Aromatherapy or Vaporizers for Anxiety and Stress

When it comes to managing anxiety and stress, many people prefer to turn to natural, holistic remedies and substances as an alternative to medical prescriptions. Aromatherapy, which involves the use of certain essential plant oils through the sense of smell or skin absorption, is one popular method used in the practice. For example, Lavender, Chamomile and Bergamot Orange, are some common oils used to treat these symptoms through aromatherapy.

In recent years, however, vaporizing for anxiety and stress has become a common practice, which some naturalists prefer to aromatherapy. Why is that? Well, it’s not just a matter of vaporizing marijuana. As discussed in our related article, “What Types of Herbals Do People Put in Vaporizers?”, there is no shortage of healing, relaxing herbs that can be ingested (and you guess it, vaporized), to help people cope with not only anxiety and stress, but with sleep disorders and various other aspects of a person’s physical and emotional health. Not to mention that the smooth, gentle experience of vaporizing is itself very soothing. Of course, in today’s modern world, marijuana is one herbal that is widely used to treat symptoms such as anxiety and stress and is perhaps the most common herb people vaporize in general.

So, as both aromatherapy and vaporizing for anxiety and stress are becoming more popular for their calming effects, we thought it would be useful to dig a little deeper. We examined some of the differences between the two practices, and the emerging information around their health and wellness benefits. How do they compare? Can they be used in tandem with one another? And ultimately, is one more effective than the other for treating anxiety and stress?

Here is what we found out.

Aromatherapy for anxiety and stress

First off, let’s clear up any confusion by explaining that technically speaking, the essential oils used in aromatherapy are vaporized too, just not traditionally in the same way that herbal vaporizers are used. Essential oil vaporizers (or diffusers) are generally not intended for inhalation, but rather to release an oil’s aromas into a room as a fragrance, which – depending on the type of essential oil being diffused – can improve the room’s air quality as well.

Beyond diffusers, a helpful article on from Healthline clarifies that other versions of aromatherapy treatment involve aromatic spritzers, bathing salts, body oils, creams, or lotions for massage, facial steamers, hot and cold compresses, and clay masks. It also suggests that in addition to reducing stress and anxiety, aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years to manage pain, improve sleep quality, treat headaches and migraines, improve digestion, and boost immunity, among other things.

That said, while inhalable aromatherapy has been experimented with in recent years and there are alternative vapor products which exist for this purpose, there remains a great deal of concern around this practice in the medical community, largely due to a lack of research. The above article from Healthline also cautions that,

“Even essential oils that are generally considered safe for inhalation have the potential to change and become toxic when heated for vaping”

So, presuming that aromatherapy does not typically involve the direct inhalation of these soothing herbs and oils, let’s talk about why people have used it for centuries and how exactly it helps relieve anxiety and stress.

Mayo Clinic published information about the benefits of aromatherapy, explaining that it is “thought to work by stimulating smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages through the nervous system to the limbic system – the part of the brain that controls emotions.” That is the real, chemical explanation as to why aromatherapy is recommended to ease stress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and various other conditions.

While this makes sense and is the experience of many who enjoy aromatherapy, Mayo Clinic also warns that it may not be the right treatment for everyone – particularly those who are prone to allergic reactions, skin irritation and sun sensitivity. These concentrated substances are characteristically very potent and must be used as directed. For example, as suggested in an article on the popular Well and Good blog, professional aromatherapists suggest that you should very rarely apply pure essential oils directly to your skin, and that you shouldn’t leave your diffuser on for more than 30 minutes, one to three times a day at the maximum. Otherwise, “inhaling essential oils can lead to headaches … an uptick in blood pressure and heart rate.”

It’s also important to caution that only pure essential oils are made strictly from flower, herb, and tree parts. Since purely extracted essential oils are quite expensive, a lot of brands will blend a plant’s essence with other chemicals or fragrances. They’re produced through a process that doesn’t change the chemistry of the plant, but the additional components may be less than beneficial to the human body, especially when applied topically.

So, while aromatherapy is a useful treatment for anxiety and stress, it may not, in every case, be the most ideal holistic treatment for reducing anxiety and stress – at least not for everyone, that is.

Vaporizing for anxiety and stress

Due to the lengthy list of herbs that can be vaporized, and the extensive conversation around their diverse effects on an individual’s health and wellness, there is a lot of ground to be covered here. But since it’s the most common herb vaporized, let’s start by some information around the relationship specifically between marijuana and the reduction of anxiety and stress.

To cover our bases, let’s refresh our understanding of the two active ingredients that marijuana contains: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive compound which creates the “high” marijuana provides, while CBD is the non-psychoactive compound that is used more commonly for its therapeutic benefits. Strains of marijuana also vary in terms of whether they are Sativa or Indica dominant; Sativa providing a more stimulating high than Indica, which has a more subdued, relaxing effect. There are also countless strains of marijuana available, and each one is comprised of different concentrations of these two ingredients which cause them to be more dominant in one strand or the other. When Sativa and Indica are more evenly combined within a strain, they are referred to as “hybrid” blends. All of this is to say that if you’re experimenting with marijuana use as a treatment for anxiety and stress, you won’t run out of options to try any time soon. Different combinations of these components work better for some than others in terms of reducing anxiety and stress, depending on the nature and level of your symptoms. For more information, check out this breakdown around the components of cannabis in this report from Healthline.

