In recent years, it seems as if diagnosed anxiety has been on the rise. Though rates of anxiety have risen some, what may have impacted this perceived increase is the fact that mental health is no longer a taboo issue left behind closed doors. More and more individuals are paying attention to their mental health and seeking quality care versus simply trying to “deal with it.”
This increased acceptance of treating mental health like the health concern it is shows remarkable progress in our society. Still, while more people are seeking help for their anxiety, that means that more of them are taking prescription drugs to deal with their symptoms. One of the most common among these is Xanax.
The issue is featured in a recent Netflix film titled “Take Your Pill: Xanax.” The film states that in the years following the pandemic, the number of Americans relying on Xanax for anxiety relief has jumped alarmingly. This increased dependence on prescription medication to address anxiety and other mental health concerns has raised the eyebrows of physicians and patients alike.
However, an interesting point in the documentary features a medical doctor who continues to buck this trend; before prescribing an anti-anxiety medication, he recommends his anxiety patients try cannabis. For many viewers of this popular film, this has brought up an interesting question: can cannabis replace Xanax?
Mental Health Is a Major Issue
It has taken quite some time for mental health to gain the awareness that physical health has enjoyed over the years. While mental health is not a new issue, the best ways to manage and ease symptoms of anxiety are only now available for broad discussion. Now that medicinal or recreational cannabis products are available in 45 states and the District of Columbia (if you include CBD-only products), many medical professionals who once relied on prescription medication are now open to more natural approaches for handling mental health concerns.
However, before we can learn whether cannabis can truly replace Xanax, it’s important to learn how Xanax is meant to work.
How Does Xanax Really Work?
Xanax is a class of drugs known as a benzodiazepine and is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety. This medication is often prescribed for individuals dealing with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or panic disorders. As a central nervous system depressant, it works to slow down the brain and reduce stimulation.
Xanax theoretically reduces anxiety by attaching to the GABA-A receptor in the brain via a specific binding site. Binding to this site promotes GABA to bind to its own binding site on the receptors, artificially enhancing the work GABA does within the brain and inducing a calming effect. Xanax is designed to offer relatively speedy, short-term results for anxiety, panic disorder, and symptoms like restlessness and tense muscles.
What Drugs Can Not Be Mixed with Xanax?
It is beneficial to pay close attention to what medications you already may be taking. Certain medications can slow or hasten the amount of time it will take Xanax and other medications to leave your body. While some medication is completely safe to take with Xanax, there are certain medications that can be dangerous.
Examples of these medications include:
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Some antibiotics
Xanax Side Effects
Unfortunately, when taken long-term, Xanax does have some serious side effects. Worse, it can present a risk of overdose and lead to Xanax dependency.
Some of the most common side effects include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blurry vision
- Weight loss or gain
- Muscle cramps
- Irregular heartbeats
- Low blood pressure
While Xanax can provide relief from anxiety symptoms, it is not difficult to develop a dependency on this drug. Individuals might become dependent on the medication to provide a certain effect, which can lead to misuse. This can lead to more complex issues of addiction and adverse impacts on your physical and mental health.
The chance of developing a dependency paired with the idea of putting a man-made substance into your body aren’t risks everyone is willing to take. The potential side effects and risk of addiction lead many to consider if there is a safer alternative. This is where cannabis comes in.
Why Consider Cannabis?
When a person ingests cannabis, cannabis compounds known as cannabinoids and terpenes enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body, eventually interacting with a network of receptors known as the endocannabinoid system. These interactions can alter the way a person feels and modulate things like pain, muscle tension, sleep, mood, and more. Much like how Xanax binds with receptors to create a sense of calm, cannabinoids can bind with ECS receptors to produce some similar effects without fear of dependency and a drastically reduced list of side effects.
Cannabis is currently under research for its potential to replace prescription medications for several different health concerns, and this is especially important as we address the ever-increasing issue of opioid addiction. As the stigma behind cannabis use continues to vanish, we will continue to see new studies that further demonstrate the various health benefits this miracle plant can provide.
