According to Beyond Blue, on average, one in four people will suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives. Of course, everyone experiences occasional stress and nervousness due to common life stressors. However, anxiety is a chronic condition that is very prevalent in our society, not only during times of normality but even more so during times of great uncertainty such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. A lack of job security, self-isolation and fears of illness for oneself and loved ones surrounding Covid-19 are likely to even further increase anxiety, especially in those who are already prone to this condition.
It is important that general and mental health practitioners, who may be seeing an influx of patients with Covid-19-related anxiety, be able to meet the needs of their patients, just as it’s imperative for sufferers to have access to the resources, treatment and information that can best assist them at this time. Telehealth is certainly an increasingly important and safe avenue to provide this, as it requires no physical contact or travel – essential ingredients while the population is being urged to self-isolate.
Whilst it is important for patients to continue to have access to all forms of currently available and effective treatment and support, it is possible that medicinal cannabis may also help some patients who have exhausted other treatments and who are still suffering from anxiety during this time. Medicinal cannabis is increasingly being explored as part of GP mental health treatment plans for a whole range of conditions for which there is some evidence of efficacy including panic disorders, phobias and sleep disturbances. It may also provide benefits for more specific forms of anxiety such as PTSD as cannabinoids have been shown to change how the brain processes memories, and studies with Australian veterans suffering from PTSD are ongoing.
There is though, still a lot of misinformation and confusion regarding the use of medicinal cannabis to treat anxiety. This is largely due to the fact that one of the main compounds of cannabis is THC, a psychoactive compound that is responsible for the ‘high’ induced by cannabis. So does medicinal cannabis contain THC? Well yes and no. It all depends on which particular compound is being prescribed. The other main cannabinoid CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that does not cause the feeling of being ‘high’, and when treating anxiety, it has been found that CBD-based treatments may be the most beneficial treatment for eligible patients with an anxiety disorder due to its therapeutic properties. A patient should always consult with an experienced healthcare prescriber to ensure they have the right mix of CBD and THC for their specific condition.
Dr Mark Hardy, Addiction Specialist at CA Clinics says that, “many patients who have been prescribed medicinal cannabis for anxiety have reported an overall reduction in their symptoms.” A 2015 study found that this may be due to ‘CBD’s anxiolytic effects, including reduced amygdala activation and altered medial prefrontal amygdala connectivity.’ In fact, researchers concluded that when used as a treatment for anxiety; ‘CBD reduced experimentally induced anxiety in healthy controls without affecting baseline anxiety levels.’ However, the sample sizes for this study were limited and further studies are required.
Medicinal cannabis as a treatment for anxiety is not an exact science and whilst it may offer some relief, it is important for anxiety sufferers who are prescribed medicinal cannabis to also incorporate other treatments and routines such as therapy, regular exercise and mindfulness in order to manage anxiety on a longer-term basis from a holistic approach.