Now, you may be familiar with the controversy surrounding the prevalence of anxiety disorders in marijuana users. It’s the age-old paradoxical problem: is it the chicken or the egg? Are those with anxiety disorders simply embracing the medicinal effects of marijuana, or are avid marijuana users developing higher levels of anxiety as a result? A report found in the Wiley Online Library proposes that “Many hypotheses have been proposed in an attempt to explain these relationships, including neurobiological, environmental and social influences.” This is a necessary reminder that circumstances vary, there are any number of variables which impact a marijuana users’ relationship with anxiety, and there simply is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Now that we’ve addressed that, let’s point to the ongoing conversation around the use of marijuana to reduce anxiety and stress. Most of us know that this herbal’s naturally subduing effects, more often than not, relax the mind and nervous system, releasing dopamine which places the mind in a state of euphoria. This is arguably one of the greatest benefits of using this marijuana.

An article published by CBC News explores this process more in depth, and is helpful for understanding what cannabis does to your brain and how it can chemically reduce stress levels. One of the most eye-opening things it points out is the fact that THC takes the place of chemicals like anandamide in our brain, which usually keeps dopamine regulated into small amounts. This allows the dopamine neuron the freedom to produce larger amounts of dopamine, which is why cannabis is so effective for reducing anxiety and stress. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand the argument for using marijuana to minimize the effects of these conditions.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders revealed data that supports that claim. Researchers found that at least in the short-term, “Medical cannabis users perceived a 50% reduction in depression and a 58% reduction in anxiety and stress following cannabis use.” Also relevant here is a 2015 review included in another helpful Healthline article  that explored the use of cannabis – specifically CBD – as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. This research provides support that both CBD and THC are helpful to many who suffer from anxiety, but merely that the concentrations of THC and CBD will vary between patients. This is just some of the extensive research conducted around this topic, but it helps to explain why countries like Canada who have legalized marijuana, offer medicinal prescriptions to patients with anxiety conditions.

Finally, let’s recall again that there are plenty of other herbals you can vaporize to help with anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, and the like. Here is a list of some natural herbals which provide similar effects (except the psychoactive ones)

  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Sweet Flag
  • Valerian
  • Passion Flower
  • Papaver Somniferum
  • Kanna
  • Mulungu Catnip
  • Wild Lettuce
  • Hops

You can find more information about these herbals and how to vaporize them in our related article referenced above.

The key differences between how aromatherapy and vaporizing reduce anxiety and stress

So, when it really comes down to it, what are the big differences between these two holistic treatments for anxiety and stress? We’ve broken down two of the major ones for you.

  • Immediacy & Directness of Effects – This factor is really a matter of ingesting the aid rather than using it topically or aromatically. When you vaporize marijuana, the THC and CBD compounds actually enter your bloodstream where they directly interact with internal receptors and activate chemical and physical responses which are characteristically therapeutic. This process happens rather happens quickly, providing a more immediate relief. Aromatherapy, however, is for the most part a lot more subtle. The pleasurable aromas will certainly help to shift your mood and behavior, but it doesn’t exactly have the same sense of instant gratification that comes with vaporizing marijuana.
  • Price & Accessibility – As we briefly touched on earlier, cost is definitely a factor when it comes to these two treatments. In order to obtain high quality, 100% pure essential oils, you’re going to have to shell out some money. Doterra, for example – a leading provider of essential oils in North America – is a trusted carrier, but their prices may simply not be realistic for you, especially when you’re using them on a recurring basis. And, let’s be honest, spending money you don’t necessarily have can significantly increase anxiety and stress, which is not what you’re after. In these cases, investing in a marijuana vaporizer (a one-time purchase) is rather cost effective when you think about the fact that the substance you’re filling it with can be purchased at more or less than $10 CAD per gram. Then there is the accessibility factor to think about. Since medicinal marijuana shops have begun opening up all over the country, it’s never difficult to stock up on. Other herbals you might vaporize to reduce anxiety and stress are also fairly easy to get your hands on, at grocery stores and ingredient-focused shops like Canada’s Bulk Barn. Comparatively, most pure essential oils have to be ordered online and otherwise, you have to be very careful that they are as pure as they are advertised to be, since knockoffs and blended oils are quite common.

It should also be said that you can definitely use both strategies in tandem with one another, since your enjoyment of the calming aromas would only be emphasized by the dopamine-charged high you experience when you vaporize marijuana.

There is even something called Marijuana Aromatherapy and it is understandably popular. An article from the Way of Leaf blog explains this trend by saying “When you take a deep whiff of your favorite marijuana strain, what you’re actually doing is inhaling airborne terpenes that galvanize a slight behavioral response in the central nervous system.” Since each strain of marijuana contains slightly different aromatic terpene and can promote different behavioural or emotional responses in the brain. The same article provides more information on these terpene variants, and also outlines a few ways to use cannabis oil or marijuana in your aromatherapy, such as steaming it, massaging it in, spraying it, or (of course) diffusing it. This technique may be a great way to dip your toe into the use of marijuana to cope with anxiety and stress.

At the end of the day though, choosing the right holistic treatment to help reduce your anxiety or improve a sleep disorder is more so a question of what is better for you personally – it depends on your individual comfort level and personal preferences. We hope this article has given you some useful information to start with, and that you’re excited to start experimenting for yourself!

If you have further questions about how vaporizing marijuana and other herbals can be beneficial for you, contact a member of our team at Furna. We’re always here to help you maximize your vaporizing experience and find the information you’re looking for.