Podcast: Smoking Weed for Anxiety – Fact vs Fiction
Cannabis, weed, marijuana, pot. It goes by several names, but we all know what it smells like. As weed becomes more mainstream, we on the Not Crazy podcast want to know: Is marijuana really an effective treatment for anxiety? Is it just a coping mechanism? Or a vice? In today’s podcast, Gabe and Jackie look at the research and weigh out the evidence. They also interview Eileen Davidson, a rheumatoid arthritis patient who regularly uses marijuana as a medicine to see what she has to say.
What’s your take? Tune in for an open-minded discussion about weed.
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About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.
Computer Generated Transcript for “Anxiety- Smoking Weed” Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.
Gabe: Welcome to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy Podcast. I’d like to introduce my co-host, Jackie.
Jackie: And that guy is my co-host, Gabe.
Gabe: And today we are going to be talking about. I’m not even sure what to call it. It’s been known as marijuana. It’s been known as cannabis. It’s been known as wacky tobaccy, if you go back to like my grandparents. I guess pot is the street name now.
Jackie: You sound like so, Grandpa Gabe, right now. You’re like, what are the kids calling it these days?
Gabe: Well, just
Jackie: It’s weed, Gabe. We’re talking about weed.
Gabe: But I mean, it used to be grass. It has had a prolific number of slang names. I mean, sincerely. Right?
Jackie: Yes, that is true.
Gabe: And I went to a dispensary the other day and I was like, hey, I’m here to buy pot and they’re like cannabis, sir? And I was like, well, weed. And they’re like, marijuana, sir? So I think that there is some attempt to make a demarcation between slang terms of marijuana and non-slang terms of marijuana. Is that what you’re seeing out in the world, Jackie?
Jackie: I think it depends on where you are obtaining said marijuana, right? If you’re purchasing it from a store, they’re like, yes, we sell marijuana here. If you’re going to the corner, you’re probably going to buy some weed. I think it just depends on where you’re getting it. Same stuff, different name.
Gabe: And this is not unusual, especially in America. Language is always evolving and different generations have different terms for different things. Remember when sick meant like you were sick and cool meant you were a bad ass? Now sick means that you’re a bad ass. And if you say cool, kids just look at you like you’re just, you’re just stupid.
Jackie: Which is like how I’m looking at you right now, because the more you talk just the older you sound. Low key, you sound like a real old guy right now.
Gabe: I love how you use low key, another slang term that I am not familiar with. But moving on to the topic at hand, marijuana is everywhere and depending on what Internet site you’re on. Marijuana is either the magical cure for everything, literally, no matter what problem you have physically or mentally, it can absolutely, unequivocally cure it. Or marijuana is satanic. If you even walk past it, you will murder your entire family. You won’t go to college and your eyes will inexplicably turn red. And our research, Jackie, of course, showed that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Jackie: As it does with most things, but what we’re focusing on today specifically is the use of marijuana, weed, pot, grass, reefer, whatever you want to call it in terms of treating anxiety. And I’m really excited to talk about this because this is something that is like polarizing. People either thinks it is like the end all be all, cures anxiety or they’re like, it doesn’t help at all. And you should definitely not use it for anxiety.
Gabe: One of the things that I think about is my Diet Coke habit, I’m gonna go with habit for the sake of today’s show. I have an anxiety disorder. I suffer from a lot of anxiety. And when I get really twitchy and out of sorts and I’m just really stressed out, worried, panic. You know, the racing thoughts start to come in when I’m on the verge of an anxiety attack. I stop everything that I’m doing. I find a fountain machine of Diet Coke, which usually involves going someplace, taking a walk someplace, getting in my car. There’s a whole ritual surrounding me getting a Diet Coke. And I can state unequivocally that when I do this ritual and I’m sitting in the corner and I’m drinking my fountain Diet Coke, my anxiety is relieved 100%. This does not make Diet Coke a cure or a treatment for anxiety. And I think that that might be some of what’s happening with marijuana, because no medical study shows that it’s a treatment for anxiety. And again, medical studies are ongoing. But as of right now, there’s nothing that states that anxiety is cured or treated by marijuana.