Can Cannabis Help You Get Off Xanax?
Whether you are currently using Xanax or in the process of seeking treatment options for your anxiety, cannabis can be a solution. Research continues to explore the medical benefits of the cannabis plant, and cannabis products continue to show significant promise for safer, more effective ways to manage anxiety. That’s because, much like Xanax, cannabis compounds like the cannabinoids CBD and THC can exert an effect on GABA levels.
This inhibitory neurotransmitter helps to reduce feelings of anxiety by counterbalancing chemicals like glutamate. Enhancing the effects of the GABA already in the system, rather than artificially raising GABA levels, may be a safer way to address anxiety. Cannabidiol (CBD), in particular, appears to enhance GABA’s effects with minimal side effects. This can help people reduce feelings of anxiety, achieve calm, and do so without the fear of adverse side effects. For many people, the effects of cannabinoids may be enough to cease the use of Xanax. Others, however, wonder whether they really need to choose.
Can You Take Cannabis and Xanax on the Same Day?
The effects of mixing Xanax and cannabis have yet to be researched thoroughly. In general, low doses of CBD typically aren’t harmful when taken in conjunction with most medications. Similarly, while THC has not been studied in depth while combined with other medications, THC and Xanax do not appear to have harmful interactions. It is important to note that everyone reacts differently, and the effects you experience can be unpredictable when multiple substances are mixed. Still, in general, unless you’ve taken more Xanax than directed by your medical professional, mixing the two is not a life-threatening combo.
It is still crucial to keep in mind that both cannabis and Xanax are central nervous system depressants. They both function to slow messaging between the body and mind, offering anxiety relief. When used individually and as prescribed, both can help reduce anxiety and make you feel relaxed.
However, in high doses, they may actually worsen anxiety, increase heart rate, and cause paranoia or irritability.
Potential side-effects of mixing the two may include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Slowed motor coordination
- Impaired judgment
In general, it is best to avoid mixing Xanax with any substance, including cannabis. If you would like to try cannabis as a replacement for Xanax, speak to your healthcare provider. They can help you develop a safe plan for weaning yourself off Xanax while introducing cannabis.
In fact, any time you start or stop a medication, it is vital that you discuss these decisions with a healthcare provider. Stopping medications like Xanax abruptly can be detrimental to your health. You could face withdrawal symptoms or a rebound of anxiety, both of which can cause severe symptoms. It is always in your best interest to be transparent with your healthcare professional.
Cannabis Perks: Dosing, Products, and Administration
If you’ve safely ceased use of Xanax, cannabis can provide a safe, effective alternative. In addition, cannabis provides greater freedom over the dose amount you take, as well as the product you use and your method of consumption.
You likely already realize just how tiresome finding the right dosage of prescription medication can be, requiring that you start slow and make incremental changes, fine-tuning the dose over weeks or even months of consultations with your psychiatrist.
With cannabis, dosage still plays an important role but adjusting can be much easier. Doses do vary widely because everyone’s endocannabinoid system works differently, and as with any other form of medication, it is recommended that you start small. However, you’ll find it much simpler – and much faster – to gauge how the cannabis makes you feel, how long the effects last, and more. Then, you’ll simply increase or decrease the next session.
If you are looking for everyday anxiety management, taking a cannabis product containing CBD in the morning can prove beneficial. CBD is non-psychoactive, so it will not impact your ability to be productive throughout your day. This can be a delightful bonus for individuals who may feel dulled or numbed by Xanax and other prescription medications. If you’ve experienced anxiety-relieving benefits from the psychoactive component in cannabis, THC, there are plenty of strains featuring both CBD and/or THC that are suitable for daytime or evening use according to your preferences.
