Hang on, can weed really help treat my anxiety?
Often blamed for causing anxiety, new research is finding that cannabis really could ease those jitters. Simon Doherty, our resident drugs columnist, looks through the smoke.
Medical weed is now legal in the UK (only through private clinics, though), and I was recently reading that it can be prescribed to treat anxiety.
This is astonishing to me; the most anxious I have ever been was an incident when I was stoned. It was simultaneously the most high and most anxious I’ve ever been and, to make matters worse, it was at the theatre.
I had eaten far too much weed chocolate before going in, brought off a north London hippie self-described as a “healer” as opposed to a weed dealer.
It was a fiver for a bar of chocolate, and I assumed it was one dose – nobody told me otherwise. I later learned that it was in fact five doses. Everything was fine for the first half of the performance, but then it hit me hard, going from a mild intoxication gently blurring the sharp edges of life, to I‑am-most-certainly-going-to-die.
That’s when I was sure I really needed to pee. I convinced myself that the following scene would imminently play out: I would get up, try and go to the toilet, then I would tumble head-first inadvertently taking out a couple of innocent old ladies. The whole audience would gasp, point at me, then settle into a disgusted murmur. The house lights would go up, the actors would stop performing and the spotlight would be shined directly onto me. “Get him,” I imagined the actor with the lead role would say, convinced I’d cost them a favourable review in the local paper.
At that moment, a snarling platoon of security guards would burst in from every exit and kick me to a bloody pulp like a pack of hyenas descending upon a piece of rotting meat. The crowd would erupt into cheers at the sight of blood, like in the Roman times.
“What we do when a person doesn’t feel good or blacks out, is we give them sugar water and carefully move them into fresh air,” an employee of the weed coffeeshop Bulldog in Amsterdam told THE FACE, when I called and asked what to do in this instance. “This usually does the trick pretty well and brings them back to their senses.”
To this day, I could never tell you how that play ends. A wild escalation, right? But that’s the funny thing about getting far too high; you’re actually fine, but in your head you are very much not okay. That’s why I was so surprised that weed is legally being used by doctors to treat anxiety in the UK; to me, that’s like filling up a fire engine’s water tank with petrol.
Leading psychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt has just published a book – Cannabis (Seeing Through the Smoke) – about medicinal weed in the UK. I asked him how weed can be used to treat anxiety. “Generally, the use of cannabis does reduce anxieties,” he told THE FACE. “In small amounts, particularly with a balanced mixture of CBD and THC [the two most prominent active compounds in the cannabis plant] it reduces anxiety.”
“But if you smoke strong THC and get stoned very fast,” he continued, “it can provoke anxiety. So that’s the two extremes of the reaction, really.”
Nutt’s charity Drug Science is currently conducting the largest observational medical cannabis study in the UK, Project Twenty21. “We have about 700 people who are getting very significant benefits from that kind of mixture of THC and CBD for their anxiety disorders,” he says. “Including PTSD.”
“We think it’s likely turning off the worry centres of the brain,” Nutt says. “Dampening down the worry centres and stopping repetitive worry.” What is the best ratio of CBD to THC? “We haven’t formally studied it, but on the order of 10:1 CBD to THC – so a sensible dosing for anxiety would be around 30 – 50mg of CBD and 2 – 5mg of THC.”
“If you’re anxious, you wouldn’t want to be taking more than a couple of mg of THC in any particular dose, but maybe 50mg of CBD.”
The science sounds robust, so the question is: why isn’t the NHS utilising this treatment? Nutt says that until this changes, he believes thousands will continue to self-medicate using black market weed. Not only are they forced to break the law, but they are probably getting weed with too much THC. In which case, it’s probably best not to rely on an eighth from your local dealer to cure your anxiety.
Are you struggling with drugs? Click here to see a list of organisations that can help and click here for information about how the NHS can help. If you think there might be a drug-related emergency do not hesitate to ring 999 – you will never be in trouble for doing this.