Some clinical research exists on the therapeutic use of marijuana and cannabis derivatives to treat social anxiety disorder, but one pot component — cannabidiol (CBD) — shows promise for treating anxiety disorders in general and social anxiety specifically.
This seems paradoxical on one level, as cannabis has long been associated with causing or worsening anxiety — specifically Delta-9 tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive component. Pure pharmaceutical THC and high-THC marijuana strains can cause anxiety problems, but CBD seems to have the opposite effect, according to the research.
Read our full article on weed-induced anxiety
Furthermore, many of the studies that link anxiety to marijuana use come from the substance abuse recovery field, where subjects typically self-report marijuana use and there’s no control for the strain, dosage, frequency of use or method of use — i.e. smoking or eating. Furthermore, the subject populations of these studies tend to already have a high prevalence of mental problems, and they tend to use marijuana in conjunction with alcohol and other drugs. This makes it difficult to tease out the true effects of each of the substances of abuse.
What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is one of several conditions under the general anxiety disorder umbrella set out by the DSM-V, the standard diagnostic manual for the psychiatry and psychology fields.
The anxiety involved in this disorder involves fear of social situations, such as conversations, meeting strangers, performing or speaking in public, or being observed in public eating or drinking, etc. The people who suffer this disorder have an irrational fear that they will show their anxiety or react in such a way that will be judged harshly by others, resulting in personal humiliation.
This fear, irrationally out of proportion to the actual threat, is persistent (lasting at least six months) and impairs the sufferer’s normal social and life functions.
How can cannabis treat anxiety?
As stated, THC and high-THC strains of marijuana can actually exacerbate anxiety. Most of the research has focussed on the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD)
A Feb. 2017 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology is the most comprehensive review of clinical pot studies — both in humans and animals — to date. The review finds mental health applications to be a primary reason to keep weed studies moving forward and reducing legal restrictions.
Other reviews uniformly point to a strong anti-anxiety effect of CBD in humans and animals, most recently a meta-analysis about CBD’s anti-panic effects published in 2017 in Current Neuropharmacology.
Can marijuana treat social anxiety, specifically?
A lot more research into using cannabis and its derivatives to treat general anxiety and panic attacks exists than research into specific applications for social anxiety disorder.
But a fascinating 2011 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology looked specifically at social anxiety and social phobia treatment with CBD. The sample size was small, but the results were impressive.
The study authors set up a public speaking exercise for three dozen participants. Twelve were healthy volunteers who acted as a control group, and another 24 were all previously diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and/or social phobia.
Twelve of these received a placebo and performed the speaking exercise, while the other 12 received a dose of cannabidiol.
The placebo group exhibited pronounced anxiety, whereas the 12 in the CBD-dosed group experienced reduced levels of anxiety in the exercise so drastic they were indistinguishable from those of the healthy control group.
Cannabis For Social Anxiety Disorder References:
“Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa.”
de Mello Schier et al
CNS and Neurological Disorder Drug Targets
“Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report.”
Journal of Psychopharmacology
“The role of 5-HT1A receptors in the anti-aversive effects of cannabidiol on panic attack-like behaviors evoked in the presence of the wild snake Epicrates cenchria crassus (Reptilia, Boidae).”
Twardowschy A, Castiblanco-Urbina MA, et al
Journal of Psychopharmacology