Everything You Need to Know About Cannabis for Anxiety

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Jun 3, 2024
Last updated:
Jun 7, 2024

We all know what anxiety feels like.

Fear. Worry. Unease. Dread, even. Such feelings can spike your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, make you sweat and wreck your sleep. 

Though unpleasant in the moment, this is a normal reaction to stress. Especially when linked to a possible life change – e.g. a job interview, sitting an exam, or navigating a house move.

And yet for some, anxiety is more than a passing feeling. When symptoms persist, this can stop a person from properly living their life. At this point, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) becomes a diagnosable mental health problem. 

What is General Anxiety Disorder?

According to the NHS, you may have GAD, if:

  • Worrying severely impacts your day-to-day life, such as work and social experiences.
  • These worries make you extremely stressed and upset.
  • You often fear the worst, and fret about all kinds of things – rational or not.
  • You cannot control your worries. 
  • You’ve felt anxious almost every day for six months or more, and struggle to recall the last time you felt relaxed.

As well as a standalone condition, anxiety is the main symptom in many other mental health issues – e.g. panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias and PTSD. 

In the UK, over 8 million people live with an anxiety disorder. That’s roughly 1 in 10 of us. And treatment options vary – from medication to meditation. 

Today, a growing number of people with anxiety champion cannabis for making a positive impact on their symptoms (something backed up by qualitative data). That said, others argue the opposite – saying cannabis makes their anxiety worse.

What’s the truth? Let’s explore.

The Effect of THC and CBD on Anxiety

First, it’s key to point out the two active ingredients in cannabis, as these are what interact with the brain and, by extension, anxiety symptoms:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): The main psychoactive component, THC attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and nervous system. It’s what provides a ‘high’, and increases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD): The second-most common compound (after THC), CBD works on different parts of the brain. It’s non-psychoactive, which means no high, and all kinds of health firms have used CBD in their products in recent years.

Both THC and CBD are widely used to treat anxiety. A stereotype exists, however, that one compound will improve symptoms (CBD), and the other (THC) will make them worse.

That’s not strictly true. 

In a recent trial of 300 adults with anxiety, both THC and CBD-dominant cannabis helped reduce people’s anxiety, compared to the non-cannabis control group. 

The study also showed CBD had greater anti-inflammatory properties (and may translate to more long-term anxiety reduction), whereas THC had a more positive effect on mood.

How Cannabis Can Help with Anxiety

Benefits can include: 

  • Better sleep
  • Relaxation
  • Improved mood
  • Peace of mind
  • A greater sense of calm

Moreover, anecdotal data among people living with anxiety disorders (see intro) implies that cannabis treatment can be transformative. This may be someone with agoraphobia being able to leave the house, or a person living with social anxiety disorder feeling comfortable at a party.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Some people experience negative side effects from cannabis treatment – many of which are symptoms of anxiety – including Increased heart rate, sweating, racing mind, paranoia, brain fog, lack of motivation, problems focusing and insomnia.

In general, the science of medical cannabis and anxiety is unclear.

For instance, a 2020 study found both THC and CBD-dominant cannabis strains reduced anxiety, but that high levels of THC can worsen people’s symptoms. Yet a paper from 2010 showed a link between light cannabis use and anxiety disorders.

But as a 2020 review paper made clear (likewise this one, in 2022), a lot more research is needed before any evidence is undeniable.

Three things are certain, however: 

  1. Cannabis affects different people differently. 
  2. People living with anxiety can qualify for a prescription of medical cannabis, through a specialist clinic like Alternaleaf
  3. When using medical cannabis to treat anxiety, the best approach is proper planning. 

Using Cannabis for Anxiety

There are several ways to consume cannabis. Such as:

  • Smoking: Once the most common method, smoking dried cannabis flower is a ‘whole plant’ treatment, including hundreds of components that make up the cannabis plant. Downsides are potentially toxic by-products, the risk of lung damage, and up to 40% flower waste. Because of these risks, doctors do not recommend you smoke medical cannabis, and instead prescribe inhalation via vapouriser. 
  • Dry herb vaporiser: Safer, cost-effective and far less waste, vapes are growing ever-popular among medical cannabis patients. They’re also fast-acting, which may provide swift relief from anxiety symptoms. 
  • Vape cartridges: Vape carts come pre-filled with liquid cannabis concentrate concentrate – no grinding required. A ‘full spectrum’ product, vape carts can offer high THC, CBD or both, depending on the patient’s needs. Each cart contains around 200 inhales, and is powered by a battery.
  • Edibles: From gummies and lozenges to dissolvable wafers, edibles can take longer to kick in, but offer relief that’s both longer and more pronounced. (At the time of writing this article, only pastille lozenges are available for prescription by UK doctors.)
  • Oils: A popular choice for patients who want discretion. Oil can be THC-dominant,  CBD-focused or balanced, and provide a slow-acting yet long-lasting effect (up to 24 hours, in some cases).

When it comes to dosage, think like a BBQ joint making a brisket: low and slow.

As shown above, patients can have very different experiences. So start with a low dose (whether CBD or THC, though especially the latter), and take it slow before increasing.

Beyond the fact this is a core goal of medicine (the smallest possible dose to achieve the desired effect), this will help you understand your tolerance, limit the risk of negative side effects and, best of all, cost less.


Anxious feelings affect us all, and are part of what it means to be human. However GAD, and other anxiety disorders, impact the lives of millions across the UK.

Lots of people treat anxiety with cannabis. Many find this helps their symptoms, but others experience the opposite. There’s some encouraging data in this area, yet more research is needed.

A whole host of medical cannabis options exist, which can help people living with anxiety get targeted relief. If you have anxiety and believe medical cannabis would help your symptoms, you may be eligible for a prescription.

To find out more, contact Alternaleaf today