Something causes stress, and worrying is a normal reaction to it. It is the body's response to danger, whether real or perceived, and in small doses, it can actually help you stay focused and solve problems.
But when anxiety starts to overwhelm a person and prevent them from living their life, this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately "40 million adults in the U.S., or 18%, have an anxiety disorder."
In this piece we'll go into more detail about anxiety, specific anxiety disorders, and how cannabis can be used to treat anxiety for some patients.
As the Anxiety and Depression Association of American points out, only one-third of this population actually seeks treatment, despite the fact that anxiety disorders are extremely treatable.
So how does someone know if they have an anxiety disorder?
Unfortunately, having an anxiety disorder is not the same as having a cold, with symptoms being the same from person to person.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders, and each one affects people differently. For some, it could show up as anxiety attacks every time they drive over a bridge, whereas someone else could have constant thoughts of dread and yet another could simply be afraid of interacting with new people.
The one common symptom all anxiety disorders share, according to the mental health website HelpGuide.org, is "persistent or severe fear or worry in situations where most people wouldn't feel threatened."
From there, a person with an anxiety disorder could have any number of emotional or physical symptoms. Emotionally, symptoms can include irritability, trouble concentrating, anticipating the worst, constant worry, feeling tense or jumpy, or watching for signs of danger.
Because anxiety is part of the body's fight or flight response, it can cause a range of physical symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, sweating, racing heart, headaches, difficulty sleeping, upset stomach, dizziness, trembling and nightmares.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
While there are many different anxiety disorders, the six most commonly found include: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder (also known as anxiety attacks), phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
When a person has persistent anxiety, worries about life or a constant feeling that something will go wrong for six months or longer, it may be generalized anxiety disorder. Often, these worries persist even if the worrier realizes it is an overreaction to a situation.
People suffering from GAD may have trouble sleeping, headaches, sweating, nausea, irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension and aches, feeling out of breath, difficulty swallowing, frequent bathroom breaks, hot flashes and lightheadedness.
GAD happens slowly, getting worse over the years, and may even have periods of getting better or worse.
Those with mild cases are usually able to hold a job and complete daily duties, but more severe cases will have difficulty doing even easy tasks. It affects 18% of American adults, and is twice as likely to occur in women as men.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
When a person has unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead them to repetitive behaviors (compulsions), and these behaviors cause distress or interfere with their life, it may be obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The thoughts and rituals vary from person to person. It could be a fear of germs that lead to washing one's hands over and over, or thinking the garage door is open and repeatedly checking it, or sometimes it could be touching or counting things in a particular sequence before moving on with daily events, like touching a door frame 15 times in a row.
Most importantly, these thoughts and behaviors are difficult to ignore and not satisfying, often producing only temporary relief from anxiety.
Some people are aware of their OCD thoughts and behaviors, while others may not realize what they are doing is negatively affecting their lives.
Those with severe OCD may find that it prevents them from living a normal life, and some may find relief by avoiding certain situations that trigger their obsessions or even use drugs or alcohol to deal.
It is possible for OCD to be accompanied by eating disorders, depression or other anxiety disorders.
It tends to start early in one's life, during the childhood or teenage years, with most people diagnosed by age 19. It may also come and go throughout the years.
OCD affects 2.2 million American adults, and equally afflicts both men and women.
Panic Disorder (Anxiety Attacks):
When a person has spontaneous and repeated attacks of fear (panic or anxiety attack) that last for several minutes at a time with a fear of reoccurrence, it may be panic disorder.
Attacks can happen at any time, even during sleep, and can sometimes have such intense physical symptoms (including a racing heart, sweating, breathing problems, weakness or dizziness, hot or cold chills, tingly or numb hands, chest or stomach pain) that it can feel similar to a heart attack.
Attacks typically last for ten minutes, but the effects of an attack can last even longer.
Without immediate medical help, repeated attacks could force a person to avoid places where attacks have occurred in the past, open spaces or any public places, a condition known as agoraphobia.
Panic disorder can often be combined with depression, drug abuse, alcoholism or other serious problems, and these problems must be treated separately.
It affects 6 million American adults and twice as many women as men.
It is important to note that anyone can have a panic attack, but it is the repeated occurrence of panic attacks that means a diagnosis of panic disorder.
Panic disorder is also one of the most treatable anxiety disorders, so it important to seek medical help as soon as one discovers they have this condition.
When a person has an impractical fear of an object, activity or situation that presents little real danger but causes them anxiety or avoidance, it is considered a phobia.
A phobia can be a specific phobia (such as a fear of birds, fear of small places like airplanes, fear of blood, etc.), a social phobia (extreme self-consciousness with a fear of humiliation in typical social situations), and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), which includes fear of being in public, open or enclosed spaces, and can become so severe, people suffering from it may become homebound.