Jackie: You’re right. And part of me wants to be like, no, you’re wrong, it totally helps because I think it actually does help a lot of people. The problem is, you know, that I love my stats. The stats do not show this. I actually pulled up three different studies specifically on this topic. One study from 2019 is from The Lancet Psychiatry. It looked at the effects of cannabinoids on mental health for nearly 40 years of research, which is like a lot of research. And their findings basically said there was scarce evidence to support that cannabis helps to improve mental health symptoms. Forty years of research in this one study saying like meh, probably not that helpful. But there was another study in 2018 in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, which is like, how is there even a journal dedicated to this? But there is. Sixty two percent of people who use CBD use it for a medical condition. And the top three are pain, anxiety, and depression. So my takeaway on this is we don’t have proof in the science that it works, but we do have proof that people are using it for these reasons and are finding benefit in it.
Gabe: And in some ways, this is a tough one, right? Because I think about the number of people that tell me that I should not take prescription medications for my bipolar disorder because after all, I just need diet and exercise, better sleep hygiene. I just we’ve done so many shows on this. It’s just it makes my little head want to explode. But I still go back to the definition of treatment and cure. And the definition of treatment and cure is not I feel better when I’m done. It actually impacts the disease and puts you in a better place when you’re done. Lots of things make you feel better. Jackie hugging my wife makes me feel better. Having a strong support system makes me feel better. These things are not treatments. They’re encouraged. They’re important. And they may well help you. But I just get really, really anxious. I just get really, really anxious when people are like, oh, I treat my anxiety with this because there’s so many reasons. But let’s touch base on this for a moment. Marijuana in this country is kind of messed up, one dependent on the state that you live in, you might actually be committing a crime. That’s number one. But in every state in our union, there’s multiple types of marijuana. Right? There’s the good growers. There’s the growers that are overseen by the government in the states where it’s legal. And then there’s the person that’s just like randomly growing it. And we don’t know what kind of job they did, what kind of a strain they did, or whether or not they doused it in rat poison. And all of these things are marijuana to the end user. That worries me as well, because there’s no consistency here.
Jackie: I have a lot of feelings about that. Yes. Correct. No consistency given the fact that our government has not legalized it universally, which means that it cannot be regulated universally. Even if it is legal where you are, it automatically means it’s more expensive. So you may still be going to a street dealer regardless. So the consistency factor is definitely an issue. However, cycling back for a minute, while it is not proven that it is an effective treatment, I think that judging by 62 percent of users and everybody else, including a 2017 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, where people believe that cannabis is an effective way to treat conditions in place of prescriptions for anxiety and depression. What this tells me is in terms of symptoms, management, it can be or it is effective depending on who you talk to. So is it treating anxiety? I don’t know. I don’t have the science, but is it treating the symptoms of anxiety? Yeah, it looks like it does. And are those one in the same? I don’t think that they are. I think that you can have plenty of medications that treat the actual underlying problem and lots of medications that treat the symptoms of the problem.
Gabe: Obviously, I can’t disagree with anything that you just said. However, there have been similar studies on whether or not cigarettes help you cope with anxiety. And the reality is that cigarettes have been studied for a long, long time. And the research shows unequivocally that cigarette smoking actually does not help with anxiety. However, when they asked people if it helps them, they said yes. You line up all of the smokers and you say, Hey, does smoking relieve anxiety? They’re all going to say, yes. The science is very clear that in fact it increases anxiety, but they believe that it’s helpful. This is the problem with self-reporting, right. A lot of people believe that things that are dangerous for them or are actively hurting them are, in fact, beneficial.
Jackie: I don’t know. I feel like there’s some aspect of placebo in this. Where, yes, the stats from the scientists are saying this actually causes anxiety and the people who are using it are saying, no, I feel better after doing it. So who’s right? I don’t think there’s is actually a right and wrong in this, which goes against everything that I normally say because there are science leading one way. But if the person says, I feel better after this, doesn’t it mean that it’s good for that person?
Gabe: Potentially, I think we go back to my Diet Coke addiction. The reality is, is drinking as much Diet Coke as I do could be harmful. I should drink way more water and I should go for more walks and I should call my mom more and I should tell my wife I love her more. Life is personal choices. And when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, from a political standpoint, I think it should absolutely be legal because it’s it’s been found to be no more dangerous for you than smoking or alcohol. And in fact, in some cases, much safer. But moving that aside, to answer the question of somebody suffering from anxiety, should they use marijuana as a treatment? I’m gonna go with no. However, somebody suffering from anxiety, should they use marijuana as a coping mechanism? That’s a personal choice. And Gabe is there. So I sort of feel the one-two punch. You should still get treatment from the medical establishment. But we all have coping skills. Look, people watch Family Guy on repeat to get through the day. That’s just a coping mechanism. But please don’t send me an email and tell me that Family Guy is the treatment for depression because not.
