Anxiety is a type of panic disorder that causes intense and persistent feelings of worry, stress, panic, and tension. It’s normal to occasionally feel anxious or uncomfortable and overwhelmed about people, places, things, and situations. You are not alone! It’s estimated that over 40 million of the adult population in the country suffer from anxiety¹ to some degree.
Sometimes these feelings help prevent harm, but persistent feelings of anxiety can be dangerous and compromise your health and cognitive functions.
Many people regularly use cannabis to treat anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental disorders. Anxiety is also a common and well-known side effect of certain medications, including marijuana. Many people and professionals use side effects like anxiety to devalue the therapeutic effects of medicinal cannabis. Yes, cannabis can cause anxiety and panic attacks, but those effects, in most cases, are manageable.
You can reduce or eliminate anxiety symptoms when you take your medicine as your doctor recommends. Let’s talk about the facts surrounding cannabis and anxiety attacks.
Cannabis has hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenes² in addition to other properties. Instead of working like a single medicine, marijuana acts like a medicine cabinet full of remedies. That’s why it can relieve so many conditions!
But, just like the medications in your medicine cabinet, every component in cannabis has benefits and side effects. THC, the most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana, is known to cause anxiety in some people, especially when consumed in large amounts.
Imagine taking your pills for the day and having too much of a medication that can make you anxious. Sometimes, a patient takes medicine with too much THC in it, and it causes a feeling of panic. In this scenario, they need to try another kind of marijuana medication.
Marijuana cannabinoids activate the same receptors in the brain responsible for stress reduction. Their presence reduces the availability of 2-AG. Currently, there are over 60 known neurotransmitters³ or chemical messengers responsible for cellular communication.
While it’s not entirely known why some people experience an increase in anxiety after using cannabis and others don’t, a recent study by Vanderbilt University Medical researchers believe the answer may be linked to 2-AG availability. 2-AG “activates the same receptors as marijuana⁴ is protective against stress by reducing anxiety-causing connections between two brain regions.”
Cannabis cannabinoids reportedly hold the key to helping researchers create medications that better regulate anxiety and other mood disorder symptoms like depression.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive cannabinoid, is responsible for the psychoactive effects many experiences when using cannabis. However, this phenomenon can also cause THC to affect your amygdala, the portion of the brain that regulates emotions, including anxiety, depression, fear, worry, and stress.
Studies show that many rely on cannabis to treat their anxiety symptoms, including those who’ve tried antidepressants in the past. Zoloft and Paxil are among the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety and depression. Yet, these and many other pharmaceutical antidepressants have unpleasant side effects like decreased sex drive, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and irritability.
These side effects and many others can be incredibly unpleasant to experience and troublesome to manage. Also, many psychiatric medications typically prescribed for anxiety take weeks to work or don’t provide any measurable symptom improvements for everyone.
Cannabis can cause anxiety, but that response is primarily strain-dependent. Numerous studies indicate anxiety-causing effects of THC, especially in users with diagnosed anxiety or depression disorders. There is also mounting evidence highlighting the anxiolytic properties of CBD, another popular cannabinoid derived from the marijuana plant.
Several studies suggest that CBD can be highly beneficial for those with certain anxiety types, like social anxiety. Even more, prove that CBD and combinational THC and CBD mixtures are highly effective for alleviating anxiety in chronic pain patients. Combining THC and CBD produces treatments that not only reportedly eliminate inflammation but distort the perception of pain, so it’s less noticeable and more tolerable. This puts patients in better moods by alleviating their fears, worries, and other anxiety symptoms.
Several clinical studies show a strong connection between cannabis use and the onset of anxiety, dissociation, depression, panic, and other acute psychiatric mood disorders.
Despite its classification as an illegal substance, cannabis remains one of the most commonly used substances in the country and worldwide. Currently, over 248 million people have access to marijuana⁵ across 39 states where it’s legalized for medicinal purposes. It’s estimated that over 148 million people actively use marijuana recreationally and medically to make themselves feel better. As legalization continues, that number is expected to skyrocket tremendously.
Because cannabis is a substance that increases user tolerance. Patients eventually have to use high doses to achieve the same effects for symptom relief. Users with high tolerances are more likely to experience acute psychiatric symptoms than those who stick with lower doses or temporarily cease use or take tolerance breaks.
Due to the emergence of several high-profile studies on the adverse effects of marijuana and how it contributes to the development of a fairly recent new anxiety condition known as cannabis-induced anxiety.
According to the DSM-5-TR, cannabis use disorder⁶ doesn’t just include symptoms associated with high tolerance or abuse and misuse. Anxiety disorder can be triggered by cannabis use. Remember, marijuana has many properties, including angiogenesis.
