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“It made me feel human again” – Medical cannabis and anxiety

Sylv reveals how medical cannabis is helping her manage severe anxiety brought on by the pandemic.

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person with anxiety
Sylv's anxiety worsened during the coronavirus pandemic

Struggling with severe anxiety brought on by the pandemic, Sylv has spent the last year taking anti-depressants, which caused acute side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Now she is taking medical cannabis, which she says is “making her feel human” again.

“My anxiety wasn’t horrific until the start of the pandemic,” says, Sylv, 41.

Sylv has suffered from anxiety for a number of years and has learned how to manage the condition and keep her mental health under control.

But in March last year, as the country was plunged into lockdown, she was hit with a wave of anxiety that she hadn’t experienced before.

She was taking the beta-blocker, propranolol, at the time. It was “perfect” for managing her anxiety, but would often trigger her asthma, a common side effect of the drug.

As Sylv sat at home “wheezing” from her asthma, she started to panic, believing she had caught Covid-19.

From there, she says, her mental health began to spiral out of control. She soon found that things as simple as going shopping, would leave her crippled with anxiety.

“The fear I had about leaving the house and going out was what affected me the most,” Sylv says.

“It became so strong that I felt uncomfortable touching things and I would get so anxious that it would make me nauseous.

“At one point I was in the queue at a shop, and somebody was standing too close behind me. I came home and I burst into tears.”

Sylv tried multiple medications before being prescribed Venlafaxine, a strong anti-depressant that came with an array of “awful” side effects.

After being signed off from work for six months, Sylv rarely left the house for fear of triggering her anxiety and, as a result of her medication, started experiencing nausea, headaches and insomnia. She would regularly be awake for 36 hours at a time.

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Sylv worked as an admin assistant for a care agency. Due to the nature of the job, it was impossible for her to work from home.

In November, she says she felt ready to try to return to work again.

“It was very hard having to go to work in those circumstances. I did try and get a bus in one time, but it was horrible,” she says.

Caring for the elderly on a daily basis meant talk of the pandemic was all around her, which only fed into her anxiety.

“We had some clients and staff members that had Covid, so when I was at work it was constantly being mentioned. It was just continuous, 24/7, it was all that was talked about,” she says.

Sylv managed to work for two months until it became too much. The Venlafaxine was “dulling” her brain to the extent that she wasn’t able to focus on her work and she was signed off sick again in January.

Shortly after going on sick leave, Sylv’s doctor increased her dose of venlafaxine to 225 mg. This time, she noticed problems with her vision and a loss of balance caused her to fall over.

And it wasn’t just her physical health that was affected. While taking Venlafaxine, Sylv says she lost the “zeal” to do things she loved. An avid cook before lockdown, Sylv says she didn’t cook a meal from scratch for almost a year.

In February, her friend suggested she give medical cannabis a try.

“I didn’t really believe it to start off with, but I looked into it and decided to go for it,” she says.

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Sylv chose The Medical Cannabis Clinics for her prescription and was accepted onto the Project Twenty21 scheme that offers to subsidise costs for eligible patients.

Her first prescription came through the door in March.

“It was like being six-years-old on Christmas Day,” she says.

Sylv was prescribed with two strains: 30gm of CMC, a balanced CBD-THC sativa and 30mg of MVA, a THC-dominant indica.

The two types of cannabis together helped “immensely” with her anxiety and also relieved the chronic back pain that she had been suffering from for a number of years. She felt the benefits immediately.

“Literally from the first puff, I could tell that the quality was good and it was doing what it was supposed to. It’s like your mum coming up and putting a blanket around you, that feeling of being comforted,” she says.

With the help of medical cannabis, Sylv is now coming off venlafaxine, but with that, has come extreme withdrawal symptoms.

First, she started to experience “brain zaps”, also known as paraesthesia.

“It affects the nerve endings in your head,” Sylv explains.

“You suddenly feel something like an electric shock going through your head.”

Her nausea also reached a new peak, to the extent where she had to stop driving.

“I drove to my corner shop, which is a two-minute drive away. On the way back, I was trying to stop myself from vomiting in the car,” Sylv says.

Thankfully, Sylv is close to coming off venlafaxine completely, replacing the anti-depressant with her new prescription.

“Medical cannabis, for me, has been life-changing,” she says.

“My dad says I sound so much brighter. I feel joy. It enables me to laugh and feel relaxed and I find that I enjoy things more now.”

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Sylv and her friend have now started a help group on Telegram, an instant messaging platform that allows users to create an anonymous account.

The pair are helping others gain access to a medical cannabis prescription, providing peer-to-peer support and explaining the process to people who might otherwise be unaware.

Medical cannabis has improved my wellbeing, my motivation, my self-confidence. It has made me want to share what I have with others and help people because I feel very privilege,” says Sylv.

“We’re trying to reach people who are self-medicating, who maybe need a hand and give people the information they need so that they can check for themselves and see if they qualify for it.

“We’re trying to give back a little bit and inform people that there is such a thing as medical cannabis.”

Sadly, as a result of her struggles with anxiety over the last year, Sylv was made medically redundant from her job in early April and her husband was made redundant less than a week later.

Now facing a difficult financial situation, Sylv is uncertain about what the future holds for her prescription, which costs her £300 per month.

Even with the help of Project Twenty21, her medication, which makes her “feel like a human being again”, is at risk.

“If I have to stop [my prescription] because I can’t afford it, it will feel like a leap backwards; from almost being back to my normal self to somebody that might not even be able to go out of the house,” Sylv adds.

“It’s going to feel like a limb has been cut off; it’s like a lifeline.”

