For many people, there is a clear connection between marijuana and anxiety. Whether that connection involves an increase or decrease in anxiety depends on a multitude of factors that vary between people. You know yourself and your body best, so if you’ve experienced that marijuana increases or decreases your anxiety, you’re right.
Understanding CBD Vs. THC
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are among over 100 other known cannabinoids that come from the Cannabis sativa plant.1 CBD is non-psychoactive and sourced from hemp, while THC is psychoactive and sourced from marijuana.2
Both have been manufactured into various products including creams, edibles, flowers, pills, and vape concentrate, and provide medical benefits if used prescriptively. The method of consumption along with the amount consumed influences a person’s mental state, but there is no practical known means of overdosing on CBD or THC.
CBD Vs. THC for Anxiety
Studies show that both CBD and THC can help lower symptoms of anxiety, but the complete answer is more nuanced. CBD can reduce anxiety at all tested levels. THC is different, though: At lower levels, THC helps relieve anxiety, but as doses increase, anxiety is more likely. Anyone considering THC should be cautious with the dosage they consume.10
Does Marijuana Help With Anxiety?
Marijuana activates dopamine production, which triggers the brain’s reward system. For many, marijuana offers a relaxed, peaceful state. General tension from typical daily stressors and the symptoms of anxiety may be eased with low-dosage, controlled marijuana consumption. That said, because everyone’s body chemistry is different, one person’s response to marijuana will differ from another’s.3 If the intended use is for any particular medical benefit, it is highly recommended that you speak with a professional first. Marijuana should not be used in lieu of more medically-validated treatments.
Research has indicated that medical marijuana may reduce symptoms of a range of psychiatric disorders, including the treatment of anxiety.3, 4 Some examples include social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and troubled sleep.4 In combination with psychiatric medication, marijuana may also assist with conditions such as schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That said, it should be noted that research of cannabinoids for medicinal use is still relatively new.4
Marijuana is also potentially safer and less addictive than other prescribed medications such as opioids and benzodiazepines. Given that many prescriptive medications come with an abundance of potentially serious side effects, marijuana may prove to be a better alternative. Further, it may serve as a supplement to other medications.
Can Marijuana Cause Anxiety?
Marijuana can cause anxiety as well, often when taken in higher doses.3 At higher doses, your brain chemistry becomes overexcited, which may lead to a variety of anxiety-provoking symptoms, including a racing heart, trouble focusing, paranoia, tingly body sensations, and more. Especially if someone has not consumed marijuana before and does not know what to expect, the sensation can be overwhelming. The same can occur for those who consumed at one point but abstained for an extended period of time.
More often than not, marijuana is not a solution to a problem. Although marijuana may provide temporary relief from daily stressors, if used to avoid the problem, anxiety will only increase the longer the real issues are being avoided. Even with mental health conditions, marijuana may ease some symptoms—but it will not effectively treat or cure the condition.
How It Can Hurt
Responsible consumption of marijuana significantly reduces the most harmful of negative considerations; however, that does not necessarily mean that you’re making the best or healthiest decision. Again, individual results vary.3
Negatives of using marijuana to soothe anxiety include:
Although many consider marijuana worth the risk of side effects as compared to alternative options, it’s still important to note that there are side effects. Like any other potential substance of abuse, marijuana is addictive and does—at the very least—lead toward physical dependence. Despite the improbability of a marijuana overdose, there are short-term and long-term health risks.
Short-term health risks of marijuana include:5
- Altered senses, such as seeing brighter colors
- Altered sense of time, such as minutes seeming like hours
- Changes in mood
- Problems with body movement
- Trouble with thinking, problem-solving, and memory
- Increased appetite
- Otherwise avoidable accidents may more easily occur while under the influence
- Long-term health risks of marijuana include:5
Problems with brain development: people who started using marijuana as teenagers may have trouble with thinking, memory, and learning
- Coughing and breathing problems if you smoke marijuana frequently
- Problems with child development during and after pregnancy if a pregnant person uses marijuana
Increased Dependence & Escalating Need
As with any other drug, including prescribed substances, frequent consumption of marijuana does lead to physical dependence. Dependence is indicated by physical tolerance and withdrawal. Addiction need not be present for this to occur; it is a natural occurrence even if one consumes responsibly or as prescribed. Neurophysiological changes occur and have the potential to lead to further problems. When you progress into cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social problems consequent to use, that’s a sign of marijuana addiction and you may experience marijuana withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it.
Marijuana prices vary from state to state, but other options may prove more affordable while treating the condition or issue more directly. As marijuana consumption increases and costs go up, regularly purchasing marijuana can add up over time.
If marijuana is illegal in your state, you may face legal consequences if apprehended by the authorities. It is also important to note that marijuana is still outlawed on a federal level. Being knowledgeable of pertinent laws can save you from harsh penalties ranging from fines to time in prison. If it’s legal in your state, there are still restrictions such as not driving intoxicated, purchasing from anywhere that is not state approved, or consuming in non-designated public spaces.
