CBD vs. THC for Stress

Stress is a natural part of life. If we never felt any stress, we wouldn’t have any incentive to grow and improve. Eustress, or positive stress, is a type of stress that we should embrace and cultivate.

Distress is the dark side of stress. This overwhelming sensation of psychological pressure makes us less efficient, and it decreases our ability to succeed in life. A variety of natural substances are marketed as stress cures, and you may have tried soothing your stress with either THC or CBD. Let’s explore the pros and cons of using CBD vs. THC for stress.

What causes stress?

We start to feel stressed out when events in life or thoughts within our minds become overwhelming. By understanding the exact psychological and biochemical factors that cause us to experience stress responses, we can better elucidate the usefulness of CBD and THC for preventing stress attacks or reducing existing stress levels.

Psychological causes of stress

The feeling of stress ultimately boils down to a perception that you have no control over your life. If you feel entirely in control and free to do whatever you choose, you will not experience any stress.

Within society, however, there will always be variables that seek to exert control over your life. Whether it’s an unreasonable boss, exorbitant taxes, or simply the knowledge of your own limited amount of time to make your mark on the world, stress will find a way to make its way into your personal psychological paradise.

Here are some of the factors that most commonly cause a sense of distress:

  • Facing intense pressure in your workplace or interpersonal relationships
  • Feeling powerless in the face of a disease or some other bodily dysfunction
  • Having too many responsibilities or feeling overwhelmed
  • Not having enough responsibilities or feeling listless
  • Going through major changes in your life
  • Getting divorced
  • Losing a loved one

Some people are more genetically predisposed to stress than others. At one point or another, however, we will all have to face situations in which the beneficial pressure of eustress transforms into the painful burden of distress.

Biochemical causes of stress

A variety of factors can trigger a process that researchers call the biological stress response. When you encounter a stressful situation, a brain structure called the amygdala, which processes emotions, tells the hypothalamus, your brain’s command center, to increase production of the hormone norepinephrine (adrenaline.)

If stressful stimuli persist, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland (HPA) axis increases levels of cortisol throughout your body, which further heightens your deeply ingrained “fight or flight” response. Prolonged states of distress can also increase bodily concentrations of cytokines, inflammatory components of your immune system that usually fight infections.

When triggered by stress, cytokines attack healthy tissues in your body, increasing inflammation levels and contributing to the development of chronic conditions. Recently, researchers have started investigating the potential of CBD as a cytokine storm disruptor in the context of COVID-19, which causes cytokines to attack your lung tissue.

Does THC help with stress?

Research into the potential benefits of THC for stress is limited and somewhat conflicting. An overview of available evidence provided by researchers at the University of Washington (UW) reports that ingesting THC in concentrations below 7.5mg reduces anxiety, which could also lead to decreased levels of perceived stress. The same report also found, however, that doses of THC higher than 12.5mg could increase anxiety, which would also increase stress.

A 2019 study tracked the experiences of medical cannabis patients who used various types of inhalable cannabis products to fight stress and other types of negative affect. Since the cannabis users who participated in this study used both CBD-rich and THC-rich cannabis, definitive data regarding the usefulness of THC for stress are sparse. This research resulted in the following findings:

  • Approximately two puffs of high-CBD (>9.5%), low-THC (<5.5%) cannabis resulted in the best reductions in depression.
  • Approximately 10 puffs of cannabis containing high concentrations of both THC and CBD provided the greatest changes in stress levels.

At present, there is not enough data to definitively conclude that THC is useful for stress. However, there is plenty of evidence that using THC on a consistent basis can cause a variety of negative effects.

Does CBD help with stress?

CBD has been extensively researched for its potential to reduce anxiety, and anxiety is commonly associated with stress. The National Institutes of Health has provided a detailed overview of the available evidence concerning the use of CBD for stress, and early results appear highly promising.

THC can increase anxiety and stress levels at high doses. CBD, on the other hand, does not appear to have any potential to increase stress levels. Therefore, the potential impact of CBD on stress could only be positive.

Side effects of THC for stress

THC has recently been popularized as a treatment for stress. In some cases, THC is even lauded as a safe alternative to alcohol and other dangerous substances that people use to combat stress.

When used by healthy individuals as a recreational drug, THC does not present a considerable threat. Similarly, there may be medical applications, such as terminal illness, in which THC therapy is appropriate. THC is not appropriate, however, as a stress treatment due to its considerable psychological and biological risk profile.

By stimulating large surges of dopamine production in the brain, THC causes a temporary sensation of intense euphoria that overwhelms psychological perceptions of stress. Due to this dopamine surge, however, THC has considerable potential for abuse and addiction.

Individuals experiencing prolonged periods of significant psychological distress may be more likely than the general population to rely on THC as a crutch, increasing the dependence potential of this drug. If you are experiencing stress, you should address your stress levels using other means before enjoying THC safely as a recreational drug.

Side effects of CBD for stress

Unlike THC, CBD does not appear to have any addiction potential. Furthermore, despite the general opinion that THC is safe, this substance is reasonably toxic while CBD can be tolerated at concentrations in excess of 1,500mg with no significant side effects.\

It has yet to be determined whether or not CBD is an effective treatment for stress. What’s fully established, however, is that using CBD for this purpose is very unlikely to result in any negative effects. While individuals suffering from chronic stress should be extremely cautious when using THC, this degree of advanced caution is not necessary in the case of CBD. 

Instead of stimulating the brain’s CB1 receptors to deliver a surge of dopamine, CBD instead appears to interact with the nervous system’s serotonin management system by stimulating the 5-HT1A receptors. Dopamine has the potential to overwhelm your brain’s natural ability to balance its reactions to stress, but serotonin provides a feeling of deep contentment that is mildly soothing rather than intoxicating or euphoric.

Is CBD or THC better for stress?

The best way to combat chronic stress is to strive to live a balanced, liberating lifestyle. That unreasonable boss won’t go away no matter how much THC you use, and smoking CBD flower won’t shrink the list of responsibilities weighing you down.

If you have to choose between CBD and THC as you select an ally on your journey toward a stress-free life, however, CBD is clearly the better option. With no addiction potential or significant side effects, CBD only has the potential to help while THC might make overcoming stress harder in the long-term. For quick, potent relief from stress, consider taking advantage of the ultra-fast activation times of inhalable CBD products like hemp flower or CBD vape cartridges.

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