A substantial proportion of marijuana users suffer from anxiety disorders. If that’s you, chances are a big motivation for using marijuana is because it dulls your symptoms of anxiety. The bigger picture, though, is more complicated, and marijuana’s capacity to reduce some symptoms of anxiety is just one piece of the puzzle.
The interplay between marijuana use and anxiety is complicated and full of unanswered questions. How marijuana affects the risk of developing anxiety, and conversely, how anxiety disorders influence marijuana use, are actively being investigated in scientific studies.
Studies across populations point to broad associations between personal history of marijuana use and history of anxiety. In one study, researchers pooled the data from over 112,000 people across ten countries, and found that people who use marijuana are 24% more likely to have an anxiety disorder than those who do not (Kedzior, BMC Psychiatry, 2014).
Similarly, another survey of United States adults observed that people with an anxiety disorder at any point in their life were 203 times more likely to have used marijuana compared to those without any psychiatric disorders, and were also more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder after using marijuana for the first time (Lev-Ran, Am J Addict, 2013).
In more recent years, rates of specific anxiety disorder diagnoses among marijuana users were 8.6% for a specific phobia, 12.2% for generalized anxiety disorder, 7.1% for social phobia, and 7.4% for panic disorder (Kerridge, Addict Behav, 2018).
What’s behind this overlap? Some experts believe that much of the increased risk demonstrated in these studies may reflect a genetic predisposition to anxiety, which becomes unmasked, or potentiated, by marijuana use or marijuana withdrawal.
Similarly, the factors which lead to increased risk of anxiety—financial stress, low self-esteem, for example—may be the same ones that make people more likely to use marijuana. The relationship between marijuana use and anxiety is therefore a complicated one, with plenty of unanswered questions. For now, we can at least confirm that there’s an established connection.
The bottom line, though, is that struggling with an anxiety disorder is tough, as is struggling to cut back on marijuana use—let alone having to face both at once! If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health in addition to cannabis use disorder, your healthcare provider can help you navigate a path to treatment.