Potential Increase in Symptoms
Not everyone will respond to marijuana in the same way, and increased anxiety is a risk for people considering use. Marijuana can cause anxiety during and after intoxication, and higher doses of THC are linked to higher levels of anxiety. There is risk involved.
Long-Term Memory Loss
The impacts of marijuana in the brain are varied, with memory loss being a major concern. It seems that regular marajuana use harms the functioning of the hippocampus, which is responsible for long-term memory formation.11
Other Factors to Consider When Using Marijuana for Anxiety
Other potential factors to consider in the discussion about marijuana and anxiety are whether or not you’ve spoken with a professional, whether you can afford it, and whether you are on any other medications that may have negative interactions.
Ask yourself these questions when considering using marijuana for anxiety:
- Have I spoken with a professional?
- Is it legal where I live? If so, what are the laws concerning it?
- Do I need a prescription?
- Can I afford marijuana without missing other financial responsibilities?
- Is it truly the best treatment option for my anxiety?
- Do I have any other medical, mental health, or substance use disorders that may be further complicated by marijuana consumption?
- Am I currently taking any other medications that may be contraindicated by marijuana?
- Does my family, or do I personally, have a history with addiction?
- Do I believe that I can continue to use it responsibly over time?
- How will this impact my family and other loved ones?
- How will this impact other important responsibilities?
Though by no means exhaustive, these questions are a useful starting place. Should any concerns arise, then it may help to reconsider whether cannabis use is the best decision.
Marijuana may be consumed in a variety of forms from flower to edibles to pills to transdermal patches to vape concentrates. Each form has a different time of onset as well as euphoric period. Further, the way someone experiences the high may differ. Some may experience more of a head high while others create more of a body wave sensation.
Potency of the marijuana is another significant factor. Contemporary marijuana is significantly more potent than it was in the 60s and 70s, and today’s concentrated vapes may have upward of 85-90%. Given these differences, the effects of marijuana may vary from relatively minimal to significant impairment.
Right now, marijuana is not legal in every state (though most allow for a medical prescription).7 Having a prescription may provide additional benefits such as demonstrating true medicinal need with a formal diagnosis, managed care benefits, reduced or no taxes, or even entering the dispensary ahead of recreational purchasers. Being aware of federal laws can also inform the best decision.8
Tips for Safe Cannabis Use
The safest way to use any form of cannabis is under the supervision and guidance of a medical expert. Only they can recommend the proper forms, doses, and frequency, and they can help determine if marijuana is a good choice for you.
Other tips for safe cannabis use include:
- Talk about it with your medical and mental health providers
- Only use marijuana from safe sources
- Be aware of the risks and dangers of use
- Never use alone
- Have a plan for potential side effects
- Start low and go slow
Alternatives to Marijuana for Treating Anxiety
There are numerous treatment options for anxiety that are well studied, safe, and shown to be effective at reducing anxiety and treating anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy, prescribed medication, and lifestyle changes are among those treatment options that serve as common alternatives to cannabis.
Anxiety therapy has been proven to reduce anxiety symptoms. In therapy, you may explore the source of anxiety, modify maladaptive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and integrate healthy coping skills. Recovery from any mental health struggle can be challenging, and it makes all the difference to have a professional in your corner. Even if marijuana is helpful, therapy can ensure a comprehensive treatment. Common types of therapy for anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Depending on the frequency and severity of anxiety, anti-anxiety medication may be warranted. In such cases, it is recommended to speak with a psychiatrist who is not only an expert with medications but will also conduct a thorough assessment of your symptoms. Even if you’re considering over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, supplements, or vitamins, it is recommended to speak with a professional first.
Fortunately, the sky’s the limit regarding non-medical alternatives for treating anxiety. Ideally, coping skills are healthy, enjoyable activities. Because individual preferences vary, what works for one person may not for another.
Potential non-medical alternatives to reduce anxiety might include:
- Meditating or praying
- Engaging in physical exercise (e.g., taking a walk, going to the gym, sitting in a yoga pose)
- Reading or listening to a book
- Watching a comforting TV show or movie
- Listening to music or playing an instrument
- Going to a favorite place
- Tapping into your creative side by doing something artistic (e.g., painting, drawing, sculpting, writing)
- Connecting with a family member, friend, or other loved one
- Learning something new
Whatever it is, if it works, practice it intentionally and consistently. It is easy to forget our coping skills when in the heat of the moment. Ironically, this is when we need them most.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana for Anxiety
Hundreds of millions of people struggle with anxiety.9 Reaching out to a mental health professional is a great first step toward mitigating symptoms. Many people report using marijuana to cope with anxiety, especially social anxiety disorder.3 However, there are different responses to marijuana affected by many factors. Before reaching an informed decision about marijuana and anxiety, consider all factors mentioned in this article and beyond.