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, as the answer can vary depending on the person. Some individuals report symptoms of “weed anxiety,” while others find the effects of marijuana calming. This means that despite marijuana’s reputation for causing relaxation, a person may not get a pleasant or relaxing experience when using it. Anxiety after using weed is most common in people who:

  • Take too much weed
  • Use weed that has an unexpectedly high potency
  • Are inexperienced with weed

Research also shows that marijuana can be problematic with long-term use. This means that while marijuana might be relaxing in the short-term, chronic use can cause symptoms of anxiety or make them worse. It is also believed to cause other long-term problems, such as cognition issues and memory loss.

In addition, 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.

Does Weed Cause Anxiety?

The acute effects of marijuana use generally include a sense of deep relaxation or well-being, 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 that 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.

Can You Die From a Weed Panic Attack?

Although it is common to feel like you are going to die during a panic attack, panic attacks themselves are not deadly. That said, weed intoxication can cause many mental health side effects, including psychosis, delusions and hallucinations in some people. In addition to panic, a person suffering from these side effects may put themselves in a situation where they are a danger to themselves or others, such as jumping out of a window to get away from a perceived threat, which in turn could be deadly.

Edibles and Anxiety

It can sometimes be hard to know how much weed you are getting when you take it as an edible. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the psychoactive ingredient in weed, and edibles are dosed according to how much THC they contain. Some people recommend starting with a dose of two to three mg of THC in an edible and then waiting for an hour or two to gauge the effect, as too much THC can cause anxiety in some people. However, that presumes you know how much THC your edible contains. If you live in a state where marijuana is legalized, it might be easier and safer to obtain an accurately dosed edible from a registered marijuana dispensary.

Can Smoking Weed Cause Anxiety When Sober?

If you smoke weed on a regular basis and suddenly stop, you can become anxious as you go through marijuana withdrawal. Anxiety is a common withdrawal effect from weed, and people who use weed heavily are most at risk for withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms often begin anywhere from one to three days after the last time you used weed, peaking within the first week and lasting as long as two weeks.

Does Anxiety From Weed Go Away?

Because anxiety from weed use is often due to inexperienced users or higher than expected THC doses, it typically goes away as the person becomes more used to the drug. 

What Are the Worst THC Strains for Anxiety?

Although many people believe that some weed strains might be better than others for treating certain conditions like anxiety, science disagrees. Due to little data being available, but a whole lot of money involved in what is called the “entourage THC” market, scientists believe making claims that certain weed strains are better than others is simply marketing.

Does Weed Help With Anxiety?

Although weed can cause anxiety in a small number of people, it may help treat the condition in others. Specifically, some components of weed like cannabidiol may be helpful in treating anxiety in some people. Weed, in general, may be beneficial in treating anxiety, especially at low doses. Cannabidiol (CBD) can help treat anxiety at all doses, while THC can help anxiety at low doses but cause it at high doses. Experts think that one of the brain’s natural cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1R), is closely involved in why weed can help treat anxiety in some people. 

Medical Marijuana for Anxiety

Although marijuana remains an illicit Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level, many states have disagreed with this and made marijuana available within their borders. One of the most common approved uses for marijuana at the state level is medical marijuana, wherein marijuana is prescribed to treat a variety of qualifying medical conditions. Currently, the localities with medical marijuana programs include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

Most localities will have a list of qualifying medical conditions that medical marijuana may be used to prescribe. Depending on the state, anxiety may or may not qualify as a medical condition that medical marijuana can treat. For example, in the state of Florida, anxiety is not considered one of the qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana. Also, depending on the state, doctors may need a special certification to prescribe medical marijuana, and patients may or may not need to obtain a registry ID card. The best way to figure out if you qualify for medical marijuana is to contact either your primary care doctor or your state/territory’s local department of health for more information, as this can vary widely.

THC vs. CBD for Treating Anxiety

Marijuana contains many chemicals, of which THC and CBD are only two. However, both these substances are believed to play a large role in anxiety management in people who use weed. For example, THC is thought to be effective at treating anxiety at low doses but may cause anxiety at higher doses. Meanwhile, CBD is thought to be effective at treating anxiety at low and high doses alike. These effects likely have to do with how both substances impact the CB1R receptor in the central nervous system, but more studies are needed on exactly how THC and CBD impact anxiety.

Alternatives To Smoking Weed for Anxiety

Often, someone with anxiety attempts to self-medicate with weed. In Washington state alone, as of 2016, more than 58% of people who used medical marijuana did so for anxiety. However, other, better-studied treatments are available. While some anxiety treatments involve taking medications, others involve different forms of therapy. Your doctor will be able to help you decide which treatment options are best for you. Expert-vetted treatment options for anxiety include:

  • Therapy, including:
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy
    • Cognitive therapy
    • Acceptance and commitment therapy
    • Mindfulness
  • Medications, including: 
    • Antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Buspirone
    • Hydroxyzine
    • Certain antipsychotics

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.

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Editor – Abby Doty
Abby Doty graduated from Hamline University in 2021 with a Bachelor's in English and Psychology. She has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

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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.