Many people use cannabis to help manage anxiety, as it has been linked to a decrease in negative symptoms. Cannabidiol (CBD) was previously thought to be the only or main contributing compound to this effect, but further exploration of cannabis’ other constituents indicates that terpenes may also have the advantage of anxiety reduction for some people. Let’s take a closer look at some of the evidence for this.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are a chemical compound with a shared ratio of carbon and hydrogen atoms (C5H8)n. They are widespread in plant and some animal species, with over 30,000 identified as naturally occurring. Terpenes are noted for their ability to produce specific aromas and tastes, including the smell of lavender and pine trees or their derivatives like turpentine.
In cannabis, over 400 terpenes have been discovered. They benefit the plant by producing an unappealing taste and smell for attacking species, which is why they are concentrated in external structures called trichomes. Terpenes have been historically overlooked in favor of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), although this has changed recently as research is emerging to suggest potential benefits of their consumption.
How do terpenes interact with the body?
Even if you only consider the few hundred terpenes naturally found in cannabis, it is very difficult to give an overview of how they interact with the body. Different terpenes are known to affect a range of the body’s functions by targeting particular cells and tissues. Additionally, research on these effects is currently limited, making it harder to draw clear links between specific terpenes and their potential benefits, but new studies are helping to build our collective understanding all the time.
Some terpenes, including limonene and caryophyllene, have been observed to interact with a specific set of cell signals known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is mainly recognized for its interactions with CBD and THC, and it affects high-level body processes including memory, sleep, motor control, appetite, and mood. This is particularly relevant for anxiety as the ECS has a significant number of receptors in the brain, mainly of the CB1R type.
Other terpenes interact with physiological systems, where they are linked to reduced pain and inflammation in the body. There is evidence for other mental benefits as well, including partial symptom relief for conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, and epilepsy.
No individual terpene has been identified as having all of these effects. Instead, a combination of them has been suggested to produce these outcomes, which has been extended to anxiety symptoms as well.
What’s the difference between anxious feelings and anxiety disorder?
Just about everyone has felt the racing mind, tensed muscles, and increased sweating and heart rate that comes with anxiety. When experienced before a test, presentation, or in other stressful circumstances, anxiety is a very normal reaction that prepares your body to cope with the situation. Once the issue is dealt with, these feelings typically subside.
However, when anxiety persists overwhelmingly or at unreasonable times, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Typically, this is diagnosed by a mental health professional once anxiety begins to significantly impact daily life for the individual. Illnesses of this kind can be very difficult to cope with, as sufferers often report insomnia, high blood pressure, and panic disorders occurring as a result of their anxiety. It’s important to know that anxiety disorders can be well treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both, and the first step to improvement is to ask for help from a medical professional.
How do terpenes help anxiety?
Perhaps one of the most well-known portrayals of cannabis is as a method for relaxation, but why is this? CBD has been indicated as having anti-anxiety effects, but more recent research has shown that combining CBD with terpenes and other cannabis-sourced compounds produces more effective outcomes through the entourage effect. Supported by recent evidence, this theory proposes that combinations of cannabis compounds produce more intense effects than individual consumption.
Certain terpenes have been identified as potentially having anxiety-reducing properties. Caryophyllene, linalool, pinene, cadinene, and guaiol have varying amounts of evidence to support their anti-anxiety effects, with the first two demonstrating benefits in human trials against existing pharmaceuticals. Linalool and pinene have been found to work best when combined with other compounds, such as in lavender oil.
Interestingly, terpenes appear to affect different brain pathways than common treatments such as benzodiazepines, so they could be beneficial for patients who don’t respond well to other drugs. However, it’s important to clarify that most of this research is in the early stages of testing, so the anti-anxiety effects of terpenes are not set in stone.
What else can I do to reduce anxiety?
There are many ways to help reduce temporary feelings of anxiety, including those that can be done alongside the use of cannabis products. Removing yourself from the source of stress is often the first step to take, but actions such as meditation, breathing exercises, or a quick walk can all help to reduce anxiety.
You may also notice that there are certain experiences that cause you to feel anxious. This could be decreased by avoiding exposure to the situation, planning ahead to calm a racing mind, or reducing intake of stimulants like coffee and sugar.
It’s very difficult to avoid anxiety completely, but making an action plan to manage stressful situations as they arise can help to deal with anxiety in the short term.
What’s the best way to take terpenes for anxiety reduction?
Terpenes are found in just about every product type now, including edibles, vapes, oils, and everything in between. Given the limited general knowledge of cannabis-derived terpenes, the best way to consume them is mainly backed up by theoretical and anecdotal evidence. However, as many terpenes are known to be very sensitive to heat, it’s best to avoid heating them too long before you intend to consume them, as they may break down before they can be effective.
One of the most effective methods of consuming terpenes is sublingually (under the tongue). This is beneficial as it can absorb rapidly into the body, providing quick relief from symptoms, without requiring high temperatures to ingest it. Additionally, sublingual products have a high bioavailability and accurate concentrations for working out specific dosages.
Heat-based methods such as vaping or smoking can be effective so long as they are inhaled shortly after heating to minimize terpene destruction. These methods also allow a high proportion of the cannabis compounds to be ingested into the body in a short amount of time, which could be beneficial for rapid symptom relief.
Oils or rubs may be useful for reducing side effects such as muscle tension, but typically do not reach the bloodstream. This prevents them from interacting with the pathways involved in anxiety, so these products would not be ideal for improving feelings of anxiety.
What product types can they be found in?
Cannabis products are typically categorized based on the combinations of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds found in them, which can be useful to know when choosing terpenes for anxiety.
Full-spectrum products include all of the naturally occurring active compounds in cannabis. These aren’t designed specifically to help with anxiety, but may still be useful as a starting point to see whether terpenes may be helpful for you.
Broad-spectrum products have a range of active components, but they specifically exclude THC. This allows them to take advantage of the entourage effect, and products containing terpenes with the aim of relieving anxiety are emerging into the market. If you’ve settled on one or more terpenes as being effective for you, a broad-spectrum product might be the way to go.
Isolate products contain only one cannabinoid, usually CBD or THC. These products won’t include any terpenes, so can not take advantage of the entourage effect or any terpene-specific advantages.
Could terpenes make anxiety worse?
There doesn’t appear to be evidence for any specific terpenes associated with increased anxiety, but this doesn’t guarantee that none of them will. It’s also important to check with your doctor before using cannabis-derived terpenes for anxiety, as some medications (anxiety-related or otherwise) may negatively interact with terpenes compounds.
Terpene products that also contain THC should be noted, as high concentrations of THC have been associated with increased anxiety for some people.
The bottom line
Whether you are suffering from general anxious feelings or an anxiety disorder, the desire to reduce these sensations can be overwhelming.
While there is some evidence to suggest that cannabis-derived terpenes such as pinene, caryophyllene, and linalool could be beneficial in managing these symptoms, anxiety is a complex disorder and the research is still limited.
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