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Medical Marijuana and Agoraphobia

What Is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is literally translated as "fear of the marketplace." In reality, it means a fear of a great many things, largely social settings, which render sufferers of severe agoraphobia unable to leave their living environments. They feel unsafe in situations that involve crowds or that take them away from their safety zones.  A person with agoraphobia suffers anxiety attacks and agoraphobia stems from that anxiety. Essentially, a person with agoraphobia begins to suffer from fear of having anxiety attacks. As more situations begin to cause anxiety, he or she will avoid more and more places and situations until he or she can no longer do these things without suffering fear of panic, which then brings on panic. It ranges in severity from avoidance of certain social situations and panic if those situations arise to a complete inability to function socially.

Medical Marijuana and Agoraphobia

The most prominent symptoms of agoraphobia are avoidance and anxiety/panic. What the person experiences mentally is a fear of being alone due to a fear of "losing control" in a social setting. This dependence on other people for moral support stems from a hope that the person can save them from these situations should panic arise. They also suffer fear of places that they may not be able to leave on short notice, such as planes, buses and trains. These feelings can result in panic. Panic attack symptoms include sweating, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting, hysteria, pain, tingling and nausea/vomiting.

There is some evidence that medical marijuana can help anxiety disorders and phobias, of which agoraphobia is both. Unfortunately, the treatment has not been given much research due to the illegality of the marijuana plant in many places. Nonetheless, there is some promise that it works as a treatment for agoraphobia. There is also some evidence that medical marijuana can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. Therefore, treatment should only be undertaken with the supervision of a medical professional.

Agoraphobia Coping Mechanisms and Medical Marijuana

One of the primary coping mechanisms of agoraphobia is avoidance. In order to avoid feelings of panic, the sufferer avoids a situation where panic may arise or where panic is deemed unacceptable by the sufferer. In order to escape the negative consequences of such behavior, an agoraphobia sufferer may internalize his or her thoughts or feelings, again, leading to an exacerbation of symptoms. These coping mechanisms may work to relieve symptoms of anxiety or cut them off before they begin in the moment, but they actually reinforce the overall disorder.

Coping mechanisms that have shown promise are medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. Medications help by altering the way the patient's mind reacts to anxiety-producing stimuli. They can have both negative and positive effects on sufferers. It is known that marijuana can affect mood as well. In fact, the human body produces similar substances to the active substances in marijuana called "endocannabinoids." The receptors for these molecules are found in various parts of the body.

Like anxiety medications, medical marijuana can have both negative and positive effects. Some people may feel a decrease in anxiety-related symptoms. Others will feel an increase. Nonetheless, marijuana has the upper hand in that it cannot result in a deadly overdose, whereas many narcotic anxiety medications can result in deadly overdoses.

Mood Control, Medical Marijuana and Agoraphobia

There is a lot to be said for thought patterns and control when it comes to agoraphobia. Negative, catastrophic thought patterns contribute to sensations of anxiety. Perceived lack of control over those symptoms can also contribute to panic and anxiety. In cases where medical marijuana has a positive influence over a sufferer's symptoms, the medicine can be experienced as control over the symptoms by the sufferer. Knowing that it can help and is available can, in and of itself, relieve the symptoms in the same way that being in an area thought of as safe to the sufferer relieves fear and panic.

 Very little is known about how marijuana can help some people with anxiety disorders and not others. However, it is quite clear that marijuana alters the mood of the person partaking in it. There is some evidence that the strain of marijuana smoked or ingested plays a role in the effect. The dosage will partially dictate the effect as well. Positive effects include relaxation, elation and reversal of thinking from negative to positive. Possible negative effects include paranoia, heightened anxiety and fear. The effects typically pass when the medical marijuana leaves the system.

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