Cannabis Products and Administration
Before you choose your cannabis product, it’s important to note the benefits of broad-spectrum or full-spectrum cannabis. If you prefer to keep your cannabis use CBD-only, you can certainly choose a CBD isolate, which contains only cannabidiol and nothing more. However, broad-spectrum products contain various cannabis compounds like terpenes. These create what is called an entourage effect, where all the chemical elements of the plant except THC come together to help each other function effectively. This has helped countless individuals deal with their anxiety symptoms. Full-spectrum products contain THC and CBD plus other cannabinoids and terpenes. Look for products made from a high-CBD strain of cannabis that features the terpenes caryophyllene, limonene, or linalool.
Once you’ve decided which cannabinoids and terpenes you need, there are multiple methods you can use to get them into your body. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis – by smoking dried, cured cannabis flower. You can often find your chosen strain conveniently packaged in pre-rolled joints or cones. Or, purchase loose buds, grind them yourself, and load into a one-hitter, hand pipe, water pipe (bong), bubbler, or one of the many other creative apparatuses. You can even vaporize dried flower with an innovative dry herb vaporizer.
Cannabis tinctures can be another great way to introduce medicinal doses into your regular routine. Using a measured dropper, you can add small doses of your preferred cannabinoids to your morning coffee. You can also add cannabis oil to your meals or place a few drops right under your tongue.
A vape pen is an increasingly popular option for those who would prefer the ability to have access to CBD while on the go. This option is discreet and available in various dosage amounts and flavors. This can be beneficial for unexpected, sudden increases in feelings of stress or anxiety.
Edibles are another great option for cannabis consumption. Edibles come in a variety of options, from candies, chocolates, soft chews, drinks, and more. It is especially important to pay attention to dosage guidelines with edibles, as each may be a little different. Edibles also take more time to affect you, and those effects last longer due to the need to process the product in the digestive system.
Cannabis concentrates are an increasingly diverse and exciting category of cannabis products. While there is a wide variety of full-spectrum concentrates on the market – some of them featuring significant levels of THC – CBD concentrates are also beginning to make their mark. Available in a variety of textures and consistencies and produced by solventless and solvent-free processes, concentrates truly run the texture gamut. You’ll find:
- Shatter, a concentrate with a texture like shattered glass
- Budder and badder, made from melted, whipped shatter
- Crumble, a drier concentrate with a crumbly, honeycomb-like texture
- Sugar, with its potent THC-a sugar-like crystals surrounded by cannabis oil sauce
- Hash, thick cannabis concentrates created by heat and pressure and allowed to dry into a cake
- Rosin, made similarly to hash
- Resin, thick cannabis sap extracted using solvents,
- And many more
Depending on the texture and your preferences, you can top a bowl or joint with your chosen concentrate or use a dab rig or dab pen to vaporize concentrate and inhale the resulting vapor.
Cannabis and Anxiety
Can cannabis replace Xanax? For many individuals, the answer is a resounding yes. Cannabinoids bind to receptors in the body responsible for regulating mood and reducing anxiety in a way that allows cannabis to serve as an effective, safe alternative to Xanax. Unlike Xanax, common cannabinoids do not pose a risk of dependency.
The side effects associated with Xanax can be unpredictable and can lead to further health concerns, especially if trying to use Xanax as a long-term solution for anxiety relief. While cannabis is not necessarily side effect-free, potential side effects are minimal and can often be resolved by modifying dosages or the strain of cannabis.
The Cannabis-Mindfulness Connection
Cannabis use can also be a beneficial aid for individuals interested in improved mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness is all about the ability to slow down and examine the ways you are present in the moment, especially when faced with stress or situations that can trigger your anxiety. Cannabis helps to slow the body and mind naturally, which can be a wonderful component of reflecting and understanding your emotional responses. Understanding what causes anxiety and analyzing the reactions it can create can help improve your reaction to stress.
The Future of Cannabis to Treat Anxiety
As “Take Your Pill: Xanax” implies, more and more medical professionals are accepting, and many are even encouraging their patients to consider CBD, THC, or both before turning to prescription medication. For many, this is because they have seen how detrimental drug dependence can be.
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