Jackie: I think the root of this whole conversation is we’re just talking about vices, right? Like your vice is Diet Coke. We’re talking about cigarettes and weed and Family Guy. Right? Whatever your vice is. I think we can unequivocally agree that vices help with stress management. Right? That’s why people drink, right? They’re stressed out or they’re angry. They want to erase the feelings that they’re feeling in that moment. That’s why we have vices. That’s what they do for us. But you’re right, you can’t say that like the good outweighs the bad. And all of those vices right? You are consuming a metric shit load of aspartame. Is that good? Probably not. I don’t know, but it makes you feel better. So, you know, are we talking long-term health? Are we talking short term? I don’t think it really matters. Does marijuana help with anxiety? Maybe it could. I don’t know. I think it’s so personal. And I think that, again, we just don’t have enough research at this point to say one way or the other, because even the studies that we’re quoting right now, they’re all looking for different things. They’re looking for is it effective? They’re looking for do people think it’s effective? Are they using it in place of something else? There’s no study that really has touched on all the bases that we have yet in terms of is it effective for this? Is it effective for this in conjunction with prescribed medication? We don’t know. So I guess choose your own adventure as long as you’re smart and healthy and not a dumb dumb.
Gabe: I really just want to hit hard on what Jackie said about the “we don’t know.” There are so many people that just believe that it is the cure for everything. And there’s so many people that believe that it is the most horrible thing. It’s just a pox on our nation. Those are not the two camps that we should be in. We should continue the research. We should find out what is good and what is bad. I just want to be clear that any type of self-medicating is dangerous.
Jackie: A lot of people use this to self-medicate. Self-medicating, we know is dangerous, especially when you’re not being honest with your health care team. So this is one of those things that, you know, if it works for you, that’s great. But don’t force it on anybody else because we just don’t have the research to back that it is actually effective.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Jackie: And we’re back talking about using marijuana as a treatment for anxiety.
Gabe: Jackie, we’ve talked about the stats, we’ve talked about the study, we’ve bantered back and forth. Let’s talk to somebody who uses marijuana for her anxiety disorder and also for rheumatoid arthritis. Can you give her an introduction? Because she was very candid and very awesome. It was great of her to call in.
Jackie: Yes, sure. We invited our friend Eileen, who we know through advocacy, to come on and talk about why she uses marijuana to help with her anxiety, but also why she uses it for her RA. And I think she’s going to have a lot of helpful insight on this.
Gabe: And we’re going to roll that interview right now.
Jackie: We’re here with our friend Eileen. Gabe and I know Eileen outside in the real world, but we thought she’d be a really great guest to bring on the show today. So welcome, Eileen.
Eileen Davidson: Hi, my name is Eileen Davidson and I live in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, which has been worldwide known for longer than it’s been legal in Canada to have very, very good weed.
Gabe: We are so super excited to have you because you are willing to publicly talk about using marijuana or cannabis. Why are you so public about using it? Because in many places it’s still a crime. And even the places where it’s legal, it’s still very much looked down upon. But you’re like, hey, I smoke weed.
Eileen: Well, because I also believe in the medical component of it. I live with rheumatoid arthritis and mental health issues. So to me, it’s very medical. And because I don’t really drink because of my autoimmune disease, it’s also a tiny bit recreational and it’s legal in Canada.
Jackie: Eileen, are there any specific symptoms that you’re using medical marijuana to treat?
Eileen: Yes. So living with a chronic illness comes with multiple different types of symptoms, as well as side effects from the medications used to treat these diseases. So, particularly with rheumatoid arthritis, I have chronic fatigue, consistent chronic pain as well as sometimes nausea. So that is another reason why I actually do enjoy smoking marijuana because it really tackles the nausea and then also helps with the loss of appetite that I can experience. And then it also helps with not being able to sleep because of pain. And it’s helped with a number of the medications that I’ve gone through that have caused vomiting. And so it’s kind of a drug that I don’t use for just one specific thing, but a multitude of different things.
Gabe: I do like that you’re so open about it.
Eileen: I wasn’t always open about it, though. I used to be actually very against marijuana.
Jackie: Ooh, what changed your mind?
