Indica Vs. Sativa For Anxiety

Many consumers are already well aware that cannabis and its many compounds carry a number of potential benefits that can aid in managing specific conditions and symptoms. Namely, cannabis is often mentioned in the same breath as anxiety and stress.

cannabis flower in a mason jar

It can be a complex conversation. Cannabis may help to ease symptoms related to anxiety and stress, but some people find that cannabis may actually exasperate these symptoms.

When searching for the best strains for anxiety, many consumers may find themselves examining the distinction between sativa and indica options. It prompts the question, is indica or sativa better for anxiety? And even though this categorization provides some guidance, there’s also much more to take into account than simply examining indica or sativa for anxiety.

While the body of research is growing, we’re still consistently uncovering new information about the cannabis plant as a whole and how its use relates to specific symptoms, like anxiety and stress.

If you’ve ever been curious about cannabis’ relationship with anxiety, whether sativa or indica strains tend to be better to ease anxiety-related symptoms, and other major factors to consider, look no further!

Key Takeaways

  • The relationship between cannabis and anxiety can be complicated, as a number of factors can determine whether a strain will curb or amp up anxiety.
  • Many will argue it’s best to go with an indica for anxiety, but indica and sativa strains are not a monolith. Some may find sativa for anxiety is the best route, and it could depend on how an individual’s anxiety manifests or even the time of day.
  • Factors like CBD and THC content are important to consider, as THC on its own may increase anxiety, while CBD and combinations of CBD and THC can potentially reduce it.
  • Some terpenes have also been shown to contain anxiolytic effects as well, so it’s important to consider the full picture.

What Weed is Good for Anxiety?

Many cannabis users will personally attest to the benefits cannabis provides for anxiety- and stress-related symptoms, and research has affirmed the same.

Specifically, one 2018 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that cannabis significantly reduced ratings of depression, anxiety and stress among subjects. Specifically, medical cannabis users reported a 58% reduction in anxiety along with a 50% reduction in depression after using cannabis.

Conversely, stories about cannabis producing more anxiety are not uncommon either, only for those consumers to be met with some iteration of the common, and often joked about, stoner response, “Maybe you should go with another strain?”

But when it comes to easing anxiety and stress, just how much influence does strain categorization actually have? Is there truly a best weed strain for anxiety?

Is Indica or Sativa Better for Anxiety?

Before we look at sativa or indica for anxiety, let’s start by reviewing some of the common properties of indica and sativa strains.

These labels describe distinct physical differences between cultivars. For example, sativa plants are tall and lanky with thin leaves and indica plants tend to be shorter, bushier and have thick leaves. Though, the broader cannabis industry and consumers alike have come to understand that these two categories also carry distinct effects.

What does sativa do to you? These strains tend to be more energetic and heady, good for a daytime experience and promoting creativity, and focus. Indicas, on the other hand, are more calming, body sedating, and relaxing overall, potentially helpful to aid symptoms around pain and insomnia, among others.

These anticipated effects are a solid benchmark, though these are all general traits. Within the sativa and indica categories is immense variation, meaning that one indica strain may promote very different effects than another, and the same for sativa.

Is sativa, indica, or hybrid better for anxiety? Given the common traits, many say that an indica for depression and anxiety is best, but it’s not quite that cut and cry. Anxiety manifests differently in different people, so the headiness of a sativa could amp up one person’s anxiety while the couch lock of an indica could do the same for another.

Consider also the time of day you are using cannabis. If you’re looking to subdue anxiety during the day, a sativa strain that promotes focus, creativity and euphoria could be the best answer, whereas if you’re looking to quiet your anxiety as you get ready to sleep, a more sedating indica strain may be the best route.

Will sativa make you anxious? Some sativas might, sure, though some indicas might, too. Is sativa bad for anxiety? Not necessarily.

Is indica better for anxiety? Does indica help with anxiety more overall? If you’re looking to take a side, indicas are often considered a better option, given that many indica strains do promote calming effects. That’s not to say that the indica category as a whole solely contains strains that don’t cause paranoia.

More importantly, indica strains often have less THC and more CBD, and cannabinoid content also plays a crucial role in this conversation.

Looking Beyond Sativa and Indica

Of course, sativa, indica, and hybrid classifications can be good guidance for many consumers when considering the best strains of weed for anxiety. Research also suggests that cannabinoid content may be the guiding force in understanding how cannabis will impact an individual’s anxiety.

Cannabinoid Content

Among the findings of the previously mentioned 2018 study, strains high in THC (>26.5%) AND CBD (>11%) produced the largest perceived changes in stress, suggesting that combinations of both CBD and THC may be best to alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

Other research has suggested that THC in high doses is associated with higher levels of anxiety. On the other hand, a 2015 review of previous CBD studies concluded that the available evidence “strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Rather than focusing on sativa or indica categorization, many consumers prefer to categorize strains based on cannabinoid content — as high THC, high CBD or THC/CBD combined — and look for synergistic options with these considerations at the forefront.

Terpenes

While the cannabis industry tends to harp on the sativa/indica divide and THC content as primary indicators of quality, there’s far more to this picture.

Cannabis professionals and advocates have touted the potential of cannabis terpenes for years, and research is now beginning to catch up. Terpenes naturally occur in a variety of plants, including cannabis, and directly affect the aroma and taste within the strain.

