The Weed Issue
Last summer, at a birthday party at the Sou’wester Lodge on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, someone—let’s call him Travis Birkenstock—offered me drugs. Whenever this happens, my first response is to assume there’s been some kind of mix-up: You seem to have me confused with someone fun, young Travis. In fact, I am an adult woman whose drug-related bona fides include witnessing the greatest minds of my generation get angry and weird on coke, and the time I got very panicky in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam after what was probably a single hit off an entry-level joint obtained at a brown café crawling with middle-aged tourists.
But Birkenstock had my attention, because he had something genuinely intriguing on offer: a strain that contained only CBD, or cannabidiol, a phytocannabinoid component of cannabis that doesn’t have the psychoactive effect of its fun little brother, tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC). Also unlike THC, CBD has shown promise in medical studies as a possible treatment for anxiety.
The effect of CBD on anxious brains interests me because, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I have one of those brains, which is why, outside of very specific situations—like being 22 at the Rijksmuseum—I partake of legal weed more rarely than anyone I know. But I make an exception for cannabis strains that are high in CBD and low in THC, because they’re less Museum Panic Attack Experience and more strictly physical high, a sensation that pairs well with a bubble bath or cleaning to Drake. It’s a very boring, relaxing high, and that’s the beauty of it.
Turns out I’m not alone in appreciating this soothing effect. In an article on CBD as a potential treatment for anxiety published in 2015 by The American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, Esther M. Blessing, Maria M. Steenkamp, Jorge Manzanares, and Charles R. Marmar reported on “existing preclinical evidence that strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder” with the caveat that not enough studies have yet been conducted to make wide-ranging conclusions about more long-term use of the drug. Notably, the authors found clinical evidence that “CBD reduces experimentally induced anxiety in healthy controls, without affecting baseline anxiety levels, and reduces anxiety in patients with SAD [social anxiety disorder].” CBD accomplishes this in part through a reduction of activation in the amygdala, an area of the brain linked to fear conditioning.
Whenever someone tells me that cannabis cures something—eczema, their dog’s depression, the Sunday scaries—I’m immediately skeptical. But the evidence for CBD as a treatment for anxiety is a little more compelling. The Experimental NeuroTherapeutics study is just one of many. A cursory jaunt through PubMed.gov reveals over 100 such articles. (“Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naive Social Phobia Patients” is my favorite title among them.) And though my recommendation for those of us with anxious brains remains the same dull refrain—get enough sleep, move your body occasionally, never underestimate the power of a good therapist—seeking out a high-CBD strain now and then certainly seems like a fine complement, if it works for you.
As for Travis Birkenstock and his chill friends, I didn’t end up smoking with them. While a few of my fellow party guests absconded behind a stand of trees with the CBD, I went back to my tiny trailer to catch up on my reading. Sorry. But I told you I was boring. You must have me confused with someone fun.