When a person experiences a phobia, it may give them uncontrollable panic, extreme anxiety, fear of death or passing out, a loss of control, rapid heartbeat or difficulty breathing, and a desire to do everything possible to avoid the phobia.
Even though a person may realize their phobia is irrational, they are unable to control their feelings.
When the avoidance of a phobia interferes with your daily life or prevents you from functioning normally, it is important to seek medical treatment.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
When a person experiences or witnesses a terrifying event that later causes stress, flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, it may be post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. It may also happen to a person who has a close friend or family member experience a traumatic event.
This type of mental condition is common in war veterans, but can also occur from a variety of traumatic events, including a robbing, kidnapping, rape, mental or physical abuse, car accidents and natural disasters to name a few.
Research has shown that differences in genes and brain areas like the amygdala or prefrontal cortex may have some influence over whether a person develops PTSD, but environmental factors like a head injury or history of mental illness play a part, as well as how a person views situations positively or negatively and social support.
The symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into three categories:
- Re-experiencing symptoms — including flashbacks, nightmares and frightening thoughts.
- Avoidance symptoms — staying away from reminders of the event, feeling emotionally numb, guilty, depressed or anxious, difficulty remembering the traumatic event, and a loss of interest in activities.
- Hyperarousal symptoms — being tense or edgy, difficulty sleeping, being startled easily or having anger flare-ups.
When these symptoms last for a few weeks, it is known as acute stress disorder, but when they become an ongoing problem, it will be diagnosed as PTSD, especially when a person has experienced at least one re-experiencing symptom, at least three avoidance symptoms and at least two hyperarousal symptoms for at least one month.
PTSD can happen at any age, with women more likely to develop it than men, and has been suggested to sometimes run in a family.
Social Anxiety Disorder:
It is pretty common that certain social situations like public speaking or a job interview can make many people nervous or uncomfortable.
But when a person experiences extreme fear, anxiety and self-consciousness that inhibit leading a normal life from every day social situations, it may be social anxiety disorder, or social phobia.
Social anxiety disorder is more than just being really shy. It could prevent a person from having any close relationships (social or romantic) or force someone to avoid situations that trigger those feelings.
Even the thought of going into a feared social situation, like going to a party, using a public bathroom or being the center of attention, can make a person physically ill, really nervous and terrified that they may embarrass themselves, sometimes for weeks or months before the actual event.
Over 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety disorder, and it typically shows up by age 13.
Triggers can vary from person to person. Some people specifically fear public speaking or performing in front of others. Others fear every social or performance situation, which is known as generalized social anxiety disorder.
Common triggers include: meeting new people, small talk, speaking with authority figures, dates, taking exams, eating or drinking in public, making phone calls, or being called on in class.
The emotional and physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder may result in avoidance of trigger social situations, hiding in social situations to avoid embarrassment, bringing a buddy to any social event or needing to drink or use drugs before social situations to calm down.
Medical Marijuana and Anxiety
More and more people are finding relief from their anxiety symptoms through medical marijuana.
Consult with a licensed medical marijuana doctor to determine if cannabis is the right treatment option for you. There are services that offer online appointments, which are helpful for patients who feel anxious about going to a clinic.
Be aware and selective about what cannabis you choose to treat your anxiety. Not all cannabis strains and products are created equal for each patient and ailment.
Studies (for example these two from 2006 and 2013) have shown that in low doses, THC can have anti-anxiety effects. Numerous studies (for example this 2012 and 2014 study) have also shown promising results at treating PTSD symptoms with cannabis.
However, marijuana strains high in THC are not recommended as the best course of treatment for those suffering from anxiety disorders. For some patients too much THC has been known to produce anxiety.
CBD or cannabidiol, another cannabinoid found in marijuana, has been found to block anxiety in healthy, anxiety-ridden and depressed patients. CBD holds the advantage of working quicker than most other medications for relieving anxiety related to public speaking, with a lack of severe withdrawal or side effects.
Explore dosage levels and strains to find the best course of treatment. Your goal should be to find the minimum effective dosage. Remember, you can always go up, but you can't go down. Start slow and with the smallest amount, then take more medicine as needed.
Patients with anxiety disorders often find relief with high CBD strains such as like ACDC, Harlequin or Cannatonic if you're vaping or smoking flower. There are also many tinctures and sprays available that are high in CBD and low in THC. For some patients, topicals — salves or bath salts — can also be very soothing.
Dabbing (unless it's a CBD dab) and edibles aren't recommended for patients who have anxiety, as they contain a high concentration of cannabis and can have a stronger/longer effect on patients.
Thousands of patients across the country have found relief from their anxiety symptoms through medical marijuana. Please help other patients by sharing your story — we'll always keep your identity confidential. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published on Medium here.
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