Does Marijuana Help Anxiety or Cause It?

Marijuana anxiety can occur with high levels of THC in particular, which is why self-medicating using cannabis isn’t necessarily the right option for many people.

Thinking it has an overall relaxing effect, some people may self-medicate with marijuana for anxiety or other mental health disorders. The truth is, marijuana may not help their anxiety at all, and it can even worsen it. Even without pre-existing anxiety, marijuana can trigger it.

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Does Marijuana Cause Anxiety?

Because of the effects on the brain, people who use high doses of marijuana can experience anxiety and paranoia. Marijuana comes from the cannabis plant, which contains THC, a mind-altering, psychoactive chemical. In the short term, if someone smokes marijuana, the THC can quickly move from the lungs, into the bloodstream and into the brain. The THC acts on endocannabinoid receptors in the brain’s amygdala. Your amygdala regulates fear-related emotions, such as stress, anxiety and paranoia. If your brain receives a big dose of cannabinoids, it can overstimulate the amygdala, leading to fear or anxiety. 

Some research shows females are more sensitive to these anxiety effects than males when using marijuana. For example, in one study, even when controlling for body weight and cannabinoid concentrations, females had significantly higher rates of anxiety, racing heart and restlessness than men.

Anxiety From Edibles

Edibles take longer to create effects than smoking marijuana. It can take up to an hour or more when someone uses edibles to feel high. This can lead people to think the edibles “aren’t working.” They may take more, flooding the brain’s amygdala with cannabinoids and raising the risk of experiencing anxiety. 

Can Weed Cause Anxiety When Sober?

Even when sober, there are situations where you might continue to experience ongoing anxiety from weed. This appears to be most common when someone is a long-term user of marijuana. When someone uses marijuana regularly, they are more likely to gain a physical dependence, where their body becomes used to the substance and experiences withdrawal symptoms if you stop. The ongoing anxiety, even when sober, may be a symptom of marijuana withdrawal. 

Will Anxiety From Weed Go Away?

Regular cannabis use can desensitize the human brain to the cannabinoid one receptor, CB1, which can lead to dependence and marijuana withdrawal. The desensitization of these receptors starts to reverse for most people within two days after they last used marijuana. For most people, the receptors return to their normal level of functioning within four weeks of stopping marijuana use, which may help with anxiety symptoms.

Can You Die From a Weed Panic Attack?

If someone is experiencing anxiety from a marijuana-induced panic attack, it’s not likely to be life-threatening. The anxiety response will pass, but it can feel scary at the moment, just like panic attacks triggered by anything else.

Can Marijuana Help With Anxiety?

In animal studies, the effects of THC are dose-dependent. At lower doses, marijuana may help some people with anxiety, while at higher doses, it can cause anxiety or make it worse. Along with a potential dose-dependent effect, there appear to be individual differences in how people respond to marijuana. There is no clinical way to know if a marijuana dose will help or worsen your anxiety. Connected with its several side effects, there are better alternatives to treat anxiety.  

Medical Marijuana for Anxiety

Recent research on medical marijuana’s potential use for depression and anxiety studied 269 adults from Boston with an average age of 37. The adults wanted to obtain a medical marijuana card for anxiety and depression. 

The participants were divided into two groups. One group was allowed to get cards immediately and begin using medical marijuana. The other group had to wait for 12 weeks. The waitlist group continued their typical treatments, such as counseling and medication.

The patients who got a card right away for medical marijuana were twice as likely to develop a cannabis use disorder. The people who got the cards immediately didn’t report any major changes in their anxiety or depressive symptoms, although they did report less insomnia and greater well-being. 

That research showed that there’s the potential that medical marijuana may be risky or contraindicated in people with affective disorders. This becomes problematic because these are the third most common reason people seek medical marijuana cards. Researchers concluded there needs to be better decision-making when deciding whether to prescribe marijuana to patients with mood and anxiety disorders.

While more than half of states have medical marijuana programs, many don’t allow mental health conditions to qualify for a prescription. States that specifically name anxiety as a qualifying condition include:

CBD vs. THC for Anxiety

Some research and clinical data suggest that THC is more likely to have an anxiety-producing effect when people use marijuana. Cannabidiol, or CBD, on the other hand, is most associated with the anti-anxiety effects of cannabis products. Based on currently available data, products that contain primarily CBD could be a better treatment option for people with anxiety or disorders related to stress.

Alternatives To Smoking Weed for Anxiety

For someone who’s using marijuana as a way to help symptoms of anxiety, it’s important not to self-medicate. Self-medicating can make symptoms of anxiety worse and induce panic attacks. People with pre-existing anxiety disorders are also more likely to develop cannabis use disorders. Talking to a mental health treatment provider is better than self-medicating with any substance.

Medications

There are several medications that can help with anxiety disorders. These include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These medicines increase serotonin levels in the brain. They can be taken long-term but take several weeks to take effect. 
  • Selective and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): If an SSRI doesn’t help someone’s anxiety, their doctor might try an SNRI. These medications will increase both serotonin and noradrenaline levels in the brain.
  • Benzodiazepines: This drug class is meant as a short-term treatment for anxiety or insomnia. These can ease symptoms quickly but aren’t meant for long-term use because they have a potential for addiction.  

Therapy

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, can help with anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of therapy that’s effective for anxiety disorders. When participating in CBT, patients work with their therapist to identify and manage the contributing factors to their anxiety. Patients can then learn to change their thoughts and reduce their anxiety symptoms.

Lifestyle Changes for Anxiety

Some of the lifestyle factors a person can change that may benefit anxiety symptoms include:

  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Self-care
  •  Building a strong social support network

Get Help for Marijuana Abuse & Addiction in New Jersey

You might feel helpless if you’re in a cycle of ongoing marijuana use. Our treatment team at The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper is here to help. Contact us today and learn more about our marijuana addiction treatment and dual diagnosis treatment programs for anxiety.

Get Help

If you or someone you love is facing an alcohol use disorder, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. We offer medical detox and comprehensive rehab programs that are tailored to suit your needs.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.