Industry

Could cannabis help nurses experiencing physical pain while working?

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Mental health

Could the endocannabinoid system and CBD help with treating SAD?

A new study examines the role that the endocannabinoid system may play in regulating our moods such as stress, happiness and anxiety

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Endocannabinoid: A woman with her head in her hands wearing a blue top against a blue background. The background has white lines to highlight anxiety

A paper in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry has examined the potential of the endocannabinoid system to play a part in treating SADs. 

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common psychiatric disorder. People with SAD have an excessive fear or anxiety of social situations where they worry their behaviour may cause embarrassment, humiliation or rejection by others. This could be related to performance situations such as public speaking but may also be starting a conversation or socialising at an event. This may cause people to avoid attending events, work or relationships.

The NHS currently lists cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or anti-depressant medication as options for treatment with SAD.

Hormone production

The researchers reviewed existing scans of the brain to see if hormone imbalances could be the reason for the development of SAD. They examined dopamine which is responsible for how we feel pleasure, serotonin which stabilises our moods and the stress hormone cortisol. 

They wrote: “The monoamine hypothesis and pharmacological approaches suggest that the neurobiologies of depression and anxiety share imbalances in the monoaminergic neurotransmission system.41 In this regard, neuro-molecular positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) studies in SAD have largely focused on imaging serotonergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission, based on the reported efficacy of antidepressants.”

Evidence

The authors wrote: “Emerging evidence suggests that the endogenous cannabinoid system, also referred to as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), could play a potential role in the pathophysiology of SAD. This review discusses the known pathophysiological mechanisms of SAD, the potential role of the ECS in this disorder, current drugs targeting the ECS, and the potential of these novel compounds to enhance the therapeutic armamentarium for SAD.”

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The researchers concluded that the ECS could be a potential biological pathway in the treatment of SAD and is a promising avenue for developing more therapeutic approaches. They highlighted that there is a lack of human ECS studies or clinical trials which allow for ‘significant gaps in our knowledge.’  

Endocannabinoid system:  Cannabis leaf and a bottle of green hemp oil on a wooden surface

Could CBD help?

The ECS involves three core components: endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes. These receptors can be found throughout the body. Endocannabinoids bind to them to send a signal that the ECS needs to do something. 

The main receptors are CB1 found in the central nervous system and CB2 in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor and produce effects depending on where the receptor is located and which one it binds to.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) binds to CB1 or CB2 receptors while it is thought that potentially CBD can influence the receptors. Researchers aren’t sure how it interacts exactly.

A study explored the potential effects of CBD on people with SAD. Participants were given 400 mg of CBD or a placebo. Those given the CBD reported less anxiety than those given the placebo.

Another study on anxiety and sleep also revealed the potential of CBD to help stabilise our moods. The study involved 72 patients with 47 primarily experiencing anxiety and 25 suffering from poor quality sleep. Each person was given 25 milligrams of CBD each day and the majority of participants at 79.2 percent recorded they had lower anxiety while 66.7 percent reported better sleep after just the first month.

However, there is more research needed on both the endocannabinoid system and how CBD interacts with it to help treat SAD.

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Read more: Can CBD help me sleep?

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Health

One in five autism caregivers give their child CBD products

A new report by reveals that the majority of parents started using oils during the pandemic for older children.

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Autism: A collection of clear glass and brown tincture bottles together on a wooden surface next to a balm that has a cannabis leaf on it.

A study by Autism Parenting Magazine revealed that almost 20 percent of people caring for an autistic child give them CBD products.

The autism parenting survey was sent to 160,000 subscribers around the world revealing the extent of CBD use by parents caring for an autistic child. 18.6 percent of respondents confirmed they use CBD for a child on the spectrum to relieve a variety of their symptoms. This was further broken down to 22.16 percent of US parents compared to 14.29 percent of UK families.

It is estimated that there are 700,000 people in the UK with a diagnosis of autism. This is equal to one in 100 children in the UK.

The new survey also revealed that 31.3 percent of those using CBD products started during the Covid-19 pandemic. A further 16.6 percent revealed they have increased the amount since the pandemic began. The reason for this was thought to be down to increased anxiety and panic.

The data showed 76.3 percent CBD only use while the remaining 10 percent used other forms such as hemp, CD/THC and Epidiolex or CBD with terpenes.

The majority of those who responded were parents at 72.4 percent but there were also grandparents, careers, teachers, therapists, doctors or individuals on the spectrum.

Autism symptom relief

The survey revealed that the primary use for CBD was anxiety relief at 42.9 percent or challenging behaviour at 36.9 percent. The rest stated pain relief, inflammation, sleep or relaxation. A small number of parents, 4.3 percent, said seizures. Other reasons were given as speech or supporting potty training.

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The survey also asked how much support the parents felt their child needed with 42.9 percent stating ‘requires substantial support.’ A small number at 17.9 percent said very substantial support. CBD use tended to be daily in the form of oils.

Oils were a favourite amongst parents with 60.8 percent opting to use this method. Other popular methods included 21.5 percent using gummies, 7.5 percent consuming capsules or tablets. A few used lotions or balms while 1.9 percent used vapes.

A large number of participants used CBD for their teenagers with 21.39 percent confirming their child was aged 13 to 18.

Autism therapies

Only a small number of parents were combining the CBD with therapies at 7.4 percent. The therapy was listed as Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy (ABA Therapy). ABA therapy considers a person’s understanding of how behaviour works in real situations. The aim of therapy is to increase helpful and decrease unhelpful behaviours that could be harmful or affect learning. ABA is being used increasingly in the UK.

Read more: We are asking for quality of life for our children – new report reveals issues with medical cannabis system

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