‘It calms me’: People turn to cannabis to quell coronavirus anxieties

(Chronicle Staff)

This article originally appeared on www.sfchronicle.com

Phoebe McPherson was already using THC and CBD cannabis products as part of her anxiety management before San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order took effect March 17. But the 25-year-old Marina resident says that once coronavirus measures hit San Francisco, her anxiety increased, and so did her cannabis use.

“I now use cannabis every day,” says McPherson, the head of social and influence strategy at a San Francisco marketing agency. “I’ve been as anxious as everybody.”

As we develop new strategies for coping with the realities of staying in our homes while a virus ravages through our society, people are finding various ways to manage their growing anxieties. In the Bay Area, some are doing what McPherson has done, turning to cannabis products as coping tools.

Johnny Delaplane, president of the San Francisco Cannabis Retailers Alliance, says since the shelter-in-place order and more awareness of the dangers of the coronavirus have presented, sales specifically on THC edibles and other non-inhaled products have been up at the Berner’s on Haight and Project Cannabis dispensaries where he is a partner. He specifically names CBD-THC combination gummies as recent top sellers at Project Cannabis.

“People are definitely using cannabis to keep their head right during this crisis,” says Delaplane. “There’s people saying, ‘I need value products; I’m going through a lot of product because I’m stressed.’ We’re all looking for stuff to keep us sane at this time. Cannabis is one of those things.”

Delaplane notes that customers at both dispensaries are changing their buying behaviors. For example, for the first time he remembers, cannabis patches have become a top-five seller during shelter in place. “Customers in general are looking to non-inhalable sources of cannabis, as COVID is a respiratory virus,” he says, alluding to the medical warnings that people who smoke or vape could be at higher risk for coronavirus complications.

Using cannabis to treat anxiety is not a new mechanism for many. Even before the legalization of recreational cannabis in California in 2016, anxiety was one of the conditions that could qualify a person for a medical marijuana card. But because cannabis is not federally legal, the FDA does not have information about the overall effectiveness of cannabis products in treating anxiety or other disorders and has approved only one CBD product, a prescription drug that treats two rare forms of epilepsy.

Yet, within California, that hasn’t stopped both cannabis businesses and cannabis users from advocating cannabis as an aid in dealing with anxiety and stress.

Nate Haas, the CEO of Moe Greens dispensary on Market Street, and a co-owner in the Barbary Coast dispensaries group, also reports an increase in sales of edibles, tinctures and capsules since the coronavirus hit, as well as cannabis beverages.

“I used edibles sparingly before COVID, but it’s been several times a week these three weeks,” says Zach Clark, a print maker and artist in Oakland who previously had a prescription for Xanax for panic attacks. He found the next-day “hangover” from the drug to be too heavy. Clark turned to THC and CBD edibles at the recommendation of a friend and says it’s been useful for managing stress during the shelter order. He uses gummy THC and CBD edible products primarily at the end of the day, unless he needs an additional CBD dose midday.

“There’s no hangover remotely with cannabis; it calms me,” Clark says. “It gets me over the rush of anxiety and back to being a normal person.”

But though both Delaplane and Haas report increased business in the edible categories at their dispensaries, they say business overall is down after a major surge in buying when the shutdown was announced. Moe Greens is among the dispensaries that have started offering delivery service in response to the shelter order. Project Cannabis and Berner’s on Haight are in the process of starting delivery service in the coming weeks.

Sophia West also suffered from anxiety before the shelter order and resisted pharmaceuticals because of the potential side effects. Although she occasionally smoked cannabis before shelter in place, she now uses THC edibles at the end of some days when her husband is home and their children are in bed.

“It’s instead of having a drink at the end of the day when I need it,” West says. “Plus smoking right now, with corona being a respiratory issue, is a concern.”

“That’s probably why the sales of patches, teas and honeys products are higher,” Delaplane says. He also notes that some people may not be able to smoke during shelter in place because of restrictions in housing or out of consideration to people with whom they are sheltering.

Sabrina Pacheco of Pinole primarily smoked cannabis before sheltering and says that to deal with her increase in anxiety in recent weeks, she has been using a cannabis drop product.

“Even though you miss smoking, you have to think about your lungs,” Pacheco says. “The variety of what you can get at dispensaries makes it easy now. There’s a lot more available than just just smoking and brownies.”

And cannabis dispensaries are still open. After reversing an earlier decision, they were considered an essential service in San Francisco, which Haas says has been a relief to both recreational customers and medical patients.

“People use cannabis for anxiety anyway,” Haas says. “Just the fact that you can get these products and get them delivered is a huge thing for people’s peace of mind right now.”

Clark says that in recent weeks, he has had friends dealing with their own shelter anxiety ask him questions about his experiences using THC and CBD edibles. McPherson also has talked more with friends in recent weeks about cannabis as part of her anxiety maintenance plan. Even online, she says that dispensaries are making it easier for people to navigate cannabis if they haven’t tried it before.

“We’re going to be in this (shelter in place) longer than expected,” McPherson says. “Having this option in your tool box is great for a lot of people.”

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tbravo@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @TonyBravoSF


Tony Bravo San Francisco Chronicle