UNM researchers investigate potential of treating anxiety and stress with cannabis flower


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A recent study carried out by a team of researchers at The University of New Mexico has assessed the efficacy of using commercially available Cannabis flower, or ‘buds’, to ease feelings of anxiety and stress. 

The study, titled, “The Effectiveness of Inhaled Cannabis Flower for the Treatment of Agitation/Irritability, Anxiety, and Common Stress,” was published in the Journal of Cannabis Research.

In order to accurately monitor the effects of consuming cannabis for anxiety and stress relief, UNM researchers tapped into the power of the Releaf App the most expansive compilation of real-time cannabis usage data gleaned from the U.S. consumer demographic.

Based on their findings, cannabis consumers experienced instant stress reduction more than 95 percent of the time; that level of stress relief averaged approximately four points on a scale of 0-10. Additionally, investigators demonstrated that although a small handful of consumers claimed to feel more anxious post-consumption, major stress reduction was the most common after-effect of cannabis use.

Conversely, strains of cannabis that contain higher levels of the psychoactive, mind-altering cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) were more effective at banishing feelings of stress and producing anti-anxiety effects.

“The finding that THC is a stronger predictor of anxiolytic effects than is its non-psychedelic cousin, cannabidiol, or CBD, is not surprising, given that THC is a partial agonist of Cannabinoid 1 receptors, which are located throughout the central nervous system and brain regions responsible for detecting and responding to threats in our environment,” explained the UNM Psychology Department’s Assistant Professor, Jacob Miguel Vigil. “CBD on the other hand is more likely to operate behind the scenes in ways that, while likely quite beneficial for general health, are not as effective at regulating affective responses, or what we commonly refer to as ‘our feelings’.”

UNM cannabis study: Releaf App was used to understand anxiolytic side effects of plant

Around 670 consumers who self-administered cannabis flower had logged more than 2,300 sessions using mobile software application, the Releaf App. Thia popular downloadable tool aids users in tracking the medicinal and unwanted side-effects of using specific types of cannabis products. 

Researchers favored the app’s many features, which enabled users to easily input their dosing strategies, as well as write an overview of each cannabis product. Additionally, real-time updates on symptoms and side effects could be recorded using the app.

After analyzing the data, UNM researchers confirmed that plants labeled as “C. Sativa” were not as powerful at relieving anxiety and stress. This meant that “C. Indica” plant strains are typically more soothing than other cannabis varieties; reconfirming a well-known belief.

Because of the fact that different cannabis varieties may harbor potential for relieving a wide range of mental health problems not to mention various other conditions and ailments the UNM team are hopeful that patients may, in the future, be able to obtain a doctor’s prescription for more individualized medications.

UNM cannabis study highlights importance of plant access amid COVID-19

A growing number of mental health patients across the United States are swapping prescribed medications, such as atypical antipsychotics, beta-blockers, benzodiazepines, SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs and MAOIs, for legal weed. Thanks to the UNM study’s findings, it is easier to understand why.

Not only does cannabis produce fewer unwanted side effects than conventional  psychiatric medications but also, the plant has never been linked to a fatal overdose. As positive research continues to mount, the chances of cannabis remaining an “essential” industry throughout the course of the pandemic further increase.

According to UNM Economics Assistant Professor Sarah See Stith, state policymakers are becoming increasingly aware of the need for cannabis to be consumed amid the COVID-19 pandemic; whether it’s for mental health reasons or otherwise.

“All states permitted medical dispensaries to stay open throughout the pandemic, and with the exception of a few months in Massachusetts, recreational cannabis dispensaries also have been allowed to remain open, at least for curbside pick-up,” said Stith, adding that, “widespread stay-at-home orders reduced access to the healthcare providers necessary to obtain conventional treatment for mental health disorders, meaning access to cannabis likely allowed individuals suffering from COVID-induced anxiety and stress to obtain treatment, when they otherwise would have remained untreated. This disparity in access to conventional healthcare relative to cannabis may have long-term public health consequences if it increases the substitution of cannabis for conventional treatment of anxiety-related disorders.”

The UNM cannabis study would not have been possible without UNM Medical Cannabis Research Fund contributions.