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med cannabis vs trad meds

Medical Cannabis vs Traditional Anxiety Medications

  • Traditional anxiety medications generally treat the symptoms of anxiety—they don’t support long-term recovery from the root causes of anxiety.
  • Many patients use marijuana intentionally and with guidance from a healthcare provider to treat everyday anxiety symptoms, manage anxiety attacks, and unpack the root causes of their anxiety.

If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional anxiety prescriptions, you might be wondering, “Can I get a medical card for anxiety?” In many states, yes—but how does medical cannabis compare to pharmaceutical formulas?

Many patients report that using cannabis for anxiety is more effective than common prescription medications. Anecdotal evidence is everywhere, even though medical research is behind the curve.

In this guide for prospective medical cannabis patients, we’re breaking down how this plant-based medicine compares to prescription anxiety formulas. We’ll explore traditional medications, describe how cannabis works for anxiety relief, and offer tips for unlocking long-term recovery from anxiety with intentional medical marijuana treatment.

Traditional Anxiety Medications 101

There are a few different kinds of anxiety medications available on the market today:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Currently a first-line treatment for anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), SSRIs like sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac), and escitalopram (Lexapro) prevent the brain from reabsorbing serotonin. Serotonin is considered your body’s natural mood stabilizer.
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs like duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor) are also first-line treatments for anxiety and depression. They prevent the reabsorption of both serotonin and norepinephrine; the latter plays a key role in your fight-or-flight response.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: Tricyclic drugs are older medications, and they typically cause more side effects than their newer counterparts (though SSRIs and SNRIs certainly have side effects, too). They’re often prescribed for patients who haven’t seen positive results with other antidepressants or anxiety medications. Like SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor) prevent the reabsorption of both serotonin and norepinephrine.
  • Benzodiazepines: Perhaps the most well-known among anxiety medications are benzodiazepines (“benzos”) like alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan). Benzos are sedatives; they’re often prescribed for people who struggle with intense anxiety attacks. They carry a high potential for dependence—one of the many reasons why providers prescribe them with caution.

Combining Pharmaceuticals with Counseling Modalities

Many healthcare providers recommend pairing pharmaceutical anxiety formulas with one or more mental health counseling modalities like:

man meeting for consultation

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

Counseling can help people with anxiety develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage the symptoms of anxiety in their everyday lives.

But there are two major drawbacks to mental health counseling:

  • Access: Mental health counseling can be costly and, in some areas, difficult to access.
  • Applicability: While counseling may help you learn useful coping mechanisms, these might seem out of reach during an acute anxiety attack. When you’re in fight-or-flight mode, you may not be able to remember or reliably use your therapy techniques.

That said, many patients find immense value in therapy in combination with either pharmaceutical or alternative anxiety treatment—even though it’s typically not a cure-all.

Medical Cannabis for Anxiety

With a clearer view of conventional anxiety treatments, let’s break down an alternative treatment that’s making waves among anxiety patients: medical cannabis.

How Does Medical Marijuana Help Anxiety?

Many patients report that intentional cannabis use can help them:

  • Slow racing thoughts: During periods of high anxiety, the relaxing effect of some cannabis products can help patients slow down their racing inner monologue.
  • Develop healthy habits: Ample anecdotal evidence shows that cannabis can help patients improve their sleep hygiene, nourish their bodies, and increase their exercise tolerance.
  • Ground during an anxiety attack: Many patients use cannabis the same way others use benzodiazepines: to find as-needed, fast relief from acute anxiety episodes. Since some cannabis administration methods are fast-acting, they can help patients re-center and ground themselves during intense moments.
  • Engage in self-work: Since cannabis can help people find a sense of calm and boost their creative, open-minded thinking, it’s a highly useful tool for people looking for support for journaling, self-work, full-body inventory, and other introspective management methods.

Can Marijuana Cure Anxiety?

While Western medicine doesn’t currently acknowledge a cure for anxiety, many medical cannabis patients have discovered that marijuana helps them in one major way that traditional anxiety medications have not: helping them reach, process, and resolve the root causes of their anxiety.

What might this look like for an anxiety patient intentionally using cannabis?

  • Slowing down and grounding: Outside of the context of an anxiety attack (where the main focus should be exiting a highly aroused, fight-or-flight state), patients have used cannabis to slow down their racing thoughts and find a stable, relaxed mental state. This is where productive self-work can begin.
  • Exploring your triggers: In this relaxed, safe state, your mind can dedicate space to exploring some of the triggers of your anxiety symptoms. Patients can ask themselves questions like, “Which specific stimuli make me feel anxious?” and “Are my triggers connected to something about my identity or my past?
  • Unpacking the root cause: By processing introspective questions like these in a safe, calm state, people living with anxiety can begin to unpack the root causes of their anxiety: why they respond in certain ways to specific triggers.

