Some people advocate the use of marijuana as an anxiety treatment, while others believe the drug is actually the cause of anxiety. Learn more about their relationship.

There has been a lot of discussion about marijuana and anxiety, both in the medical community and among American citizens. Many people are wondering the same question: Does marijuana help anxiety or cause it?

There are some who believe marijuana is a potential “cure” for the condition, while others believe the drug can actually make anxiety worse. So, which is correct? Though there’s no definitive answer, the following will provide an overview of what current evidence shows.

Article at a Glance:

  • Marijuana can provide short-term relief symptoms from anxiety, but it can also cause short-term anxiety and panic in some people.
  • A person using marijuana is more likely to feel these symptoms of anxiety if they’re uncomfortable or in a stressful environment.
  • For some, marijuana withdrawal and a sense of anxiety go together. If a long-term user of marijuana suddenly stops, anxiety can become a very pronounced symptom.
  • People with anxiety may be more likely to overindulge in marijuana as a way to self-medicate, but this can lead to substance abuse problems.

It’s difficult to say whether marijuana helps anxiety or causes it. The answer depends on quite a few factors.

First and foremost, a person’s mental state and the environment they’re in when using marijuana play a big role in how they react. Marijuana is a drug that can alter feelings, perceptions, and moods.

Marijuana and anxiety can go hand-in-hand in some people, and a person may not get a pleasant or relaxing experience when using it. In fact, their experience could be quite the opposite. Many people feel that cannabis use can bring symptoms of anxiety or can heighten their existing anxiety, particularly if they use it in an unpleasant situation or are trying to conceal their use of the drug.

There’s also research showing that it can be problematic with long-term use. What this means is that while marijuana might be relaxing in the short-term, chronic use can cause symptoms of anxiety or can make them worse. It is also believed to cause other long-term problems, such as cognition issues and memory loss.

What Else to Know About Marijuana and Anxiety

The acute effects of marijuana use generally include a sense of deep relaxation or wellbeing, but this isn’t always the case. The anxiety-related side effects are often misunderstood or underreported, but they’re important to understand.

Some side effects of marijuana use can include anxiety, panic, and an increased risk of psychotic symptoms, particularly in people with a history of these situations.

Panic reactions are also possible. Someone who uses marijuana may start out feeling general anxiety, which can escalate into full-scale panic. With a panic reaction, the person who used the drug will start to feel like they’re dying or going crazy. This is similar to a bad trip with a hallucinogenic drug. In some cases, these panic reactions can be severe and cause harmful behaviors.

Some studies show the brains of some marijuana users are unable to filter out particular stimuli, which can lead to panic and hallucinations. Other studies show that some people who use marijuana are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression because their brains react slowly to dopamine. There is some belief that a lowered reaction to dopamine may be why some people, particularly habitual marijuana users, start showing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Understanding Marijuana Medical Uses

Marijuana is a drug derived from the cannabis plant. While marijuana is illegal in many states, efforts in recent years to legalize it has succeeded, for medicinal and recreational purposes. People believe marijuana has the ability to help treat mental health conditions like anxiety and to help manage the symptoms of diseases like cancer. However, the leading medical organizations in the U.S., including The American Medical Association, oppose its medical use.

There are many different compounds in marijuana, called cannabinoids, that attach to various receptors in the brain of the user. Different types of marijuana and various strains have distinctive levels of these compounds, so they may affect each person differently.

Proponents of using marijuana for anxiety treatment believe that one particular compound, cannabidiol (CBD), can be useful in treating the condition. CBD is thought to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties as well.

However, many people don’t realize that CBD itself doesn’t produce a high. Additionally, it can be taken on its own as an extract without actually smoking or ingesting marijuana. THC, a compound in marijuana that makes people feel high, can actually contribute to the development of anxiety symptoms or worsen them.

If you or a loved one is struggling with marijuana addiction or a co-occurring anxiety disorder, The Recovery Village can help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment programs that can work well for your needs.

Jonathan Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Eric Patterson
Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

American Medical Association. “AMA Applauds Surgeon General’s Advisory on Cannabis.” August 29, 2019. Accessed June 19, 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Marijuana Research Report.” April 2020. Accessed June 19, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.