Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on September 8, 2022

All of us experience some kind of mental health problems from time to time, so many of us like to take the edge off with a joint and just unwind. However, even though marijuana is all about relaxing, sometimes it can bring on a wave of anxiety that can make you feel worse. Some cannabis users have had some pretty bad experiences with anxiety brought on by marijuana that have made them cautious.

On the other hand, medical marijuana is another treatment option for depression and anxiety, and in legal states, they’re on the list of qualifying conditions for a medical marijuana card. So, does marijuana cause anxiety or not? Let’s find out.

Anxiety Disorders Are the Most Common Mental Health Conditions Today

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that have one core anxiety symptom in common and that is having an uncontrollable fear of hypothetic situations. Each person can experience anxiety in their life from time to time, but with anxiety disorders, this fear starts to interfere with a person’s day-to-day life to the point where they might start avoiding certain situations. 

Anxiety can cause a variety of physical and mental symptoms, ranging from an increased heart rate, muscle tension, and fatigue, to sleep problems, intrusive thoughts, and irritability.

There are several types of anxiety disorders with their unique symptoms and triggers, and they are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) 
  • Panic Disorder (PD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Anxiety disorders are the most frequent mental health conditions today in the U.S., but they’re highly treatable with the right approach.

The treatment of anxiety can be different for every patient according to their needs, but it usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and antidepressants, if needed, depending on the severity. 

The Side Effects of Marijuana – Can Marijuana Use Cause Anxiety?

When we talk about the effects of cannabis, we most commonly refer to the euphoric and relaxing effects, as well as its medical benefits, but cannabis can also produce some side effects. Apart from dry mouth, red eyes, rapid heart rate, and motor impairment, anxiety is also a very common side effect of marijuana. Some people may experience a full-blown panic attack when they consume cannabis and some may even get paranoid. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these adverse effects are more likely to happen with high doses or if the cannabis user has a low tolerance. Rarely, high doses of cannabis can even trigger acute psychosis, but NIDA suggests that this is related to a specific gene mutation in certain people with a history of schizophrenia.

The side effects of marijuana are short-term and subside as soon as its effects start to wear off, but in terms of anxiety, it all seems to be connected with the way the cannabinoids affect the brain.

It Seems That Cannabinoids THC and CBD Have Different Effects on Anxiety

Many people claim that cannabis helps them with depression and anxiety, and then there are people who say cannabis has the opposite effect, so why is that?

Well, it seems that the active ingredients in the cannabis plant can have different effects on anxiety. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are not the same. THC is the cannabinoid that gets you high, while CBD is non-intoxicating and therapeutic, mostly used as medical marijuana.

Both of them interact with the receptors in the human body, but their effects are vastly different. According to a 2017 report published by the University of Washington, THC decreases anxiety at lower doses, while at high doses it increases anxiety. On the other hand, CBD decreases anxiety at any dose, low or high.

But, it’s not that simple. Cannabis works in a unique way in that what’s a low dose for one person may be high for another one, and vice versa. Each person has their own unique way of responding to marijuana, and each person has their own initial level of tolerance.

THC, in particular, can be problematic because the receptors it attaches to are found in key parts of the brain, including the amygdala – the part of the brain that regulates the “fight-or-flight” response. In some people, the amygdala gets overstimulated which can result in heightened anxiety and a scary weed experience.

CBD, on the other hand, has a different pathway in the body that doesn’t directly interfere with key parts in the brain but stimulates the receptors indirectly.

Some Marijuana Users Are More Prone to Experiencing Anxiety Than Others

If you notice that you’re frequently experiencing anxiety when smoking weed, but your friend doesn’t, even though you’re sharing the same joint and taking the same amount of tokes, you might be wondering why that is. It doesn’t matter whether you consume marijuana for medical use or recreational use, it will still affect you the same.

Some marijuana users are simply more prone to experiencing this side effect, and this depends on several factors:

  • The dose you’re taking. As we said, what is a normal dose for your friend, may be too much for you.
  • The potency of the strain. More potent strains contain higher levels of THC which can be overwhelming.
  • Having a genetic predisposition. Some people are genetically predisposed to the anxiety-inducing effects of cannabis.
  • Having an existing anxiety disorder. If you already have some kind of an anxiety disorder, THC may exacerbate your symptoms, so you should avoid high doses.
  • The mood you’re in. Your momentary mood can definitely affect how marijuana will affect you, so if you’re going through a stressful time, weed may bring up bottled up emotions.
  • The setting and people you’re with. If you’re smoking weed with someone you’re not fully comfortable with, it might cause you to tense up, as opposed to smoking with loved ones when you’re free to relax fully.

Does Cannabis Use Put You At an Increased Risk of Developing an Anxiety Disorder?

It seems unlikely that marijuana use alone would cause you to develop an anxiety disorder. While it can cause some very intense fear and even panic attacks, these adverse effects only last until your body starts to clear the weed from your bloodstream. Anxiety disorders are complex conditions and usually have an underlying cause that doesn’t involve weed use.

Still, someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder may notice their symptoms worsening when they use weed, especially if it’s a potent strain or if they take high doses. To reduce the risk, you can opt for using high-CBD strains and taking smaller doses to let your body adjust. If you need some ideas, we have a guide for the best cannabis strains for anxiety.

The Takeaway – Yes and No

It’s important to address the anxiety-inducing effect of marijuana because many cannabis users may be turned away if they experience anxiety frequently. While it can’t be denied that anxiety is a side effect of marijuana, we also know that it’s probably most often caused by THC. Taking THC in high doses, whether by smoking a lot at once or by smoking a potent strain, can produce this effect in some users. 

There are also other parameters, such as momentary mood, genetic predisposition, and environment. On the flip side, CBD seems to decrease anxiety in large and small doses, so it seems to be safer for people who are prone to anxiety.

Finally, the use of marijuana may exacerbate the symptoms in some people who already suffer from an anxiety disorder. If you have anxiety and want to use marijuana recreationally or medically, you should consult with a health professional.

Additional Sources

NIDA. 2021, April 13. Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders?. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/there-link-between-marijuana-use-psychiatric-disorders on 2022, January 18

Sharpe, L., Sinclair, J., Kramer, A., de Manincor, M., & Sarris, J. (2020). Cannabis, a cause for anxiety? A critical appraisal of the anxiogenic and anxiolytic properties. Journal of translational medicine, 18(1), 374. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-020-02518-2

Walsh, Z., Gonzalez, R., Crosby, K., S Thiessen, M., Carroll, C., & Bonn-Miller, M. O. (2017). Medical cannabis and mental health: A guided systematic review. Clinical psychology review, 51, 15–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2016.10.002 

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