Marijuana and its many street names (pot, weed, dope, etc.) is a popular recreational drug. Legal issues aside, cannabis is a drug with a storied history. Some people think it's the gateway to harder recreational drugs and brain damage, while others believe it's one of the most powerful relaxation tools and painkillers available.
But what we're interested in today is whether or not marijuana can cause anxiety, as well as whether or not cannabis can potentially cure anxiety.
How Severe is Your Anxiety?
Drugs have a complex relationship with anxiety, and the more severe your anxiety the different effects marijuana will have on it.
If you haven't yet, take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety severity, compare it to others, and see if marijuana is likely affected it.
Marijuana - A Cause of Anxiety
The relationship between marijuana and anxiety is incredibly complex. One the one hand, cannabis is often used to calm the mind and body. It's a natural painkiller and one that people use often to self-medicate. On the other hand, studies have linked marijuana to problems with anxiety - both causing anxiety on its own and making anxiety worse.
It appears the effects of anxiety change depending on the type of anxiety you suffer from. If you haven't yet, take the anxiety test on this site. You'll get an idea of what type of anxiety may be affecting you and how.
Street Drugs Are All Anxiety Stimulators
Legality issues have made it difficult to test the effects of marijuana on anxiety, and without research, it's difficult to say either way how marijuana effects anxiety. It's also important to differentiate the idea of cannabis from marijuana on the street:
- Street drugs may be laced with things that are almost certain to cause anxiety.
- The act of buying drugs illegally adds considerable stress and anxiety.
- How and when you take the drugs because of the legality can affect anxiety.
If you are buying drugs from street dealers, everything we know about anxiety and marijuana is irrelevant. The fact that the drugs can be laced, grown poorly, bought from shady individuals - all of this makes the risk of marijuana causing anxiety go way up. If you use street bought illegal cannabis, it's best to assume it will cause more anxiety, almost guaranteed.
Marijuana on Different Types of Anxiety
With that in mind, another truth about marijuana use is that the drug can cause different reactions in different people. One person might experience relaxation effect, while others may experience an intense and frightening hallucination.
Dosing affects this, but so does a person's expectations, and this is a key problem with those living with anxiety - often those living with anxiety unintentionally assume a negative reaction (even if they don't expect it). This, in turn, causes a more anxious reaction.
So those that have anxiety that causes negative thinking (like most people with generalized anxiety disorder), this can be a problem, because marijuana's effects will conform to those thoughts, and a negative reaction becomes more likely.
Another serious issue can occur in people with anxiety attacks/panic attacks. Panic attacks are technically an anxiety disorder, but they are also a reaction to physical sensations. A person feels something in their body, and suddenly they get this rush of intense anxiety along with genuine physical symptoms as a result of that stress.
Many of these panic disorder triggers are the same as some of the effects of marijuana:
- Increased heart rate.
- Poor coordination.
- Trouble breathing.
While some of these may be the result of the THC's relaxation properties, someone living with panic attacks is less likely to respond to the experience with relaxation, and many instead respond with a panic attack or rush of anxiety.
Can Marijuana Cause Anxiety From Scratch?
If someone doesn't have any anxiety at all and takes a mild to moderate dose of controlled, non-laced marijuana, it's unlikely that marijuana will cause anxiety from scratch. Usually, it's going to affect those that do have stress and anxiety.
But again, cannabis and THC aren't that simple, and research is slim. Many, many people report severe anxiety as a result of taking just a small amount of marijuana. Drugs affect people differently, and if you experience anxiety after taking marijuana, there's a good chance it was caused by your reaction to THC.
Marijuana Withdrawal Causes Anxiety
It's also important to remember that withdrawal can cause anxiety, and this effect has been shown in several studies. As a result, it's possible that those without anxiety can develop at least temporary anxiety during the withdrawal phase.
Can Cannabis Be Used As an Anxiety Treatment?
