Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Having some level of anxiety in daily life is normal. What’s not normal is having persistent anxiety that interferes with daily life. Marijuana—also called weed, herb, pot, grass, bud, ganja, Mary Jane, and a vast number of other slang terms—is a drug that is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried flowers of the plant Cannabis sativa. While it’s illegal in many states, it has been legalized, both for medicinal and recreational use, in many other states of the US. Marijuana can alter your feelings, perceptions and your mood. As of now, there is some anecdotal and scientific reporting of marijuana relieving the symptoms of anxiety by having a calming effect. However, its long-term benefits in this regard are not proven.
Benefits of Marijuana in Anxiety
The “high” you experience with marijuana is due to the presence in it of the chemical compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs. THC acts on specific brain cell receptors called cannabinoid receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function. Marijuana over activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the “high” that people feel.
The other chemical produced by the cannabis plant is cannabidiol (CBD). CBD does not produce the “high”. A mix of THC and CBD may be the best approach to using cannabis to feel less anxious and more relaxed. A 1:1 or a 2:1 ratio of THC to CBD will typically be very helpful at stimulating euphoria and decreasing anxiety.
People often self-medicate themselves with marijuana in an attempt to rid themselves of the symptoms of anxiety. This leads to immediate relief, thus reinforcing its use. But, a word of caution is in order here. Remember that not enough is known about its efficacy in the treatment of various mental disorders and about the consequences of its long-term use. Of course, studies are showing that it does have some definite short-term benefits, such as decreased self-reported levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
One reason why marijuana has a calming effect is that it affects the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA levels are what are targeted by commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs benzodiazepines. Marijuana can also lower cortisol, the stress hormone, upon regular use.
Side Effects of Marijuana
Marijuana affects different people differently, depending on their age, body fat, and genetics. And different strains of marijuana can affect the same person differently. Different types of marijuana and various strains have distinctive levels of compounds called cannabinoids which attach themselves to different receptors in the brain, and so they may affect each person differently. At times, the effects of the drug can be rather unpredictable, so much so that you begin to wonder if it is the same drug because while it can leave you feeling totally zen, at other times it can also result in triggering a full-blown anxiety attack.
However, along with the “high”, you also run the risk of the following side effects, especially on its frequent or long-term use:
- Paradoxical increase of symptoms: It can cause some of the symptoms experienced in anxiety, such as fast heart rate, lightheadedness or feeling faint on standing up due to a fall in blood pressure (postural hypotension), dizziness, nausea, confusion, and blurred vision.
- Increased risk of mental illness: Depression and psychosis can occur with prolonged use of marijuana.
- Tolerance: You will need to take an increasing dose to get the same effects as earlier.
- Psychological dependence: Psychological dependenceis a state that involves emotional–motivational withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of drug use. The symptoms of psychological dependence are:
- Depressed mood
- Irritability and restlessness
- Appetite loss or increased appetite
- Issues with sleep
- Denial that one has a substance use issue or romanticizing one’s substance use/abuse
- Obsessing over obtaining or using the drug
- Issues with concentration, memory, problem-solving, and other aspects of judgment, etc.
- Memory loss: The hippocampus of the brain is responsible for memory formation. THC present in marijuana can cause memory loss upon prolonged use, by altering the hippocampus.
- Intense Nausea and Vomiting:Regular, long-term marijuana use can lead to some people to developing Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. This causes users to experience regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, sometimes requiring emergency medical attention.
- Impaired brain development: Marijuana also affects brain development. When people start using it as teenagers, it can impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.
Alternatives to Marijuana for Treating Anxiety
The usual alternatives in the form of medications and/or psychotherapy are always there.
Medications: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are safe and effective medications for treating anxiety.
Psychotherapy: Counseling, support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective in controlling the symptoms of anxiety by giving you insights into the underlying cause of anxiety and thus placing you in a better position to manage anxiety more effectively.
Cannabidiol oil: CBD oil is a marijuana extract not containing THC, so it does not possess the side effects of regular marijuana. The mode of taking this oil is to deposit it under the tongue with a dropper.