According to Health Canada, some Canadians are turning to cannabis to help manage their mental health. Approximately 1 in 3 Canadians (34%) say their consumption has increased compared with the pre-pandemic period. Moreover, it became possible to get the same day cannabis delivery in Vancouver and throughout Canada as to order food in a neighboring restaurant.

Stress, boredom and loneliness, and ease of access to cannabis were all cited as reasons for the increase. Looking at data from the past 3 years, 1 in 5 Canadians (20%) have used cannabis in the past three months. Daily use has increased 1.8% since legalization, with 7.9% of consumers reporting regular use.

Does cannabis ease anxiety, or exacerbate it?

Personal experiences often yield contradictory findings when it comes to cannabis and anxiety. For some users, weed provides profound relaxation after a stressful day of work. For others, even a few quick puffs can provoke paranoia. These seemingly irreconcilable experiences hint at a nuanced truth—cannabis can both ease and exacerbate anxiety. Cannabinoid concentration, dose, and terpenes may all influence whether the plant kicks off a panic attack or ushers in a state of chilled-out bliss.

How cannabis can help

There’s no question that many people use cannabis for anxiety.

“Many clients I’ve worked with have reported using cannabis, to reduce anxiety,” says Lisa Hale, a licensed counselor in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Commonly reported benefits of cannabis use include:

  • increased sense of calm
  • improved relaxation
  • better sleep

Peace says her clients have reported these benefits along with others, including greater peace of mind and a reduction in symptoms they found unbearable.

Lisa explains her clients have reported that cannabis in particular helps relieve symptoms of:

  • agoraphobia
  • social anxiety
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks or trauma responses
  • panic disorder
  • phobias
  • sleep disruptions related to anxiety

What Lisa sees in her practice is on par with most of the existing research around cannabis and anxiety.

Cannabis dosage and stress interaction

The study compared different strains of cannabis that had different levels of THC to see if there was any difference.

When studying the effects on stress, the study revealed a significant THC influence, and the greatest reduction in ratings of stress was reported after using cannabis with relatively low levels of THC. There was also a nonsignificant effect of dose on change in symptoms of stress.

Results of models testing change in ratings of anxiety across different doses also revealed a nonsignificant linear effect. Further contrasts revealed that one puff produced significantly smaller changes in ratings of anxiety than all other doses, but no other differences across doses beyond one puff were detected.

When looking at whether cannabis combats stress, however, the study revealed a significant THC interaction, whereby ratings of stress were reduced the most after using cannabis with relatively high levels of THC. Varying doses revealed a significant linear effect of dose and significant reduction of symptoms when having up to ten puffs.