Cannabis and Anxiety


If you’re looking for the horns of a dilemma, they don’t come much more contentious than this one: marijuana has been linked to the development of panic attacks and anxiety yet it has also been cited as a brilliant reliever of those self-same conditions.

If ever there was a demonstration of the polarization in attitude produced by this humble plant, it is here.

Cannabis as a Cause of Anxiety

A True Story

Fifteen-year old Jack has been smoking the odd joint for about six months when he had his first panic attack.  Up until that point, Jack had been a calm, peaceful boy; laid-back and mostly unaffected what life threw at him. According to his mother, Jack’s peaceable nature changed overnight. The smallest change in routine would bring on a panic attack – rapid breathing, racing pulse and feelings of disassociation.  On more than one occasion this young boy was so fearful that he soiled his pants.  He was convinced that his heart had stopped beating and that he was dying.  Needless to say, his mother was very distressed – and became even more so when it became apparent that none of the conventional medicines seemed to help her child; she remembers that first panic attack as the beginning of “two years from hell.” 

Cognitive therapy didn’t help and hypnosis met with limited success.  It took two years of strong anti-anxiety medication from the family physician to bring things under control.  Happily, Jack is now a successful 23 year old, although – 8 years down the line - the occasional panic attack reminds him of those dreadful times. 

Exactly what is it about marijuana that can lead to such upsetting symptoms?

Well, the simple truth is that cannabis alone does not cause psychosis.  However, there is good quality research out there to suggest that marijuana use can contribute to mental ill health in susceptible people. There is also strong evidence that cannabis use by young people canhave negative outcomes in terms of mental health.

Cannabis as a Cure for Anxiety

Just as with the ‘cannabis as a cause of anxiety’ argument, there is compelling evidence to suggest that marijuana can also cure, or at least relieve, anxiety. Sadly, most of that evidence is anecdotal and this is an area where robust research is required.

It stands to reason though.  Strains of cannabis with a high indica content cause what is known as ‘couch-lock.’  That is, these strains induce feelings of lethargy and harmony with the world so strong that moving from the couch seems an impossible feat; surely this is exactly what the doctor ordered for the hyperactivity that goes with severe anxiety?  Cannabis Sativa, however, is far more stimulating and causes a cerebral high – precisely not what the doctor ordered.

No studies have been carried out into the different effects of sativa vs. indica and perhaps it is high time (pun intended) that they were.  To the layman, the paradox of marijuana as cure and cause of the same condition – anxiety – is easy to explain: a person’s reaction is based on the interaction between their natural disposition and the strain of cannabis used. 

Thus, if a depressive character uses a calming indica strain the result would be even more lethargy and apathy, leading to a deeper depression. Whereas the same strain used by a person suffering from panic attacks and anxiety would have a helpful, calming effect. 


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