People often use marijuana to experience feelings of relaxation and well-being. But, for many, marijuana use can also incite short-term feelings of anxiety or paranoia. While more potent strains and heavy use are more likely to instigate these adverse states, for some, even occasional use can lead to an unpleasant experience.
In fact, a review of a dozen studies in 2018 revealed an association between a greater amount of cannabis use and “poorer symptomatic outcomes” in subjects with “wide-ranging anxiety” and mood disorders.
Marijuana and Anxiety Disorders
Marijuana use can no doubt cause brief episodes of uneasiness or paranoia. However, a few studies have also linked marijuana use to full-fledged anxiety disorders and other chronic conditions. Some experts believe that persons who abuse marijuana early in life may be at an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder later on.
While no solid evidence exists that proves marijuana use alone provokes anxiety disorders, research has shown that individuals with these conditions may be more susceptible to developing dependence.
For example, a 2014 study examined the findings of 31 previous studies on the potential link between various anxiety disorders and marijuana use. Investigators found that those affected by anxiety disorders were more likely to use cannabis or have a cannabis use disorder than their less anxious counterparts.
Some individuals self-medicate with marijuana to temporarily alleviate symptoms of untreated mental health conditions. Self-medicating can prompt immediate relief from unpleasant symptoms, and this reward then reinforces its use.
Although medical and recreational use of marijuana is becoming more widely accepted, researchers still do not know much regarding its effectiveness for specific conditions or potential long-term outcomes. It is believed, however, that chronic use can lead to emotional dependence and other adverse consequences.
Marijuana can also impact the brain and body in many ways beyond just producing a high. The high feelings and psychoactive effects that an individual may experience after ingesting marijuana are related to the chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). These effects do not come without some risks, however, and long-term, frequent use has been associated with the following issues:
The most significant problem with using marijuana as a method of coping with anxiety is that it can result in dependence and addiction. While marijuana’s ability to cause a chemical dependence has been under debate, there is no question that its use can become habit-forming. It’s not uncommon for an individual to become emotionally reliant on it.
This reliance tends to encourage further use and even compulsive drug-seeking behavior. The result is continued drug abuse, even in the face of adverse consequences. Although many individuals consider marijuana to be a relatively harmless substance, the truth is that marijuana abuse can prove detrimental to one’s life.
Long-Term Memory Loss
Studies have found that chronic marijuana use can impair memory. This issue occurs because THC alters the hippocampus, a brain region involved in the formation of memories. It can also adversely interfere with the brain’s reward and motivation system.
Worsening of Symptoms
THC can increase heart rate, and if an individual experiences anxiety, it may make them feel even more anxious. Full-blown panic attacks are not uncommon among persons who are susceptible to them. Using an excessive amount of marijuana can induce feelings of fear or extreme paranoia as well.
In some instances, marijuana use can also lead to orthostatic hypotension, which is an abrupt drop in blood pressure when standing. This condition can result in a person feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or fainting. Cannabis use can also lead to confusion, nausea, and blurry vision—all of which can exacerbate anxiety.
A rare complication of heavy marijuana use is known as cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). This disorder is hallmarked by persistent nausea and vomiting. This event is a bit incongruous with what we know about marijuana’s effects, as the drug has sometimes been used to treat these very symptoms.
Worsened Psycho-Emotional Conditions
Individuals who use marijuana for an extended period may experience more depressive symptoms. This side effect can occur despite any improvements a person may have made related to short-term use. Some studies have also suggested that excessive marijuana use during the teenage years can precipitate anxiety or depression later in life.
Certain individuals are also at a heightened risk of developing psychosis related to cannabis use. High doses of marijuana can produce temporary psychotic episodes characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and feelings of detachment from oneself and reality.
People may also incur other marijuana-related mental health issues, including a worsening of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia symptoms.
Anxiety in Marijuana Withdrawal
Anxiety is also a common symptom during withdrawal among persons who used marijuana excessively or for an extended period. This fact supports some experts’ contention that marijuana may, indeed, to some degree, be physically addictive.
Withdrawal symptoms usually begin within one to three days after the last use and can persist for several days. In addition to anxiety, withdrawal symptoms can include irritability, nervousness, restlessness, decreased appetite, and insomnia.
Finding Better Methods to Manage Anxiety
Experiencing some amount of anxiety is entirely natural and can even help an individual sense a threat to their well-being. In part, these feelings exist to remind us that people, places, or things are potentially dangerous to us or those we love. However, when anxiety becomes persistent and challenging to manage, it is probably time to seek professional treatment.
Therapy – Coping techniques learned through behavioral therapy, counseling, and peer group support can promote lasting change. This change can occur without the adverse effects of long-term marijuana use. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help individuals identify the underlying factors that cause their anxiety and learn how to manage it effectively. Working with a therapist to help regulate stress provides an avenue to solve the problem over time.
Medication – Certain medications are considered safe and effective for the treatment of anxiety. For example, some individuals may find that antidepressant medications, such as SSRIs, may prove more effective than marijuana. Long-term risks associated with SSRIs and similar prescription medications have been subject to more research and may be less significant than chronic marijuana use.
Treatment for Marijuana Abuse
Marijuana abuse can become problematic, and many individuals find it challenging to discontinue it. Those who are using marijuana to relieve anxiety may also be experiencing an undiagnosed mental health disorder. Integrated treatment can address both marijuana abuse or dependence and anxiety simultaneously.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer individualized programs that treat substance use disorders concurrently with mental health conditions. We aim to provide those we treat with the tools and support they need to recover from addiction for life.
We believe that each individual deserves to be given the most effective treatment available. No mistake is so terrible that a healthier, more satisfying life is impossible. Our approach to sobriety includes various methodologies intended to address all elements of a person’s health and well-being, including the following:
- Peer group support
- Individual/family counseling
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Relapse prevention
- Art and music therapies
- Aftercare planning