developing the condition. These include a family history of panic disorder, abnormalities in the brain that control fight or flight responses, substance abuse, and major life stresses such as death of a loved one or loss of a job.
Treatment of panic disorders vary, often a combination of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, and anti-depressants. These medications include Xanax, Zoloft, Ativan, or Paxil; all of which are addicting and can have serious long-term side effects.
How Can Cannabis Help?
Cannabis is an excellent natural alternative to these medications in treating panic attacks without the side effects. It’s widely used in the treatment of panic disorders as well as anxiety. When anandamide, what we know of as the “bliss molecule” reacts with the THC in cannabis, it creates a calming effect to the body, providing immediate soothing relief for someone suffering from panic attacks.
Several studies also show that other compounds in cannabis have a beneficial effect on calming down those who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. This 2011 showed that cannabidiol (CBD) significantly decreased cognitive impairment, discomfort, and anxiety in patients who had social phobia before they were asked to participate in simulated public speaking.
A 2014 study led by researchers in Vanderbilt University provides valuable insight on how cannabis affects the brain’s fight-or-flight response; although the study analyzed the effects on anxiety, the results are also extremely beneficial for those suffering from panic disorders. This is the first study that identified cannabinoid receptors in a mouse’s amygdala, particularly in the central nucleus. According to Sachin Patel MD, PhD, professor of Psychiatry and of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and the study’s senior author, the findings “could be highly important for understanding how cannabis exerts its behavioral effects”. Patel said that other studies in Vanderbilt could suggest that the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in regulating anxiety and the brain’s response to stress by inhibiting excitatory signals that affect the neurotransmitter glutamate.
What’s also striking is that they suggest stress, both chronic or acute as well as severe emotional trauma reduces the production of endocannabinoids and also affects how responsive the receptors are. Because the endocannabinoids and the receptors are no longer “buffering” in the brain, anxiety increases. However, they also found that chronic use of marijuana can worsen anxiety, which tells us that people suffering from panic disorders and anxiety benefit more from taking small doses or microdoses.
Another study also found that THC has many strikingly similar characteristics with anandamide. Because both anandamide and THC act on the same pathways in the brain, both are crucial in helping people deal with stressful situations. It’s no surprise that people who are always stressed find relief from using pot.
Many users rely on cannabis for its calming properties, whether they have panic disorders or not. This alone proves how useful the plant is in promoting relaxation. There are dozens of great strains that are ideal for providing immediate relief for anxiety; some find that it’s more effective to smoke it while others prefer to vape in order to calm down.
Do you use cannabis for panic attacks? Share your experience with us in the comments below.
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