For some, it might mean feeling a little uneasy when matched with an unknown entity that catches them off guard when they least expect it, or a looming dread of a weekly editorial meeting that keeps them from wanting to get out of bed. Hey, we’ve been there. There are other people, however, who have an irrational, crippling fear (otherwise known as a phobia) of something that hinders their lives with such ferocity that they will do everything in their power to maintain a safe distance.
You won’t catch these folks in or even around an airport, near the snake pit at the local zoo, in confined spaces, or checking out the view from the top of the Empire State Building. Oh, hell no. People with phobias are perfectly content living their lives without any of these perceived frightening situations turning them into a frayed ball of nerves. Maybe even you have a phobia that you’ve lived with ever since you can remember that still, to this day, scares the holy bejeezus out of you. You’d do anything to avoid facing it. But don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. Around 19 million people all across the U.S. suffer from an irrational fear of something, which makes it the most common mental disorder in the country, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
There is no need to fear, though, cannabis might be just what the doctor ordered. A body of evidence has emerged over the past six years or so suggesting that marijuana, or at least some of its essential compounds, might be able to help people with certain kinds of phobias be less afraid.
A study from the University of Michigan, which was published in the journal Neuropsychology in 2013, finds that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) might provide phobia patients with a trapdoor out of the horrific anxiety that comes with these conditions. In some cases, researchers discovered that the stoner cannabinoid is so beneficial in this respect that it even allowed some patients to work through their fears and moved past them. But it’s not like researchers just got a bunch of people super stoned and then tossed them in a closed space and let them work out their anxieties.
The study, which involved around 30 people, used a Pavlovian fear extinction paradigm and simultaneous skin conductance response recording while dosing patients with a synthetic version of THC called dronabinol, according to Science Direct. Still, researchers say that people under the influence of THC showed less fear over time. “These results provide the first evidence that pharmacological enhancement of extinction learning is feasible in humans using cannabinoid system modulators, which may thus warrant further development and clinical testing,” the study authors wrote.
Another study, this one from the Frontiers of Pharmacology, shows that America’s favorite non-intoxicating cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) might actually have some therapeutic benefit when it comes to dealing with specific phobias. The study, which was led by Chenchen Song of the University of Birmingham in 2017, shows that 10 mg injections of CBD were able to reduce the fear memory in rats. Sure, it’s not likely that these animals were afraid of heights or flying, but Song says that the cannabis component did make them less fearful of being eaten alive by predators. It’s the same reason that the compound has been shown effective in treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Essentially, some phobias, just like PTSD, manifest after a harrowing situation. The gist of the research is that CBD, which has gained some notoriety as an anxiety-squashing drug, was effective at preventing this fear from coming to the surface.
“In the more translationally-relevant stronger conditioning setting, CBD both acutely inhibited fear expression and enhanced extinction to produce longer-lasting reductions in fear,” the study reads. “These observations provide further support for the potential translational use of CBD in conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and specific phobias.”
It is possible, considering this body of evidence, that phobia patients might be able to contend with their fears with the use of medical marijuana. Traditionally, these conditions have been dealt with by prescribing beta-blockers, antidepressants and tranquilizers, but these drugs can be habit-forming and make a person feel less human than an irrational fear of anything. Still, it’s okay to be skeptical about the power of cannabis when it comes to treating phobia cases. I am. I mean, I’ve been pretty stoned in my day and never once was there a time when I felt any less freaked out by the thought of a snake slithering up next to me. And getting high and traveling to the top of the Empire State Building last year, well, that just gave me vertigo and made the experience even more frightening than it would have been under normal circumstances. However, at its most basic level, some strains of marijuana (Somari, Super Skunk Auto and Bigfoot) have been known to calm the anxiety that one experiences when those phobias kick in. Our best advice is to check with your budtender to find out what other fraidy cats are using to get through the terror.