Cannabis is often pitched as a cure-all for many mental health conditions and as an alternative to “harder” drugs. What many people do not know, however, is that the drug can also exacerbate underlying mental health concerns. Anxiety disorders in particular can be aggravated by marijuana use, rather than improved by the anticipated “calming down” effect.
Marijuana’s Reputation and Representation
Picture the movie scene now: A relaxed, cool guy offers a joint to an anxious-looking teenager, with the assurance that “toking up” will help him chill out and relax. Almost everyone is familiar with the Hollywood tropes about smoking weed to take the edge off a stressful situation.
Pop and consumer culture get saturated with examples of how marijuana is a panacea for life’s problems. The general population has come to associate weed with a carefree escape. As a result, many people have an internalized expectation that smoking marijuana will help them “calm down” and “loosen up.”
Yet for many people trying to calm their nerves, passing around a joint can have a paradoxical effect. They get afraid to stop smoking marijuana because when they do stop, their anxiety worsens. The paradox of the situation is that their marijuana use might be exacerbating their underlying anxiety.
Unfortunately, marijuana and anxiety can go hand-in-hand, and many people can experience anxiety after smoking weed. Read on to learn more about how smoking weed can contribute to anxiety problems.
The Reality of Marijuana Use
Marijuana often gets promoted as a cure-all for anxiety disorders and other mental health issues. It gets cited as a viable alternative to “harder” drugs and harmless when it comes to its impact on one’s health. However, marijuana use is anything but benign.
One must only look to the places where marijuana has been legalized and how it has impacted emergency department visits. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, marijuana’s legalization in Colorado has been linked to a multitude of emergent health conditions, including:
- excessive vomiting syndromes
- acute intoxication
- cardiovascular problems
- and, worsening of underlying psychiatric conditions such as anxiety disorders
The anxiety disorders triggered by marijuana use range from generalized anxiety disorder to panic disorder, paranoia and even acute psychosis.
How Marijuana’s Chemical Effects are Tied to Anxiety
Researchers have shown a positive correlation between anxiety disorders and cannabis use. So, can weed cause anxiety? The simple answer is yes. Marijuana and anxiety are linked together by marijuana’s ingredient known as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This substance is responsible for the mind-altering effects of marijuana that make it a popular recreational drug.
However, according to recent research published in the Journal of Translational Research, THC is also known to be “anxiogenic,” meaning that THC can actually trigger feelings of anxiety, as well as panic, paranoia and psychosis. Researchers have found that the anxiety-causing properties of THC are especially prominent at higher doses.
Therefore, the reality of marijuana-induced anxiety is particularly counterintuitive: If you have underlying anxiety and you turn to marijuana to help relieve your symptoms, you may find that the more you smoke, the more anxious you become.
Anxiety Disorders and Marijuana Use
The relationship between substance abuse and mental health concerns is strong. There is often significant overlap between the two because people who have underlying anxiety conditions may use substances as a form of “self-medication.”
An analysis by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has found that 20.2 million American adults have a substance use disorder, and more than a third also have a concurrent mental health disorder.
Can Some People Improve Their Anxiety by Smoking Marijuana?
While it is true that weed can cause anxiety, it is also true that weed has helped some people cope with their anxiety. The cannabinoid component of marijuana has been shown to have anxiolytic (also known as “anxiety-reducing”) properties. At low doses, THC may therefore have anxiolytic effects in some people.
In other words, because marijuana does not cause anxiety for everyone, some people may have a relationship with marijuana that helps them manage their stress responses. What is important to keep in mind is that each person is different. Not everyone will experience the same side effects, so in this sense, smoking marijuana for the first time can be like a game of Russian roulette.
This is especially true if a person may have an underlying mental health disorder. In fact, self-medicating outside the realms of traditional mental health treatment is not the most helpful way to combat underlying mental health disorders.
What to Do if You Can’t Stop Smoking Marijuana Due to Your Anxiety
There is a difficult Catch-22 in the relationship between anxiety disorders and marijuana use. Anxiety can strip you of your sense of well-being, and many people are motivated to do anything within their power to reduce anxious feelings and a sense of helplessness and lack of control over their lives.
However, smoking weed to help with anxiety might actually be making things worse. At FHE Health, we are committed to helping people stop the substance abuse cycle. The most effective way is by addressing the true roots of marijuana use. If a person is plagued by a lifetime of high anxiety, or if their marijuana use has triggered anxiety, addressing the anxiety head-on can help them reduce their dependency.
There are many resources available to help with anxiety. The most important step is recognizing that you might have an anxiety problem and seeking help from a mental health provider. A mental health professional can review your medical and psychiatric history and help identify a treatment plan that helps you feel comfortable. Many people can manage their anxiety well with lifestyle changes, counseling, prescription medication or a combination of all three.
How to Get Help
If you are struggling to cope with feelings of anxiety, you are not alone. Whether you are considering marijuana to lessen anxiety or actively using marijuana and noticing anxiety issues, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Contact FHE Health today by calling (866) 653-6220. We are available 24/7, and our compassionate team of counselors can help you start the process of achieving relief from anxiety and decreasing your dependence on marijuana today.