Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a very real, chronic mental health disorder in which social situations and interactions cause severe anxiety and fear. People with SAD are afraid of crowds and large gatherings, new people, being judged, humiliation, and a plethora of other things that are possible results of social interactions. Physical symptoms can include things such as stomach problems, diarrhea, breathlessness, dizziness, and rapid heart rate. This isn’t some sort of one-time fluke, but instead, these people experience SAD symptoms for over 6 months before they can be properly diagnosed. If you’ve ever experienced stage fright or froze up during a public speaking event, then imagine that feeling is multiplied by 10, and then imagine that it never goes away. This is what it’s like to have SAD.
My own experience with Social Anxiety.
About 10 years ago, I started noticing that going out in public made me nervous. I’d had some pretty traumatic experiences, one of which included my best friend being murdered, and my other best friend committing suicide. After that, I didn’t socialize with other people. I didn’t want new friends, and I figured that there was no point because if I did make a friend or connect with someone, they would either leave or be taken away from me. Very unwisely, during this time period, I took on a job working security during concerts, much of which were big names in the rock and heavy metal scene. I saw what horrors could take place in crowds, and just how dangerous they could be. I also experienced a lot of domestic abuse. That 2 year time period was very unkind to me, and the combination of all of these events took its toll on me.
Crowds, in particular, started freaking me out. I still don’t like to be in the middle of a crowd, and I don’t like for anyone to be behind me. I also experience a great amount of discomfort at parties, or when I’m meeting new people. Even family gatherings make me uncomfortable enough to make me want to leave. If a man is being loud and waving his hands around, my first instinct is to panic, even if he’s just discussing something that excites or aggravates him. Any of these situations can send me into an all-out panic attack, where I can’t breathe or think, it feels like the walls are closing in on me, and the only way to escape it sometimes is to literally run away. But, don’t feel bad for me. I’ve found something that helps: cannabis.
How does Cannabis help?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one component of cannabis, and it’s been proven to work effectively as an anxiety-reducing drug, or anxiolytic. It does this by either increasing or decreasing blood flow to areas of the brain that are affected by SAD, which coincidentally have CB1 endocannabinoid receptors in them naturally. These receptors are located in the hippocampus, PAG, amygdala, hypothalamus, and the prefrontal cortex. Blood flow is increased in the cingulate cortex, which affects how we interpret the reactions of other people. Blood flow is directed away from the hippocampus and parahippocampus gyrus, which make us recall bad or embarrassing memories, and the inferior temporal gyrus, which affects how we perceive other peoples’ faces.
So, how well does cannabis work to alleviate symptoms of SAD? Well, studies on mice who were given CBD showed that they were less likely to avoid stressful situations while they were on CBD. And, in a 2012 survey, it was revealed that not only were people with SAD more likely to use marijuana, but they were also very likely to avoid social situations and events if they couldn’t use marijuana prior to the event or situation. In a study conducted in 2015, it was shown that CBD can effectively treat SAD. It was also determined that the combination of CBD and THC can help SAD patients to sleep better and longer during the night. What I take away from these results is that cannabis works well enough to treat SAD that people who have been using it won’t even try to engage in social activities without it.
What science has to say about it.
If you’ve tried to research the effectiveness of using pot to treat SAD, the results are probably confusing to you. (They were confusing to me at first, too.) In a 2009 survey, it was revealed that a lot of marijuana users also have anxiety. Because of this study’s results, many doctors and scientists have assumed that marijuana causes anxiety. However, they left a crucial question off of the questionnaire. Due to this oversight, we don’t know if the anxiety came before or after marijuana usage. It’s very likely that, like me, many people are using marijuana to treat their SAD symptoms. It wouldn’t make sense for many people to keep using marijuana if it caused them to have SAD, or anxiety of any kind. I know several people who have quit smoking pot altogether simply because one strain caused them to experience anxiety, and rather than experimenting to find a form of consumption that works for them, they would rather not risk having anxiety at all.
When it comes to finding the best method of consumption to treat SAD, like most things, it comes down to experimentation and what works for you. Marijuana comes in many forms and they’re more readily available to us now. Some people swear by CBD because it doesn’t have psychoactive effects, and it doesn’t get them high. A lot of people with anxiety prefer CBD to THC, as smoking a strain that’s high in THC can result in anxiety. Personally, I prefer strains high in CBD and low in THC. Removing the THC entirely robs you of some of the benefits that treat mental disorders like SAD and depression. Edibles are another good option, as they usually cause less anxiety than smoking does if you get the dose right. The key is to start with a low dose and be patient. It can take around 30 minutes to kick in, so don’t eat more just because you don’t feel it yet.
Smoking weed is often portrayed as a social activity, but it doesn’t have to be. You wouldn’t call a bunch of friends and invite them over to watch you take your antidepressants, or share them, so why would you have a social event in order to ingest your reefer? For me, it works a lot better to relax and smoke by myself. I can take a couple of puffs and then go out in public without having a panic attack or being completely stoned. And, it’s also massively helpful to enjoy a joint solo after a stressful, people- filled day. I think it’s a bit like other people enjoying a glass of wine after a tough workday. Taking an antidepressant just doesn’t give me the same feeling as sitting alone with my music in my happy place, taking a hit, closing my eyes and just feeling the relaxation wash over me. And, hopefully, you’ll find that the effect is the same for you.