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Medical Marijuana and Panic Disorder

Panic disorder has traditionally been treated with anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-seizure medications that are aimed at reducing the patient’s anxiety level and unfounded fears. Unfortunately, most of these medications also come with significant negative side-effects that make them less than perfect treatment solutions for suffers of panic disorder. Many of the medications that are commonly prescribed for panic disorder carry with them a high risk of becoming dependent on the medications. Interestingly, one of the more common potential side effects of many of the traditional panic disorder medications is anxiety itself.

Treatments for Panic Disorder

Researchers don’t know the cause of panic attacks, so the treatment recommended for patients suffering from this condition can vary. There are several methods used, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, meditation and relaxation.

In some instances, psychotherapy is used to help minimize fear and help prevent an attack from occurring. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients face their problem by realizing that their attacks are often triggered by irrational beliefs that lead them to think something horrible is about to happen. This approach is gradual, slowly desensitizing patients to the kinds of situations that usually trigger feelings such as panic and anxiety. The feelings can also lead to physical problems, such as leading the sufferer to believe the he or she is suffering a heart attack. Medication is usually used to try to prevent an attack or alleviate symptoms.

Someone experiencing a panic attack will probably first turn to a sedative or anti-anxiety drug such as Xanax or Ativan, which is typically recommended at the start of a treatment program but not for long-term use. Prozac, Celexa and Paxil are antidepressants designed to prevent anxiety and reduce the frequency of panic attacks, as well as their severity. Newer drugs such as Neurontin and Lyrica have also shown promise in experimental trials.

Medications used to treat panic attacks can cause severe side effects and even produce more attacks. It is important for patients to start with low doses of medicine and only increase them if a doctor recommends it. Here are a few side effects associated with some of the medications typically prescribed for panic disorders:

  • Xanax — Even when a patient adheres to his or her recommended dose of Xanax and takes the drug exactly as prescribed, he or she can still suffer serious side effects. Patients have reported drowsiness and headaches after taking Xanax, as well as fatigue, dizziness and trouble concentrating on everyday tasks. Some have also reported substantial changes in their sex drive and an inability to perform sexually. Others have experienced weight fluctuations, trouble urinating and constipation.
  • Prozac — This is another popular drug that many people take for panic disorders. In some instances, people seek emergency medical help due to problems such as swelling of the throat or tongue, trouble breathing, a skin rash or other signs of a dangerous allergic reaction. Patients have also experienced substantial behavioral or mood changes, depression, anxiety, hyperactivity and more.
  • Neurontin — Like Prozac, Neurontin can lead to severe allergic reactions that may require emergency medical help, such as swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing. However, it can also result in painful sores that develop around the mouth or eyes, as well as swollen glands. Some patients have suffered seizures after taking Neurontin, as well as nausea, vomiting, chest pain, irregular heat rhythm and pain in the upper area of the stomach.

Medical marijuana, however, offers an alternative to these medications that does not carry with it the same negative side effects, yet offers many of the same positive benefits. Medical marijuana can help a panic disorder suffer reduce anxiety, eliminate stress and prevent or reduce the nausea associated with the issue.

Panic Disorder and Medical Marijuana Clinical Evidence

Medical marijuana has been widely studied as an anti-anxiety treatment and found to be beneficial to some suffers of anxiety related disorders. Studies have shown though that medical marijuana can actually cause anxiety in some patients; however, others report that the use of medical marijuana significantly reduces stress and anxiety. Individual body chemistry appears to dictate whether or not medical marijuana produces a relaxing, anti-anxiety reaction in a patient or not.

Although medical marijuana does not produce serotonin, the chemical that is produced or increased by some of the traditional anti-anxiety, anti-seizure, or anti-depressant drugs, marijuana does effect a brain substance known as anandamide. When anandamide reacts with the THC found in marijuana, it produces a calming or soothing effect throughout the body which can decrease the anxiety felt by a panic disorder sufferer, thereby reducing the likelihood of an attack.

Along with decreasing anxiety and stress for a panic disorder sufferer, medical marijuana has also been shown to decrease other symptoms of panic disorder such as the nausea that often precipitates or accompanies a panic attack. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the major components of medical marijuana. Clinical studies have shown that CBD contains chemical properties that have been shown to reduce anxiety, alleviate nausea and even prevent or reduce convulsions.

For suffers of panic disorder, medical marijuana offers an alternative to traditional medications that may offer the same benefits without many of the negative side-effects that accompany traditional medications.

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