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Last updated: Apr 20, 2022
6 min read

Can you use marijuana for anxiety? 

raagini yedidilinnea zielinski

Medically Reviewed by Raagini Yedidi, MD

Written by Linnea Zielinski

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Marijuana has had a makeover in the minds of many Americans. In one survey, 81% of people said marijuana has at least one benefit. Of that group, 47% said it relieves anxiety and depression (Keyhani, 2019).

Insomnia, chronic pain, and anxiety are common uses for medical marijuana (Kosiba, 2019). Marijuana may ease anxiety short-term, and studies have found many people prefer using weed over antidepressants

That said, marijuana may not be the best option for long-term treatment and can worsen anxiety symptoms in some cases. Here’s what you need to know.

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Does marijuana help with anxiety?

Research is mixed on using marijuana for anxiety. One study indicated that cannabis might alleviate anxiety, but it’s less clear if marijuana is effective for treating anxiety disorders. 

Despite reporting improvements in anxiety symptoms, many participants continued to experience a moderate level of anxiety overall (Turna, 2019). There may be additional factors at play regarding how people respond to cannabis. Another study found weed may be more helpful for combating anxiety in women than men (Cuttler, 2018). 

Other research shows marijuana can worsen anxiety symptoms and treatment outcomes in people with anxiety or mood disorders (Mammen, 2018). It may be too early to say, though. Ultimately, we need more high-quality studies about marijuana for anxiety that track the effects for an extended period (Botsford, 2019). 

CBD vs. THC: what’s the difference?

There are many compounds in weed with therapeutic potential. Two commonly known ones are CBD and THC. Both come from the cannabis plant but differ in chemical makeup (Turner, 2021; Meissner, 2022):

  • THC (tetrahydrocannabinol): This compound has been shown to improve breathing in people with sleep apnea, relieve chronic pain, and alleviate nausea from chemotherapy (Ng, 2021). THC has psychoactive properties that alters your state and gets you high. 
  • CBD (cannabidiol): This contributes to the therapeutic effects of cannabis but doesn’t get you high. CBD has been used to treat anxiety, seizure disorders, and chronic pain. Researchers are also investigating its potential use in treating neurodegenerative diseases (like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease) and inflammatory conditions. 

How successful marijuana is for anxiety may come down to adjusting the levels of these two active components. Different ratios of THC and CBD may be optimal for different conditions. For example, a low THC/high CBD product seems to work better for depression symptoms, while a high THC/high CBD ratio was better for reducing stress (Cuttler, 2018).

Overall, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether THC should be used to treat anxiety disorders. Results are similarly inconclusive for CBD, though small studies suggest it could reduce anxiety and symptoms of social anxiety disorder (Stanciu, 2021).

Risks of using marijuana for anxiety

One of the most significant issues with using marijuana for anxiety is it’s illegal in many states. Get familiar with your state’s medical cannabis laws and what regulations apply to products sold in your state.

There is a risk that anxiety or mood disorder symptoms could worsen from marijuana. If your symptoms become aggravated, seek medical advice from a healthcare professional (Mammen, 2018).

If you’re a regular cannabis user, there’s also a risk of dependence or withdrawal when you stop using it. You may experience cannabis withdrawal syndrome, which has side effects like (Bahji, 2020):

  • Anger, irritability, or aggression
  • Problems sleeping
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Depressed mood
  • Restlessness

How do I take marijuana?

There are many ways to use marijuana. Popular methods are smoking, consuming edibles, or trying topical products. Specific risks come from smoking or vaping, including a higher risk of bronchitis and changes in lung function (Gracie, 2021).

Talk to your healthcare provider about the potential risks of using marijuana if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive (Rompala, 2021). 

Alternatives to weed for anxiety

If you’re not quite ready to try marijuana for anxiety, there are other options. Let’s take a look. 

CBD

Technically, this compound is still found in weed but isn’t the one that gets you high (THC is responsible for that). CBD may be able to help with sleep and anxiety. 

One small study found that approximately 80% of participants taking CBD capsules reported decreased anxiety symptoms. After one month, sleep improved in 67% of people though it fluctuated over time (Shannon, 2019). Like cannabis, CBD comes in various forms like gummies and oils.

Prescription medication

There are several drugs for anxiety, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These are first-line treatments for generalized anxiety disorder. Around 30–50% of people prescribed these medications respond positively (Munir, 2022). 

Beta blockers like metoprolol are another type of drug that can alleviate anxiety. It achieves this by blocking the effects of adrenaline, helping to control the body’s fight-or-flight response.

Other medications like benzodiazepines are effective treatments for anxiety disorders, though primarily for short-term use only. These drugs act on the central nervous system by affecting receptors for certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) (Bounds, 2021).

Cognitive behavioral therapy 

Healthcare providers may use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alone or in combination with prescription drugs to treat anxiety. CBT focuses on building behavioral skills. During treatment, patients learn how to react to anxiety-provoking situations and train the brain how to break negative thought patterns (Chand, 2022).

There’s still a lot to learn about using marijuana for the treatment of anxiety. It may ease symptoms at the moment, but research suggests weed might not be the most beneficial option for overall mental health treatment. If you’re interested in trying weed for anxiety, speak to a healthcare professional about the potential side effects and the best options for treatment.

References

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