A Guide to the Relationship Between Marijuana and Anxiety Disorder

It may provide short-term benefits, but there are better long-term solutions

Young women smoking marijuana together
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If you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you've likely tried a variety of things to manage your symptoms and feel better. As more states legalize marijuana, both medicinally and recreationally, more and more people are turning to cannabis in hopes of managing their anxiety. 

Self-Medicating With Marijuana

Anytime you use a substance to cope with some sort of symptom, it is referred to as “self-medicating.” Often, self-medicating produces an immediate relief of the uncomfortable symptoms, thereby reinforcing its use. The logic is simple: “Substance X makes me feel better when I’m anxious, so I will use it again as long as the risks and consequences are not too great.”

Marijuana can create a calming experience that temporarily relieves symptoms of anxiety for some people. However, self-medicating is not an ideal way to manage your anxiety. The central problem with using marijuana as an anxiety coping tool is that it can create a psychological dependence on the substance. Since the effects of the drug are fast acting, more sophisticated coping strategies may seem less helpful at first.

Additionally, long-term marijuana use can cause memory loss. It also can have negative consequences on the brain’s motivation system.

Physical and Psychological Reactions to Marijuana

Marijuana can affect your body in many ways beyond just getting you high. The high feeling you may experience after smoking or ingesting marijuana is due to THC, which gives marijuana its psychoactive effects. THC can also raise your heart rate, which, if you have anxiety, may make you feel even more anxious. In some cases, marijuana can also induce orthostatic hypotension, which can cause symptoms similar to a panic attack such as dizziness, nausea, feeling faint, confusion, and blurred vision. Using too much marijuana can also lead you to feel paranoid.

Frequent marijuana use can also lead to cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), which can cause symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Those with CHS, say their symptoms are often lessened by bathing; however, the only way to treat the syndrome is to refrain from using marijuana. 

Ways to Manage Anxiety Beyond Marijuana 

Picking more proactive coping strategies, which can be learned through counseling as well as self-help books and educational websites, can create lasting change without the negative components of extended marijuana use. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy can also help determine the underlying cause of your anxiety.

Prescription medication is also preferable to marijuana since the long-term risks are much more minimal than marijuana use. Some anti-anxiety medications are taken daily, while others are taken episodically, during periods of extreme anxiety or a panic attack. A psychiatrist or your primary care doctor will be able to prescribe you an anti-anxiety medication, should you need one. Psychologists and social workers, while beneficial for counseling and therapy services, cannot prescribe medication. 

If you have anxiety, working with a therapist or psychiatrist to manage your condition as well as any symptoms you may be experiencing will give you a better handle on your condition in the long run. 

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