Formally classified as cannabis-induced use disorder, the condition causes “significant distress or functional impairment in various settings, including social and occupational. These symptoms often go away once usage stops, but for those with cannabis-induced anxiety, symptoms often persist long after cannabis treatment cessation.
Symptoms are generally acute and can start with first-time use, routine use, and withdrawal. The symptoms of a cannabis-induced anxiety disorder vary from person to person but typically include:
In most cases, cannabis-induced anxiety poses no physical threat to the person experiencing it. However, those with a history of heart or lung problems should consider getting medical attention to rule out health concerns that can lead to complications. Anxiety triggered by marijuana use could indicate another problem.
Brain chemistry is unique to the individual. Some people are prone to anxiety and stress and have a stronger connection between the amygdala and frontal cortex. When exposed to stressful or anxiolytic events or medications like cannabis, this connection becomes stronger, thus intensifying anxiety symptoms.
When the amygdala is overstimulated, it increases feelings of paranoia, anxiety, and fear. This effect on the brain is not usually harmful, but the sensations and thoughts it causes can feel unpleasant.
The following risk factors can increase the likelihood of patients experiencing anxiety or panic symptoms.
Underlying Triggers: Anxiety can be triggered by various things and events, including genetics, and other health and mental conditions. When people suffering from anxiety episodes due to underlying triggers use cannabis, the THC can exacerbate those feelings. For example, you might have an existing anxiety disorder or feel nervous about taking your medicine in a new setting.
Some people develop cravings for cannabis that are hard for them to ignore. These urges make it harder for them to achieve their desired effects without increasing their dosing and potency frequency.
Routine marijuana use is linked with lower-than-ideal levels of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that influences the function of the reward system in the brain. Cannabis addiction is real and also linked to anxiety and cannabis use disorder.
Cannabis anxiety can be a side effect of cannabis use for some, especially for those who overindulge due to inexperience, lack of knowledge or high tolerance, or use THC-rich flower or products. The effects of cannabis-related anxiety lessen within several hours as the substance is metabolized from the body.
As the anxiogenic effects wear off, the sedating and relaxing properties become more pronounced. As a result, users start to feel sleepy and calmer. Many fall asleep and wake up refreshed, and feel much better.
Marijuana users can resort to various measures to reduce their anxiety risk and improve their user experience. Here are some suggestions to help.
Relax and Distract Your Mind: Take your mind off your anxiety while your body processes the THC. Distract yourself by taking a walk, talking to a friend, or doing something you enjoy.
Breathe: Focus on breathing in and out slowly, especially if the panic attack causes you to breathe too quickly. You will find your mind clearing up in no time.
Lower the Dose: In some cases, a smaller amount of THC will provide relief with little to no psychoactive side effects. Only take a little THC at a time and listen to your doctor’s recommendations. You can always take another small dose if you don’t feel enough of an effect.
Change Strains: Some varieties of the marijuana plant cause a more potent high than others. Ask your budtender about strains and products that have fewer psychoactive effects.
Take CBD: Cannabidiol (CBD), the other main cannabinoid in marijuana, counteracts THC’s effects. Look for medicine that balances THC out with CBD. As a bonus, you get to benefit from CBD’s symptom relief and the positive effects of THC.
Use Alternative Consumption/Administration Methods: Smoking is not the only way to use marijuana. Many users are unable to smoke or unwilling to expose themselves to the dangers of smoke inhalation. Cannabis is also available as oils, liquid, solid concentrates, and powder to make into consumable goods and health and beauty products. Each product type varies greatly in effects, onset and duration times, and potencies.
Users at risk of marijuana anxiety disorder should consider the following consumption methods: methods for cannabis include the following:
Allowed marijuana-based products vary. Review the cannabis laws in your state to learn which products are legally available for use.
Professionals in the medical marijuana industry understand how THC interacts with your body. If you are sensitive to THC or want advice, we recommend getting their help. Even in states with legal recreational marijuana, cannabis-positive doctors can help you plan your treatment.
Also, medical dispensaries have knowledgeable budtenders who are excellent at helping patients find suitable cannabis strains and products. In addition to getting marijuana treatment evaluations and recommendations from qualified marijuana medical providers, don’t forget to take advantage of the resources on the Marijuana Doctors website to optimize your treatment plan.
As for the future, more research is necessary to develop, test, and determine the safety and efficacy of marijuana and cannabinoid therapies for anxiety, depression, stress, and other common mood and physical disorders. Though evidence is limited now, the future looks very promising for anxiolytic interventions.