This process won’t happen overnight. But, with time and intention, people living with anxiety can understand more about their condition and find the true recovery they’ve been looking for.

Can You Use Marijuana and Traditional Anxiety Medications Together?

You might be curious about combining medical cannabis with conventional pharmaceuticals. This is a conversation to have with a licensed, cannabis-informed healthcare provider.

Your provider can help you:

  • Make a plan for combining multiple treatments and adjusting dosages accordingly
  • Map out your long-term goals for both pharmaceutical and cannabis treatment
  • Prevent drug interactions and potential side effects associated with pharmaceuticals
  • Build a lifestyle routine that supports your mental health goals

The safety of combining anxiety medications with medical marijuana will depend on a few factors like your dosages, pre-existing health issues, and medical history. If combining these two treatments isn’t right for you, your provider can help you make a plan to transition from pharmaceutical treatment to intentional cannabis use if you decide to explore the latter path.

Recovering from Anxiety with Intentional Cannabis Treatment

Let’s dig deeper into what everyday symptom management and anxiety recovery might look like for a medical cannabis patient.

Symptom Management

Many patients find cannabis useful for managing a wide variety of anxiety symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Disordered eating
  • High stress, agitation, or worry
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings or low mood
  • Intense episodes of anxiety symptoms (anxiety attacks)

Patients can take one of two approaches to anxiety symptom management with cannabis (or they can combine both tactics):

  • As-needed management: Many patients exclusively use cannabis when they experience an anxiety attack or other acute symptoms. By leveraging fast-acting cannabis products like smokables, vapes, and liquids administered under the tongue, patients can experience the calming effects of marijuana quickly.
  • Proactive management: Instead of only using cannabis during an anxiety attack, many patients take a proactive approach to preventing and managing anxiety symptoms. This might look like creating an everyday cannabis routine that works for them: using a focus-friendly strain in the morning, adding a few drops of drowsiness-inducing tincture to a cup of tea before bed, or smoking before mealtimes to increase appetite.

There’s no one right way to use cannabis for anxiety; patients can experiment to find the best symptom management methods and products that work for them.

Long-Term Recovery

As mentioned in a previous section, many anxiety patients embark on a path to long-term recovery from anxiety with intentional cannabis use.

Medical marijuana can help patients:

  • Reach a state of mental peace and safety—one where fearless self-work is possible
  • Ask and answer difficult questions about their triggers, their fears, and their past
  • Process both internal and external challenges and perceived threats to their well-being
  • Open their mind to creative, introspective thinking

In practice, this looks a little different for every patient. You might choose to pair your marijuana practice with journaling, meditation, creative therapies (like making art or music), or talk therapy sessions with fellow patients or licensed counselors.

TeleLeaf Helps Patients Restore the Mind-Body Connection

Simply put, medical cannabis has proved a safe, effective anxiety management (and even recovery) tool for many patients—combined with its low dependence potential and plant-based nature, it’s a highly viable alternative (or supplement) to traditional anxiety medications.

If you’re ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing with medical cannabis, turn to TeleLeaf. We’re here to be your partner in medical marijuana treatment, and we can help you connect with a cannabis-informed provider and apply for your medical card.

We’ve seen the revolutionary results of cannabis treatment ourselves, and you can get started now from the comfort of your own home. Reach out today to learn more.


Sources: 

Medical News Today. Everything You Need to Know About Anxiety Medications
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323666

Healthline. Everything You Need to Know About Serotonin
https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin

Cleveland Clinic. Norepinephrine (Noradrenaline)
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22610-norepinephrine-noradrenaline

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Different Types of Mental Health Therapies
https://adaa.org/find-help/treatment-help/types-of-therapy

Sleep Foundation. Cannabis for Sleep: Risks and Benefits
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-aids/cannabis-and-sleep

GoodRx. Why Does Weed Make You Hungry?
https://www.goodrx.com/health-topic/cannabis/why-does-weed-make-you-hungry

University of Colorado Boulder. Study: Cannabis Can Make Workouts More Fun, But It’s No Performance-Enhancer
https://www.colorado.edu/today/2024/01/03/study-cannabis-can-make-workouts-more-fun-its-no-performance-enhancer

World Health Organization. Anxiety Disorders
https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/anxiety-disorders

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