Why Cannabis is a Better Option for Anxiety Relief
By Sydney Graeber
“Take this prescription when you need it and just give me a call to refill it.”
These were the first words out of the doctor’s mouth after confronting her about the anxiety issues I had been dealing with my freshman year of college. No further consultation. No follow up. Just a General Anxiety Disorder diagnosis and Xanax prescription given with no information, warnings, or other options. This occurred at an on-campus health facility as well that catered purely to college students. My jaw dropped at how easily I was able to obtain a prescription drug as addictive, and dangerous, as this one.
What is Xanax?
For those who are unaware, Xanax, generically known as Alprazolam, is a Benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines, sometimes referred to as “benzos”, are a class of agents that affect the central nervous system by decreasing the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA) receptors in the brain . This suppresses the neuron activity within the brain and inhibits their “excitability”. In layman’s terms, Xanax is preventing the user’s brain-chemistry from getting overly excited. This is what makes it so useful in situations regarding anxiety and panic attacks. When necessary, this drug can be a saving grace during a time of uncontrolled panic and anxiety, but using it when it is not necessary can be dangerous and addictive.
Prescribed or not, when being used in a situation where the user’s brain is not hyperactive, and inducing panic or anxiety, Xanax will have a sedative effect and inhibit the ability to have a strong emotional reaction to anything. Xanax’s ability to decrease the amount of GABA in the brain means there is less of a barrier between dopamine producers and dopamine receptors. While on this drug, the brain receives more dopamine, increasing the user’s feeling of pleasure and decreasing the feeling of panic, anxiety and other negative mental states. The increase in dopamine can create a euphoric and relaxed feeling because their brain is having very limited reactions to what is happening. This is why people who resort to using this drug, rather than looking for alternative methods to deal with panic, anxiety, and negative feelings, generally become dependant on it and pursue regular use of this drug.
Why it’s Problematic
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, benzos help send 60,000 people per year to publicly-funded rehab centers. There are approximately 125 thousand emergency room visits due to the recreation abuse of Alprazolam specifically. Due to its schedule IV classification on the controlled substances list, it is considered a drug with “low potential for abuse”. This classification allows for doctors to be more ready and willing to prescribe it without worrying about the potential consequences. In 2015 alone 39,250,000 Xanax prescriptions were written, giving access to millions who keep this drug in their households and everyday life.
In addition to the number of prescriptions being written, a huge underground economy has started around this infamous drug. There have been recent drug busts related this underground market, where dealers have been found curating alprazolam powder (the main ingredient in the branded drug) and selling it on the dark market to be pressed into counterfeit pills and resold to people looking to buy recreationally. This means the majority of the pills being circulated are unregulated, mismarked, and even cut with other substances.
One website states that many dealers are actually using twice as much of the active ingredient in these counterfeit pills to purposely get their clients into severe addictions. This means that one counterfeit 2mg Xanax pill could have up to as much as 4mg of Alprazolam in it. To put this into perspective, the maximum dosage that a doctor will prescribe, and only in the most severe cases of anxiety, is 5mg of Alprazolam a day (I personally only use a .25mg dose in my most extreme panic attacks). This is leading people, who are uneducated on the side-effects, into detrimental addictions.
A False Reputation
The reputation of Cannabis has been horribly misconstrued over the past couple decades. Cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA. This classification refers to “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. It is important to note that there is no scientific evidence to prove that marijuana should fall under this classification along with drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, and heroin. This research paper titled, “Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach” compares the toxicity and risk level of several different drugs and proves that cannabis is a “low-risk” drug even compared to legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco. It even shows that cannabis is 114 times less deadly compared to the legal substance we know as alcohol.
Most can assume this though when comparing substance-related deaths. According to data posted by the CDC, overdoses caused by Alprazolam average around 4,000 per year, while the DEA website clearly states that ZERO deaths have been attributed to cannabis overdoses. Alprazolam deaths also skyrocket when looked at with other substances, such as opioid and alcohol use, as this drug quickly becomes life-threatening when mixed with other altering substances.
Now that it is clear that cannabis is safer and less addictive than alprazolam, it is important to discuss how it can be even more calming and helpful to people who need assistance with anxiety issues. Cannabis has been shown to have a positive effect on lowering cortisol, the “stress hormone” in humans. Due to the federal legality of cannabis, limited research has been conducted regarding its effects, but the evidence we have discovered indicates that cannabis is helpful when it comes to reducing stress and anxiety levels.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the most prominent non-psychoactive component of cannabis, has been the most researched part of the plant regarding use for anxiety issues. It has been shown to help with a multitude of disorders, such as: Panic disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social phobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and Mild to moderate depression. So what does CBD do?
CBD has been shown to increase activity in serotonin receptors, which has an anxiety-reducing, mood-boosting effect on the brain. By boosting serotonin levels, users report feeling significantly less anxious and stressed while on this substance. An added benefit to using CBD is the fact that it IS non-psychoactive, this means that it can be used without getting the sensation of being “high”, making it a perfect option for a regular medication.
CBD products are becoming more popular as more research surfaces. CBD products are available with high or low amounts of THC in them, depending on if you want to experience the psychoactive effects of cannabis or not. CBD can be found in many different forms, such as flower, capsules, tinctures, oils, and topicals. Below are a few CBD product recommendations to help take the stress and anxiety out of your life!