People talk about the holidays as a happy and carefree time, but the reality is, for many of us, they're a recipe for stress.
Thirty-eight percent of people in one Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey said their stress increases around the holidays, citing lack of time and money, the pressure of gift exchanges, and family gatherings among the top stressors.
“The holiday season is notorious for being a stressful time as consumers decorate their homes, shop for gifts, and plan travel accommodation while also handling the usual day-to-day rituals of work, family, and home management,” said Nimesh Patel, MD, co-founder and Vice Chairman of the Board of Redbird Bioscience. “Even though it all pays off in the end, seeing family and enjoying their company, the stress buildup can be extremely unhealthy.”
We may not be able to make our families easier to deal with or avoid all the costs of the season, but cannabis can be one means to alleviate holiday-induced stress. There's a reason, after all, for the stereotype of the chill stoner. One study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that, on average, medical cannabis users experienced a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress shortly after smoking.
“The pressure to perform over the holidays is enough to take anyone over the edge. Cannabis can be a great medication to use to alleviate your symptoms,” said Jarret Patton, MD, who runs a cannabis-based practice in Pennsylvania.
Cannabis can help manage stress and anxiety.
If there's an upcoming event that you know will be stressful, like a family meal or a shopping trip, Patton suggests using cannabis beforehand to take the edge off. However, there are disadvantages to smoking during the day, since being intoxicated can mess with your performance at work and other responsibilities, said Jordan Tishler, MD, President of the Association of Cannabis Specialists and CEO of InhaleMD. If you can, it's best to stick to a low dose before bed. This will actually help you throughout the next day.
While some say the stress reduction they get from weed depends on whether they're using an indica or sativa, the strain isn't really important, said Tishler. “There are thousands of strains, but frankly, any will do,” he said. “For the most part, the chemical composition of strains overlaps to the point of no clear difference when assessing medical outcomes.” The thing to pay attention to instead is the CBD:THC ratio.
If you don't have much experience using cannabis for stress relief, it's best to start with a CBD-dominant strain, because these generally have the most relaxing effects, said Patton. Plain CBD is a good bet if your main goal is stress relief.
“CBD interacts directly with your endocannabinoid system to regulate important chemical messengers that are responsible for mood,” Patton explains. “This is the best alternative to pharmaceuticals such as prescription anxiety medication, which can often come with a slew of unwanted side effects.”
However, some people find that strains with more THC work better for them, so you may need to do some experimenting. Tishler usually recommends 15% to 20% THC to provide an “entourage effect” — that is, to take advantage of the synergistic actions of different cannabis compounds. The research on CBD's use for anxiety is still inconclusive, as the animal studies done so far use very high doses, he said. Plus, CBD is especially prone to interactions with other substances, so you should talk to your doctor before using it.
At the same time, it's not a case of “the more THC, the better.” THC alone isn't usually a good bet because CBD and, possibly, other cannabinoids modulate the effects of THC, which can decrease the likelihood of the weed actually increasing your anxiety, Tishler explains. “It has been shown, for example, that CBD binds to the CB1 receptor that is stimulated by THC and decreases the responsiveness of that receptor to THC.” Cannabis users with higher THC content in their bodies are more likely to experience anxiety than those with more CBD, according to a study in Psychological Medicine.
If you're caught up in holiday drama and need immediate relief, vaping is the fastest way to get it, said Patton. If you're planning ahead of time, you can use edibles, since they set in the slowest. Other than the timing, it doesn't make too much of a difference. “Delivery method is less important for anxiety than for many other illnesses,” said Tishler. “A few puffs on a flower vaporizer (not oil) or a few milligrams of a small edible will be effective.”
All that said, the best way to use weed for holiday anxiety or stress depends a lot on your specific needs as an individual, so seek medical advice whenever you can. “Overall, while cannabis can be effective for anxiety, no patient should have to go it alone or get advice from unqualified sources,” says Tishler. “Seek a medical cannabis specialist or endocannabinologist.”
Feature illustration by David Lozada