Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/30/2022
As marijuana becomes both medically and recreationally legal in more and more states, you may be curious about the effects it can have on anxiety. You may have heard weed can cause anxiety, or, on the flip side, you may wonder if it can actually work like a prescription medication and help ease symptoms of anxiety.
Just like there are many names for marijuana — including weed, cannabis, and more, there are many potential effects of marijuana. The effects of weed are slightly different on everyone, but it’s important to learn more about the effects of cannabis on anxiety so that you can be prepared if you decide to partake.
Below, read more about anxiety and weed, and brush up on clinical trials that are helping to decipher the effects of cannabis on anxiety.
There’s the occasional worry, like the nerves you feel before a first date, and then there’s full-blown anxiety — you know, the anxiety levels that are so high they mess with your quality of life and really impact how you live. If you have the second type, it may be an anxiety disorder, which is not all that uncommon. In fact, about 40 millionadults in the United States have an anxiety disorder.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder. It’s diagnosed when a person has trouble managing their anxiety more often than not for at least six months.
Another type of anxiety disorder is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). When someone has OCD, they struggle with recurrent thoughts and obsessive behaviors.
Other anxiety disorders include:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can spring up after a traumatic event
Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia), which can cause anxiety in social settings
Panic disorder, which may show up as panic attacks, shortness of breath or an increased heart rate.
Some people self-medicate with marijuana in hopes of reducing their anxiety. Interestingly, according to some research, cannabis for anxiety may help some people with their anxiety, but it can also make anxiety worse.
Marijuana use is fairly common. A 2015 report found that 22.2 million people over the age of 12 years old had used weed in the previous month.
Before diving into the research on medical cannabis and anxiety, you need to know cannabis is made up of several compounds. The first is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is what gives you that “high” feeling.
The other is CBD (or cannabidiol), which may have medicinal qualities but doesn’t get you high.
When used in low doses, marijuana with THC may lower anxiety. But in higher doses, users of cannabis with THC may experience the adverse effects of increased anxiety.
CBD, on the other hand, may decrease anxiety at all dosages. However, many of these studies on cannabis for anxiety are small. For example, one study looked at only 24 people with social anxiety disorder and found that taking CBD for a simulated public speaking scenario helped.
While medical cannabis for mental health may not be guaranteed to help with feelings of anxiety, there are other options. Specifically, medication and therapy have been found to be good treatments for anxiety symptoms.
Here’s a bit more info on these anxiety treatments:
Medication: Anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed by a healthcare professional to help curb anxiety symptoms. Medications for anxiety include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (such as citalopram), beta-blockers and benzodiazepines. Depending upon the medication, it can take a few weeks before you start to feel a reduction in your symptoms.
Therapy: Talk therapy can be used on its own or in conjunction with medication to help with symptoms of anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form that may be useful. In this type of therapy, you partner with a mental health professional to identify behaviors that add to your anxiety and figure out ways to stop them.
If you are dealing with symptoms of anxiety, you will want to make it a priority to get them under control — and you definitely don't want to willingly do anything that could make them worse.
Weed is something that is said to both help and hurt patients with anxiety disorders. So, which is it? Should you use weed to try to help reduce anxiety symptoms?
Studies seem to imply both can be true. There’s some research that THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, can help anxiety in low doses, while CBD in any dose may lower anxiety. However, higher doses of THC seem to make anxiety worse.
Translation: The effects of cannabinoids on anxiety can go either way. Smoking or ingesting weed could aggravate pre-existing anxiety, but for some people it could be a helpful treatment for their anxiety.
If you are interested in medical cannabis, you should schedule a telepsychiatry consultation with a healthcare professional. He or she will be able to give you more information about how to try marijuana as an alternative treatment for anxiety.
They can also help you find other ways to address anxiety that have more scientific evidence to support them than cannabinoid therapies do.