Eileen: Debilitating diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. So I’ve been around it a lot before because my earliest memories of it are my father smoking weed while doing these creative, surrealistic paintings. My dad was kind of a hippie and so like my childhood is basically memories of the smell of oil paints, marijuana and the sound of Pink Floyd playing to these crazy paintings. So, but it was illegal back then. So I felt very conflicted a lot because I was like, why are you smoking marijuana when that’s supposed to be a drug, as they’re telling you in school? And so I didn’t really understand. I never wanted to touch drugs my whole life. I’ve never touched anything other than coffee, marijuana and alcohol, a little bit of wine, but being diagnosed with something that causes severe pain and having to go through medications that have a lot of side effects. At that time, I was like, well, this is medicinal to me, so I’ll try it. And I felt like an idiot being against it before. My diagnosis really opened my eyes to this isn’t really in the same line as like heroin or cocaine and things like that. Though, I never tried those. And it was also really helping people. People like me who were in diagnosis of cancer, M.S., Parkinson’s, all sorts of things. What I didn’t expect is that it would also help with my mental health.
Jackie: And did you discover that just sort of like happenstance, you were like, oh, I kind of feel good everywhere right now? Or was it more of something that you actually tested? You were like. I’m feeling really anxious. Let’s see if this helps here.
Eileen: I would say it first started off with me noticing that it did have an effect on my mental health. When I first started smoking weed, I didn’t know about THC, CBD and how it would kind of interact with me. So I would try something, not know what kind of strain it is and then kind of feel full-blown anxiety attack. But then I would also try a different one and feel super relaxed. And so I discovered that I had to kind of watch which strains helps with my anxiety and didn’t help with my anxiety and to kind of research so that I could be better informed.
Gabe: So my next question is sort of somewhat of a controversial one, because it sounds like you’re self-prescribed, like a doctor didn’t prescribe this, it’s kind of a trial and error on your behalf, is that correct?
Eileen: Yes. Now, I do follow guidelines of places like the Arthritis Society because they are a wealth of knowledge for people like me who are interested in supplying medical cannabis. But when you have a hook up, it’s also cheaper.
Gabe: As funny as that is, though, do you tell all of your doctors that you’re utilizing cannabis as a treatment or do you keep that on the down low?
Eileen: I tell them, because I think it’s important to be honest with your doctors about every aspect in your health. It’s really important to listen to the patient voice when it comes to their needs. And that’s including their medications. And marijuana can be a medication.
Jackie: So let me ask you this in conjunction with telling your doctors about this. Before you started using weed for anxiety. Were you prescribed medication for anxiety and if so, were they working?
Eileen: Yes, I’ve tried a couple of different medications for anxiety. I did find that they worked. I was on them for a number of years. Medication you won’t find the perfect drug in one-go usually. It’s a number of drugs you have to try. I tried three or four for my anxiety and depression. I tried over 18 for my rheumatoid arthritis. And I don’t know how many strains of marijuana I’ve tried for everything I go through. So that’s what you have to learn. And what works for one may not work for the other.
Jackie: So do you think that it works better for your anxiety than the prescriptions did?
Eileen: No, I definitely don’t think it works better or worse. I think they work together.
Gabe: I really like what you’re saying there, and I don’t know if I agree or disagree, I’m really on the fence about a lot of this stuff, which is one of the reasons that we wanted to interview somebody who is actually utilizing cannabis and marijuana for treatment because we wanted to tell the whole story. But one of the things that I think about so often are the people who are self-medicating, the people who are suffering from bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychosis, and they run out, they meet somebody on a street corner or in an alley and they buy marijuana and they’re like, oh, look, I’m treating my mental health issues. And that sounds so incredibly scary to me. And I just want to make sure that none of our listeners are hearing that that works. What are your thoughts on that?
Eileen: Don’t ever, ever do that. I’ve seen how that turns out. I know about good people who are at risk for having negative psychoactive effects from marijuana and need to watch out for that. Like I said, if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you, but it might work for someone else. So it’s really important to keep an open mind.
Jackie: So I have one more question that’s kind of getting into the specifics. There are a boatload of different ways at this point that you can sort of consume marijuana in the world we live in today. And I’m wondering, have you experimented with this in terms of efficacy for anxiety? Is it better to smoke it or eat it? Is CBD oil the way to go? What is the best way to use this for anxiety that you’ve discovered for yourself?