Research is also revealing that terpenes may do far more than simply add a nice flavor and smell to cannabis, specifically that these cannabis compounds may hold specific health benefits, namely terpenes like limonene, myrcene, caryophyllene, and linalool:

Limonene: This terpene, known for its citrusy tone, may indeed help to curb anxiety. One 2013 study found that limonene carries anxiety-reducing properties when used in aromatherapy, while another 2014 study found that the terpene could produce an anti-stress action in rats by altering ortho/parasympathetic parameters and central neurotransmitter functions

Myrcene: This hoppy terpene, which may come with sedative-like properties, is considered one of the best for anxiety. One 2021 study found that anxiolytic effects are one of myrcene’s main biological characteristics. A 2011 research paper also detailed the synergistic potential of curbing anxiety by combining myrcene, limonene, and pinene.

Caryophyllene: This terpene, known for its spicy, peppery bite, is known to interact with the body’s CB2 receptors, which are responsible for the non-psychoactive benefits of THC and are believed to be linked to anxiety. Additionally, a 2020 study found that the terpene may have anti-anxiety properties and could be “a promising compound for anxiety therapy.”

Linalool: If you’ve ever gotten a strong whiff of a lavender tree, or simply found yourself inside a bath products store, you’re likely already familiar with the terpene linalool. Lavender essential oil has already been widely researched for its potential anti-anxiety properties; notably, a 2018 study observed that linalool induced anxiolytic effects in mice without motor impairment.

Once more, it’s important to note that research is ongoing, but when it comes to curbing anxiety with cannabis, considering terpenes is definitely not a bad move.

Sativa or Indica for Anxiety: Final Thoughts

It’s true that the conversation surrounding cannabis and anxiety can be a bit daunting to approach. When considering the best marijuana strains for anxiety, there are a variety of factors to consider beyond just sativa and indica categorizations.

Sativas are often a bit more active and can create a headier high, and indicas tend to be more relaxing and sedating, so many consumers automatically believe that indica strains are the better route. Though, looking at the way an individual’s anxiety manifests or circumstances like time of day can also be important considerations.

Ultimately, indica strains are often preferred because they tend to have less THC and more CBD. When looking at what weed is good for anxiety, it’s important to consider cannabinoid content as well. Specifically, CBD may be your best bet to help curb anxiety, whether you go for a strain that is strictly high in CBD or one that contains high amounts of THC and CBD. Also, don’t forget about terpenes!

Ultimately, it’s important to try out a variety of strains and not write off the entire array of sativa and/or indica options as you do. We’re still learning about the full potential of cannabis, but the possibilities are well worth the effort!

References

Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., Manzanares, J., & Marmar, C. R. (2015). Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 825–836. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1

​​Cuttler, C., Spradlin, A., & McLaughlin, R. J. (2018). A naturalistic examination of the perceived effects of cannabis on negative affect. Journal of Affective Disorders, 235, 198–205. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2018.04.054

D’Alessio, P. A., Bisson, J., & Béné, M. C. (2014). Anti-Stress Effects of d-Limonene and Its Metabolite Perillyl Alcohol. Rejuvenation Research, 17(2), 145–149. https://doi.org/10.1089/rej.2013.1515

Da Conceição Machado, K., Paz, M. F. C. J., De Oliveira Santos, J. V., Da Silva, F. M. A., Tchekalarova, J., Salehi, B., Islam, M. N., Setzer, W. N., Sharifi-Rad, J., De Castro E Sousa, J. M., & De Carvalho Melo Cavalcante, A. A. (2020). Anxiety Therapeutic Interventions of β-Caryophyllene: A Laboratory-Based Study. Natural Product Communications, 15(10), 1934578X2096222. https://doi.org/10.1177/1934578x20962229

Harada, H., Kashiwadani, H., Kanmura, Y., & Kuwaki, T. (2018). Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00241

Koppel, B. S., Brust, J. C., Fife, T. D., Bronstein, J. M., Youssof, S., Gronseth, G. S., & Gloss, D. (2014). Systematic review: Efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in selected neurologic disorders: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 82(17), 1556–1563. https://doi.org/10.1212/wnl.0000000000000363

Lima, N. G. P. B., De Sousa, D. P., Pimenta, F. C. F., Alves, M. G., De Souza, F. S., Macêdo, R. O., Cardoso, R. L., De Morais, L. C. S. L., De Fátima Formiga Melo Diniz, M., & De Almeida, R. N. (2013). Anxiolytic-like activity and GC–MS analysis of (R)-(+)-limonene fragrance, a natural compound found in foods and plants. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, 103(3), 450–454. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbb.2012.09.005

Morcuende, A., García-Gutiérrez, M. S., Tambaro, S., Nieto, E., Manzanares, J., & Femenía, T. (2022). Immunomodulatory Role of CB2 Receptors in Emotional and Cognitive Disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.866052 

Russo, E. B. (2011b). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x

Surendran, S., Qassadi, F., Surendran, G., Lilley, D., & Heinrich, M. (2021). Myrcene—What Are the Potential Health Benefits of This Flavouring and Aroma Agent? Frontiers in Nutrition, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.699666

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