“While cannabis didn’t erase my thoughts, it removed the debilitating pattern of fixation and allowed me to make thoughtful, pragmatic decisions.”

Cannabis is a personalized medicine, meaning that effects and titration can differ among individuals.

This is a personal story – my personal story – about using cannabis as a tool to help manage anxiety.

I have tried various medications for the treatment of ADHD and severe anxiety over the years. For me, their side effects were more pronounced than the medical benefits.

To be clear, I know pharmaceutical medicines work well for people. It’s just that they didn’t work for me. My anxiety was getting worse and I needed a solution.

I was never much of a cannabis consumer and felt that it actually heightened my anxiety the few times I had tried it. Then one day a friend passed me a vape pen; I took a toke, and I felt good.

Really good.

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Part of my anxiety manifests itself as extreme negativity, which often hindered me from developing healthy relationships in my personal and professional life and made day-to-day survival a real challenge.

I often feel antagonized by confrontation, which leads to overwhelming thoughts that can be paralyzing. There are times where I have felt helpless and unable to untangle myself from a negative mindset.

Suddenly though, with cannabis, I found relief. I felt calm and even happy; it was truly a life-changing experience. While cannabis didn’t erase my thoughts, it removed the debilitating pattern of fixation and allowed me to make thoughtful, pragmatic decisions.

I approached my family doctor who referred me to a clinic for a medical cannabis recommendation. It was a journey of trial and error as I learned which strains, dosage, and consumption methods worked best for me. From the get-go, I was sure that cannabis was helping me manage my symptoms of anxiety.

Cannabis became a wonderful tool for me over several years but as my home and work life amped up, I realized that I couldn’t be so dependent on it to get me through each day. This became particularly obvious when traveling to places with limited to no cannabis accessibility.

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I started to understand that for me, cannabis is a powerful tool for facilitating change, but that ultimately, I needed to learn how to manage my anxiety using internal mechanisms.

Internal Toolbox

Salimeh Tabrizi, a registered clinical counsellor and plant medicine advocate, has spent over a decade working in mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

She has seen patients across a spectrum of needs but now predominantly works with people who have had a transformative experience with entheogens.

Tabrizi sees the benefits of plant-based medicines like cannabis among her patients as a tool to “connect to our inner wisdom and guidance” which can be an ally for “self-empowerment and self-healing.”

Although Tabrizi advocates for a patient-guided approach to healing, she is cautious to ensure a self-care and support system is in place when consulting her clients.

This can be anything from a physiotherapist to a psychologist, practicing yoga or regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet. Tabrizi also notes that it is important to keep your physician aware of your cannabis consumption, particularly if you are taking other medications.

“Cannabis is a supportive medicine,” said Tabrizi in a phone interview, “but it has to be seen within a holistic context.”

In her practice, Tabrizi has seen how cannabis can help symptoms of anxiety such as providing a sense of calm, focus, facilitating better sleep, and perhaps most importantly, supporting breath.

“The number one self-regulated technique for stress management and anxiety is breath,” said Tabrizi.

Conscious Consumption

Cannabis was most useful to me as a therapeutic tool in terms of bringing me to a place of positivity so I could begin self-reflecting and identifying my triggers. After prolonged use, I noticed that perhaps I was relying too heavily on cannabis as a coping mechanism.

“It can be hard to untangle whether an altering substance is used to counter or cope with what you’re feeling,” said Dr. Jenna Valleriani, CEO of NICHE.

Echoing my own experience, Dr. Valleriani notes that cannabis can be used to “build up wellness” which can allow consumers to reach a level where they feel good enough to start doing more challenging work on themselves.

Exercise and breathing techniques are additional tools that I have added to my arsenal and have actually helped me be less reliant on cannabis when I am experiencing anxiety. I have an overall more conscious connection to my body which allows me to constantly self-monitor and act on symptoms before they snowball.

It’s not a perfect system, but it is what I have found works best for me. And if I do experience a panic attack, I am more prepared to guide myself back to a calmer state.

I always consumed responsibly, but I have made a more conscious shift when choosing to medicate with cannabis.

Dr. Valleriani has noticed a stigmatization of cannabis consumption that is based on intent and how someone uses cannabis.

“People may not have the distinction between using medically or recreationally, and for many people, that line is blurred,” said Dr. Valleriani.

Moving away from cannabis as a crutch and implementing it as a tool has also changed my relationship with the plant. I don’t specifically seek it out but am able to enjoy when / if it suits me, whether it be to manage symptoms, relax, or socialize.

“When we use plant medicines without relying on them, they can be used to support recreation,” said Tabrizi, who also sees cannabis as a way to connect with the body and enhance sensory experiences like dancing and music.

“Once we experience life in an enhanced way, we also have a roadmap to get there ourselves,” says Tabrizi, noting that whether we consume for medical or recreational purposes, cannabis is a tool for turning inwards and learning oneself better.

We can apply those teachings to our external lives and strengthen what is already within us.