Eileen: Well, depending on what you’re experiencing with your anxiety, if I just finish something and I need to relax from it, I’ll probably smoke a joint. But if I need to go somewhere where I might be experiencing anxiety and I don’t want to be high, then I’m going to take some CBD oil. But I know my triggers now. I don’t have the negative effects that maybe I had when I first started because I’ve self experimented and also I watch how much I am taking and I take generally pretty good care of myself overall.
Gabe: Eileen, thank you so much for being here, where can folks find you online if they want to learn more about your advocacy because you’re huge in the rheumatoid arthritis community?
Eileen: Well, thank you. They can find me online. I go by Chronic Eileen, which I guess has a little bit to imply with being a chronic. But also chronic illness. So that’s Chronic Eileen, and Eileen is E I L E E N, and they can find me at ChronicEileen.com or Instagram or Facebook or Twitter.
Gabe: Well, we really appreciate you being here. Thank you so much.
Eileen: No problem. Thank you so much for having me.
Gabe: I always love it when we have guests on, Jackie.
Jackie: I do love a good guest. Eileen is awesome. She is a really great advocate online. You should follow her. Everything that she does,
Gabe: Fan girl.
Jackie: She’s a lovely person.
Gabe: Well, Jackie, obviously we picked her for a reason, we know that she’s a great advocate. What did you think of everything that Eileen had to say?
Jackie: I felt like it was really great that Eileen mentioned that not only does she use this, we’ll say off label, non-approved, but she also uses it in conjunction with her medication. This isn’t a replacement for her medication. It helps with her medication and that she’s very honest with her doctors about her usage.
Gabe: I like that she actually used the word recreational at one point because I think that sometimes, advocates for marijuana, they’re so heavily focused on its medical benefits, which there are medical benefits. There aren’t any approved for mental health reasons, but there’s medical benefits approved for physical reasons, physical health reasons. There are so many. I like that she was open about the fact that there’s a recreational aspect. I think it’s a more moderate and realistic and reasonable point of view.
Jackie: Yeah, dude, I mean, sometimes people smoke weed for fun and that’s the only reason why they use it. And for those people who do use it for medicinal reasons, you can’t lie that sometimes it’s still a fun hobby recreationally.
Gabe: One of the things that I want to talk about is something that I just I hear constantly and that’s people saying, well, marijuana can’t possibly be bad for you because it’s all natural. I hear this constantly. All natural, all natural. How can something all natural be bad for you? It drives me insane. And the reason why is because there’s all kinds of all natural things that are very, very, very dangerous. Strychnine is all natural. Poison ivy is all natural. I don’t think anybody listening to our show is going to get buck naked and rub poison ivy all over their body. Because after all, it’s all natural. How bad could it be?
Jackie: You know, I bet if you told people to rub poison ivy on them and they would lose weight, they would do it. Which just goes to show that, yes, something could be natural, but you still have to be a smart person and you still have to use common sense when using whatever that natural substance is.
Gabe: The thing is, I agree with you. And this just shows the level of misunderstanding that we have. I want to be clear, rubbing poison ivy on your body will not make you lose weight at all in any way. Period. Please do not send e-mail to the Not Crazy podcast saying that you did it. I hope that you are paying attention when you listen to this part because it’s very, very important. Bad things occur in nature, just like good things do. The other very, very important part that we want to remind you of is always work with your doctor. Always.
Jackie: Always, always, always. And even if you live in a state where this is illegal right now, when it feels kind of like you shouldn’t tell your doctor about it, you need to, because they need to know these things in order to provide you with the appropriate treatment. And if there’s a part of you that’s worried about telling your doctor, is there a part of you that thinks that this method of treatment is wrong? I don’t know. Maybe that’s something worth figuring out in your head if you’re hesitant to tell your doctor.
Gabe: Jackie, that was a show. Listen up, listeners. If you liked our podcast, please subscribe to it on whatever podcast player you downloaded this show on. And please tell your friends. Share us on social media and use your words. Tell people why you liked it, email it, bring it up in support groups, pass the word around. We’re giving away free stickers. All you have to do is email show@PsychCentral.com, and in the subject line write stickers and we will send them your way. We will see everybody next week.
Jackie: Thanks for listening, everyone.
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Podcast, N. (2020). Podcast: Smoking Weed for Anxiety – Fact vs Fiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-smoking-weed-for-anxiety-fact-vs-fiction/