Hunched over the table, I shove a burrito into my mouth as I feverishly rattle on about Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. “He’d rather vote in favor of corporations than human beings,” I tell my friend in between bites. “These positions last a lifetime and it’s like nobody even cares.” When I stop to take a breath, I realize the look on my friend’s face isn’t one of interest but of concern.
“I think you need to relax,” she says.
While someone telling me to relax is truly grating (not to mention completely counterintuitive to my high-strung personality), it did make me pause for a second.
“What do you mean?” I ask, hot sauce dribbling down my chin.
“You seem really anxious,” she says. “And you’re on vacation.”
She was right. I was visiting her in San Francisco from New York City for a few days and it was my first vacation since I’d gone full-time freelance more than a year before. At the time, Trump had recently become president and I was covering politics, for a few different websites, from the moment I woke up at 7am until sometimes as late as 3am. I should at least attempt to enjoy myself on this trip, I thought, despite the world burning around me. After all, it would still be burning once I downed this margarita.
That’s when my friend recommended her CBD (cannabidiol) vape, as a gentle way of saying, “please shut the fuck up and have a good time.” She passed it to me across the table, a sleek rose gold e-cigarette, like if Apple made futuristic tampons, and I took a small hit. The floral scent filled my nostrils as I exhaled slowly. It was instantly relaxing. As someone who’s tried prescription medication for anxiety in the past, it surprised me how fast-acting it was.
“The advantages of vaping CBD when it comes to anxiety is it gives immediate relief,” says Dr. Rachna Patel, a CBD oil and medical cannabis expert. “People with anxiety typically want immediate relief when they’re experiencing a panic attack or are about to experience a panic attack, so that’s when vaping is most beneficial.”
As soon as I got back to New York, I ordered a Beboe calming blend vape pen, aka the “Hermes of cannabis,” which consists of 500mg of CBD oil or about 120 doses. (Everyone’s dosage is different.) The day after it came in the mail, as I was working, I noticed I was once again contorted like a gargoyle on the edge of my desk, my face two inches from my laptop screen, going blind. So I hit the pen.
Again, it relaxed me. More than anything, it gave me a moment to sit up straight, inhale and exhale slowly, to take a literal breather, something I’ve never been good at. It wasn’t a cure-all, but it was helping me to take a beat and ground myself in reality instead of allowing my brain to spiral. It was also nice to find something that treats my anxiety in the moment without having to deal with any of the intense side-effects (in my experience) of other medicines.
How does it work?
“Basically CBD works through the serotonin pathway,” says Dr. Patel, “and a lot of the commonly prescribed medications for anxiety, for example SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), they work on the serotonin pathway as well, but the main difference is side-effects.”
For instance, some anti-anxiety medication can sometimes lead to a lower sex drive or emotional apathy, which hasn’t yet been shown to happen with CBD. There’s also not a risk of growing dependent on CBD, as with other prescription drugs. However, for most people with extreme anxiety, CBD works best in tandem with other medications, according to Patel.
She says that patients with depression would need higher levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) to elevate their mood, as opposed to using just a CBD vape.
My anxiety is still something I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and the panic attacks still happen (fortunately, they’re fewer and further between). But it’s a relief to know that I have basically the equivalent of a CBD bath bomb for my brain in my pocket whenever I need it. Now when I’m stressed, instead of dealing with it in less healthy ways—like screaming at my girlfriend or eating baked ziti with my hands while crying—I can take a hit of the vape pen and remind myself to breathe. And then maybe eat baked ziti with my hands and cry anyway.