With studies showing that THC can reduce anxiety at lower doses, many cannabis users rely on the plant to help them cope with anxiety and stay calm. Yet, while cannabis is supposed to help you mellow out, higher concentrations of THC can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, which makes finding the correct dose for you to reach those calming effects notoriously tricky. For those struggling to find a relaxing high, new research is entering the game with a possible solution from a startling source. 

Anyone who has ever smoked just a bit too much weed or munched on one too many gummies may be familiar with unwanted effects. Commonly referred to by recreational users as panic “paranoia,” a little too much THC can produce acute feelings of anxiety and panic, with users feeling as if the walls are closing in or everything is terrible and falling apart. Unfortunately, while this is a common complaint from people seeking emergency care for cannabis-induced intoxication, panic paranoia just has to be ridden out. 

Associate news editor of Scientific American Allison Parshall discussed a new study that finds one of the aromatic compounds in weed may actually reduce these anxious side effects, making it easier to find the right relaxing dose without upping your anxiety in the process. 

Aromatic compounds in weed are components that just make the weed smell nice, and there are hundreds of compounds in cannabis. For those who turn to cannabis use for anxiety-reducing assistance, you have probably heard of THC and CBD. Essentially, THC helps create the high while CBD does several things to your nervous system, like potentially calming you down, but these are not the only ingredients in cannabis compounds.

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Terpenes are also present in cannabis compounds and contribute to the weed’s pleasant smell. Researchers are exploring D-limonene for its potential effects on creating calm. This terpene smells citrusy; a scent often used in aromatherapy for its relaxing, mood-uplifting, and cheer-enhancing effects. While Parshall admitted not recognizing citrus scents in the aromatic compound, the results are surprising.

Senior researcher Ryan Vandrey, who approached the study from a skeptical perspective, was particularly surprised by the results. In her conversation with Vandrey, Parshall stated, “He wasn’t necessarily expecting that these compounds called terpenes, of which d-limonene is one, would actually have a measurable impact, just because they’re present in such small quantities in cannabis… Vandrey estimated that maybe you get d-limonene as 1 percent of the compounds in any given strain; it depends on the strain.”

Researchers are not quite sure what is contributing to the d-limonene results, but they do know that it is not acting the same way as the cannabinoids. The citrus terpene appears to be acting on other circuits in the brain governed by neurotransmitters that may include serotonin, dopamine, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

The powerful potential of d-limonene is producing an interesting reaction, at least according to researchers, who argue that this citrusy cannabis compound doesn’t appear to impact the feeling of high at all. Yet, it is essential to note that the study is using cannabis that has concentrations of limonene that far exceed what you would usually get in a strain from a dispensary. However, the results already show individuals reporting reduced anxious reactions without their high feeling any less.