A common myth around marijuana is that smoking it relieves feelings of anxiety. In some cases, this is true. But it isn’t the whole story. The relationship between marijuana and anxiety is much more complex.
In recent years, a number of states in the U.S. have made marijuana legal for medical purposes, recreational use, or both. It remains illegal in many states. If you choose to smoke marijuana, please be sure to follow the laws in your state.
How marijuana helps reduce anxiety
Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee found that the endocannabinoid system in the brain, which regulates anxiety and the fight-or-flight response, doesn’t work properly in some people. Smoking marijuana helps to supplement the levels of these chemicals in the brain, working to restore balance and help reduce anxiety.
A study published in _Trends in Pharmacological Sciences _in 2013 found that when self- reporting on marijuana use, the second most common reason for use cited was for relief from stress, tension, and anxiety. The researchers also found that THC, the main chemical component in marijuana responsible for the high of the drug, reduced anxiety in those with anxiety disorders. THC may artificially supply what the brain is not able to and interact with other neurotransmitters in the brain, lowering anxiety levels and bringing about a happy, relaxed feeling.
These studies showed that, in the short-term, marijuana can help reduce anxiety. But in the long-term, it might actually harm you. According to the researchers at Vanderbilt, chronic use of the drug reduced the efficiency of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, causing an increase in anxiety and requiring more of the drug to get the same desired effect.
Some people experience paranoia and increased anxiety
In about one-half of the people who were given THC reported increased feelings of anxiety, paranoia, worry, negative thoughts, lowered mood and changes in perception. Researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK injected participants with THC (injections were used to make sure all participants received the same level of THC) or a placebo. One-half of the participants who received THC reported negative feelings. The researchers believe that their study definitively shows that THC can cause paranoia and increased anxiety in some people.
The studies don’t explain why some people feel more relaxed when using marijuana and some people feel more anxious and paranoid. The researchers at the University of Oxford believe that paranoia, agitation and anxiety are more likely to occur based on how a person feels before using marijuana. Professor Daniel Freeman, the lead author of the study indicates that when someone is worried, before using marijuana, they have a skewed view of the world and the drug enhances those feelings, causing the person to more anxious.
Whether or not marijuana can be safely used to treat anxiety still isn’t clear. For some people, it appears to reduce anxiety; for others, it increases anxiety. Long-term and heavy use also tends to increase anxiety. With such mixed results from the Vanderbilt study, doctors might not feel comfortable prescribing it to a patient with anxiety. More research is needed in order to better understand why marijuana’s effect can vary so widely from one person to the next.
For more information on marijuana to treat health conditions:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.