The relationship between marijuana and anxiety is complex to say the least. Visit any online cannabis forum and you’ll find countless threads about people experiencing anxiety and panic after smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana.

However, you’ll also find stories of people toting marijuana’s calming effect, even claiming that it helps control their already present anxiety disorders. Long-time smokers have probably experienced both anxiety-suppressing and anxiety-inducing effects.

This individuality variable in reactions makes the study of anxiety and marijuana challenging for researchers, often time’s studies with only favorable reactions being used to support their cause. If one study shows reduced anxiety in its test subjects then it will of course be showcased by supporters, despite proof of increased anxiety in other studies.

Due to this conundrum it is important to view the subject of marijuana-induced anxiety in a neutral mindset.

Studies on Marijuana and Anxiety

Marijuana has actually been studied quite a bit in terms of its effect on the human brain. Despite many people recommending marijuana as a means of coping with anxiety disorders, many studies seem to claim the opposite.

Here are just a few studies in which patients showed anxiety after smoking.

  • Marijuana Sensitivity and Panic Anxiety by University of HI

Patients with anxiety disorders showed increased symptoms after smoking marijuana compared to those without anxiety disorders. They concluded the study with suggesting that patients with anxiety disorders typically did not continue smoking marijuana due to their exacerbated symptoms.

  • Anxiety Sensitivity with Marijuana Use in Tobacco Smokers by University of VT

This study used young adults who were tobacco smokers with 73% of them also being marijuana smokers. Their studies showed that there was a direct link between anxiety symptoms and smoking marijuana.

  • Anxiety Sensitivity Among Middle-Aged Daily Smokers by University of MS

Study results showed that there was a strong interaction between smoking marijuana and anxiety sensitivity among their subjects. Subjects who smoked heavily reported that they have increased anxiety as well as anticipatory anxiety and agoraphobic symptoms.

Another study done by Vanderbilt University had completely different results from their study. Their study actually led them to find a part of the amygdala where cannabinoid receptors were present. This area of the brain is partly responsible for anxiety responses in a person. They predict that marijuana use can have a calming, almost peaceful effect on the brain and will be doing further research into the theory.

It is interesting how vastly different reputable authorities in the medical field can have such varying opinions on the subject of marijuana and anxiety. One other theory that has been tested has to do with the chemical makeup of marijuana. If you visit a clinic or look up information on a specific strain online you’ll typically see two properties, THC and CBD. This two chemicals apparently have two very different effects on the brain.

THC vs CDB Dominant Strains and Anxiety

Two properties present in marijuana are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Each strain of marijuana has a different percentage or level of these two properties. Many people are under the impression that the higher the THC level the more powerful, and therefore the higher quality, the marijuana is.

High THC strains are powerful but actually increase anxiety compared to high CBD strains. In a study done by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College they tested a CBD capsule as well as a THC capsule. The test subjects were all young males who occasionally smoked marijuana. The results of the test were based on both brain imaging and visual-cognition tests.

The subjects who consumed the THC capsule exhibited a psychotic reaction which included paranoia and delusional thinking. However, the subjects who consumed a CBD capsule were remarkably unaffected. The study concluded that their researchers believed CBD could actually be used to treat psychosis.

Other research further points towards THC being responsible for the more mind-altering affects whereas the CBD chemical suppresses it and even calms the body and mind. Brain imaging has shown that THC stimulates the part of the brain responsible for fear responses: the amygdala. When the amygdala is stimulated in this way the brain can react with anxiety and paranoia.

Despite positivity for the CBD chemical, in all tests the CBD product used was synthesized into a capsule, completely independent of THC. This is obviously not possible to do with marijuana. Even high CBD strains can still cause anxiety among users.

Video Proof of the effects of THC vs CDB

Check out this video of a woman under the effects of THC only and THC with CDB

Marijuana Withdrawal-Related Anxiety

Anxiety is a very common withdrawal symptom, especially for those who were long-time, habitual users. It is often a purely psychological response for the addict and can occur for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Feeling like they are “missing out” on something
  • Seeing other people smoking or using marijuana, even in TV shows or movies
  • Predicting they will have anxious reaction – and thus causing one
  • Dependence on marijuana as their only outlet for stress/happiness/sleep/fun/etc.
  • Struggling with other withdrawal symptoms
  • Ruminating on thoughts of smoking or using marijuana

Those experiencing anxiety or panic as symptoms tend to simultaneously experience sleeping issues, mood swings, irritability, jumpiness or sensitivity, and an inability to focus. Anxiety can either be induced by these other symptoms or a cause of.

Anxiety symptoms tend to peak during the first week of withdrawals but can continue if the person has an underlying anxiety disorder prior to their addiction and doesn’t seek treatment.

Continued exposure to anxiety from smoking marijuana is stressful and damaging to both your physical and mental health. Treating underlying anxiety disorders is virtually impossible when smoking marijuana and is only a short-term solution that covers up the real issue.

Though the withdrawal period can be difficult for those with anxiety it is important to remember that after your body has been cleansed from marijuana chemicals you’ll be able to focus on fixing your anxiety. You might even find that the anxiety disorder you suffered from was actually a side-effect from habitual smoking or consumption of marijuana.



    3 replies to "Does Marijuana Cause or Prevent Anxiety?"

    • Smokey Bandit

      I and many around me have been long term users.

      Some withdrawals that should be added as they are very high on the list for all heavy users:

      1. Difficulty sleeping (as a relaxant many take it before sleep, without it they can have great difficulty sleeping for the two to three day low until your body becomes accustomed to not smoking)

      2. Change in appetite. (I personally have opposite reactions than many people towards marijuana. So I eat less while smoking than when I take a break from it. Many get munchies, but it works as an appetite suppressant for me)

      3. Nausea (often people become incredibly irritable to the point where they do not eat/sleep properly, have very argumentative interactions with others that can further exacerbate the issue by inducing upset stomach or headaches, and may lead into depressed and melancholic attitude due to the symptoms and negative affects associated with the withdrawals)

      While yo do mention the last, you begin by stating that they are “often a purely psychological response”.

      As a 28 year user with about four years off spread out between those years, I counter that they are “often a purely physical response”, and this physical response manifests in both psychological and physical ways. (The physical component being the lack of THC in the system, without it the accustomed body has difficulty properly regulating the chemicals in your brain since one building block is now missing, and so it takes about 2-3 days for the brain to properly reset and resume normal function without the THC)

      Telling people that it’s all in their head in this case is true, but not in the way that you imply.

      • John Mckee

        Great points – Thank you for sharing. I’ve experience all of these. Don’t forget nightmares. The reason stating it was a purely psychological response was because it can be the stress and psychological changes in quitting that manifest in physical symptoms. It’s different than alcohol or benzos that can cause seizures and even death during withdrawal

      • John Mckee

        I agree with that. The science is changing quickly. 2-3 days isnt enough time for a reset for chronic smokers. It takes some people much longer to regain a pre-weed brain chemistry.

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