Of course, as we mentioned, marijuana is sometimes used to self-medicate for anxiety and stress, and if you ask marijuana users, many do report that they feel much more relaxed when using cannabis.
There are several issues with this, which we'll discuss below:
- You should never depend on anything to medicate anxiety - not even professional anti-anxiety medications. The longer you use a medication, the more you start using it as a crutch. You'll start to lose your ability to cope with stress without it, and eventually, marijuana will be your only coping strategy. If it ever stopped working, you'd have significant issues controlling your anxiety.
- All it takes is one hallucination or one unusual THC reaction to create an anxiety issue, even when one wasn't present. Even if marijuana was a cure for anxiety, there are reactions to marijuana that can make anxiety worse.
- Because of the way that cannabis can exacerbate anxiety, anyone with an anxiety disorder is putting themselves at risk for creating intense anxiety when their previous anxiety was otherwise manageable without it.
Also, as mentioned above, marijuana withdrawal can cause anxiety. So using it as a treatment is likely to cause anxiety in the future, and if you already have problems coping, that withdrawal may become a serious problem.
That said, it does also appear that marijuana has some calming properties, and evidence suggests that those properties can last for a few days. Doctors in states with legalized medical marijuana do appear to be prescribing cannabis for stress with some success, so it's not necessarily something that should be avoided altogether.
What is the Effect of CBD Oil on Anxiety?
CBD oil is a new twist in the hemp world. CBD is the shorthand of an extract from the cannabis plant, known as cannabidiol. What makes CBD oil interesting is that it is believed to provide the medical benefits of marijuana without the high, as CBD oil contains no THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis).
Marijuana has, for years, been known as a pain relief and stress relief tool. As we've discussed, those beliefs are not entirely earned due to the potential for an increase in anxiety as noted above, but in general, marijuana has some stress relief and pain relief properties. In theory, taking out the THC could allow someone to experience the benefits of cannabis without the mind-altering setbacks of the high.
So does CBD oil help with anxiety and stress?
As usual, there isn't enough evidence in research. There is SOME evidence using animal models, and other evidence using survey studies, but there are very few large-scale, controlled, double-blind studies. Those are the only types of studies that can be relied upon, as they eliminate the placebo effect.
It is, then, possible for CBD to reduce anxiety. But it isn't yet something that people should take without extensive research from reputable sources. We do not know with certainty if it works, or if it is safe in the long term. Right now, it is just potential.
Can Marijuana Be a Recommended Treatment?
Unfortunately, it's not possible to recommend marijuana as an anxiety treatment. It's not just legality either. You would need to dose it perfectly, you would need to be monitored by a doctor, and you would have to be immediately working on other coping strategies so that you can wean off marijuana eventually.
Far more research would need to be completed before cannabis could become a recommended treatment, and right now, while it certainly has relaxation properties, the risk of taking too much or suffering from panic attacks or marijuana withdrawal appear to be too great.
Final Impressions on Marijuana as a Cause and Treatment of Anxiety
Overall, based on available research, it does appear that marijuana can cause anxiety, and isn't a great treatment for anxiety. It's not a "terrible" treatment, and it's unlikely to cause anxiety in those without a previous anxiety disorder, but there is more evidence that it causes anxiety than its ability to successfully treat anxiety, so the use of marijuana is not recommended.
Should you decide to continue (or start) using marijuana, remember that you absolutely need to combine it with non-medical, non-medicinal treatments. You cannot cure your anxiety permanently on marijuana alone, and if you suffer from anxiety as a result of your marijuana you need to try to solve it quickly before it creates any serious issues.
I've helped thousands of people in the past that experienced anxiety during marijuana use, and I tell them all to start with the free 7-minute anxiety test. It's the only way to note how severe your anxiety is (both before and after marijuana) and what other symptoms you may be experiencing that are anxiety related. Only then can you look for a potential cure.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jun 24, 2018.