America's Newest Addiction: Anxiety Medication

We Are Anxious People

Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications, like Xanax and Valium, that are prescribed to patients to help control various anxiety conditions. 5.2% of adults in the United States take benzodiazepines according to a 2015 JAMA Psychiatry study.

Though there are adults of all ages who take benzodiazepines, rates of use increase with older age. 8.7% of people between the ages of 65 and 80 years old take benzodiazepines and it is believed the increase in use is linked to more stressful events that occur later in life. This is particularly problematic because benzodiazepine use is often linked to grogginess, which can cause an increase in falls and other accidents.

The use of benzodiazepines is also overall twice as prevalent in women than it is in men. A quarter of people taking benzodiazepines reported long term usage, which is not what the medications were designed for.

Long Term Risks & Stats

The risks of using these medications long term often outweighs the benefits and can lead to an increase in tolerance that requires an inflation in dose. Benzodiazepines are often used in association with opioids, which can lead to even more complications. Between the years of 1999 and 2004, the number of middle aged caucasian woman who died from overdoses went up by 400%.

Benzodiazepines were responsible for 1/3 of the 54,000 deaths that were caused by overdoses. Caucasian women were far more likely to be prescribed a mix of opioids and benzodiazepines, which leads to an increase in these statistics. It is also believed that the high number of opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions for women has lead to an increase in overall deaths of women.

Many women who have committed suicide also have either benzodiazepines, opioids, or both, in their system during the time of death and it is believed that the inhibition they both cause leads to an increase in female death rates. Roughly 20% of people with anxiety disorders also have substance abuse disorders, meaning that the prescriptions of benzodiazepines have to be monitored closely, and they often are not.

Cannabis as an Alternative

Cannabis can be an effective alternative to benzodiazepines to help with anxiety. Cannabis has been used to treat anxiety and depression for more than 400 years. Though THC can cause some increase in anxiety because of its psychoactive properties, CBD can be extremely effective at reducing anxiety. THC can be balanced with CBD in particular cannabis strains which can work to decrease anxiety, though overall, high CBD and low THC strains are most effective at reducing anxiety.

A study completed in 2011 provided a breakthrough into how CBD could help patients with Social Anxiety Disorder. 24 patients with SAD, who had never been treated, were either given a placebo or a dose of CBD before a public speaking test. Researchers monitored physiological measures to determine levels of anxiety during the public speaking test and found a significant decrease in anxiety levels among patients who received CBD. The physiological results were consistent with the self-surveys that subjects completed after the test regarding their levels of anxiety.

Another 2011 study that was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that monitored the cerebral blood flow of participants after a CBD treatment. The patients in the study all had Social Anxiety Disorder. The study was limited and only included 10 participants, but it showed that patients treated with CBD experienced a decreased level of social anxiety after receiving the treatment, compared to those who took a placebo.

A Vanderbilt study published in Transitional Psychiatry looked at the role of anandamide in anxiety. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that occurs naturally in the body, and it works to treat stress induced anxiety.

Cannabinoids from cannabis work on the body’s endocannabinoid system in a similar way to endocannabinoids like anandamide. CBD can decrease production of fatty acid amide hydrolase, which is an enzyme that degrades naturally occurring anandamide. CBD can work to preserve anandamide, helping the body to decrease anxiety by itself.

All of these studies show that CBD has great efficacy at treating anxiety when administered during clinical trials. All of these studies were completed on people and show how marijuana that features high levels of CBD can be self administered by patients could help reduce various anxiety conditions. CBD not only works to decrease anxiety, but also aids the body’s natural processes for reducing anxiety.

Do you have questions about anxiety medications and cannabis? Ask a question in HelloMD’s new Answers feature.

If you are new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s 100% online, private and efficient.


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