If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you know how scary it can be. If you’ve never had a panic attack, try to remember the most agonizing, all-consuming dread or anxiety that you’ve ever felt. And imagine that feeling comes on suddenly with hardly any warning or trigger. What would you do? How would you calm yourself down?
Just knowing a panic attack could happen is enough for people to stop going out and distance themselves from friends and family. There are a range of things panic attack sufferers can try to avoid these uncomfortable situations—and for some that may include marijuana. More specifically cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant.
But can CBD really help treat panic attacks?
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Panic Attacks Explained
Panic attacks are a type of anxiety disorder when someone experiences acute and rapid-onset terror or apprehension. Some common symptoms of panic attacks are:
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling like you’re going to die
Panic attacks come on practically out of the blue, not necessarily with a trigger as happens with anxiety attacks. People are often misdiagnosed with a heart attack, when in reality they’re having a panic attack. Unfortunately, it’s not known why some people suffer panic attacks, but scientists’ best guess is that it results from a combination of family history and environmental factors like stress.
Traditional Ways to Treat Panic Attacks
As far as preventing panic attacks goes, many people employ tactics like talk therapy, biofeedback therapy, and a regimen of antidepressants or other medications. Some people find lifestyle changes such as daily exercise and a caffeine-free diet help prevent panic attacks, too.
For people in the middle of a panic attack, things that can help are:
- Deep breathing
- Keeping eyes closed
- Physically touching something like fabric or snapping a rubber band on the wrist to remain present
- Positive visualization
Can Cannabis Help Treat Panic Attacks?
Doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines to treat panic attacks. But they’re only really intended for short-term use, and they come with a host of side effects like:
- Low blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal problems
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Many people consume cannabis for anxiety and depression, so could it help for panic attacks, too? It can, but you have to be careful about the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC has been known to induce paranoia and an elevated heart rate for some—two things that panic attack sufferers can definitely do without. So that leaves cannabidiol (CBD).
Luckily, the science says that CBD can be effective in treating anxiety and could help prevent panic attacks.
- A 2001 study showed that CBD reduced anxiety in people with a fear of public speaking.
- In 2004, researchers in Hungary looked at mice and concluded that endocannabinoids influence stress and emotion responses, because there are cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
- Acute CBD dosing seems to relieve many anxiety disorders including PTSD, panic disorders and OCD.
How to Consume CBD for Panic Attacks
The acute CBD dosing study notes that more research on chronic CBD dosing is needed. Many people consume CBD in moderate doses. Some ways to incorporate high-CBD marijuana into a panic attack-prevention strategy include:
- Carrying CBD oil with you so that you can consume a dose when you start feeling a panic attack coming on. Place a few CBD drops under your tongue and leave them there for a as long as you can (at least 60 seconds will ensure that the cannabinoids permeate the tissues in the mouth well). Then swallow and take a deep breath. Practice any visualization or breathing exercises as usual and try to remain calm. You can do the same with even a CBD spray.
- A quick few puffs of a CBD vape pen—if you’re in a private place and are open to inhaling cannabis. Though sublingual oils are fast-acting (taking effect in roughly 15 minutes or so), vaping or smoking will result in near-immediate effects.
- Choosing CBD-rich cannabis strains like:
- Consuming a daily dose of CBD. Some research has shown that appropriate cannabinoid levels take time to build up. So, in addition to consuming CBD during a panic attack, you may want to try taking a regular, preventative dose of CBD in order to balance your endocannabinoid system (ECS). Think of this like a daily vitamin. You won’t feel different right away, but your body will be making use of the CBD even if you don’t notice an immediate change. High-CBD capsules or tinctures are probably your best bet for daily dosing. If you don’t like the taste of a tincture on its own, you can always add it to your morning tea or coffee.
Panic attacks are scary and often debilitating. But for some, adding CBD to their treatment can not only help prevent panic attacks, but also cut them short when they do happen. Have you had success treating panic attacks with CBD? Let us know what works for you in the comments below.
Photo credit: Hailey Kean
If you’re 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 easy, private and 100% online.