Can Using Medical Marijuana Increase Anxiety and Depression?

As of this writing, 30 states, Guam, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all have approved the broad use of medical marijuana. Additionally, other states allow limited medical use and 8 states (and the District of Columbia) allow recreational use of the drug. Even though the use of pot and weed is becoming more acceptable, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still considers marijuana to be a Schedule I substance, meaning it is likely to be abused and it completely lacks medical value. This classification also means there hasn’t been much research into the efficacy of the drug for medical conditions and, in particular, we lack long-term studies that would tell us whether it is safe and/or effective when used over a long period of time.

What we do know is that, in clinical practice – both in our practice and in discussions with colleagues in other practices – mental health professionals are seeing an increase in the number of incidents of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and even psychotic reactions now that marijuana use has become more mainstream.

Did you know that:

  • THC, the primary chemical in marijuana, is believed to stimulate areas of the brain responsible for feelings of fear.
  • According to available scientific literature, people who use weed have higher levels of depression and depressive symptoms than those who do not use cannabis.
  • Frequent or heavy use in adolescence can be a predictor of depression or anxiety later on in life – especially for girls.
  • Even if using cannabis seems to alleviate symptoms in the short-term for some users, it can lead to delay in getting appropriate treatment.
  • Scientific evidence suggests cannabis use can trigger the onset of schizophrenia and other psychoses in those already at risk of developing it.
  • A 2015 study found that university-aged young adults are more likely to have a higher risk of developing depression from heavy marijuana use.
  • Numerous research studies show that marijuana is an addictive substance. The more you use it, the more you need to use in order to get the same “high.”

Medical Marijuana vs. Recreational Marijuana

Whether it’s used recreationally or medicinally, both forms of pot are the same product. The medical version contains cannabinoids just like recreational marijuana. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals found in the medical form.

Although medical marijuana is used for many conditions (among them: multiple sclerosis (MS), cancer, seizure disorders, and glaucoma), its efficacy hasn’t been proven. “The greatest amount of evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis relate to its ability to reduce chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and spasticity [tight or stiff muscles] from MS,” says Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, a substance abuse specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Mental Illness and Psychoactive Substances

As noted above, there aren’t many studies on the relationship between marijuana use and mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder yet. However, research done in 2017, examined marijuana use in conjunction with the depression and anxiety symptoms of 307 psychiatry outpatients who had depression (Bahorik et al., 2017). This study found that “marijuana use worsened depression and anxiety symptoms; marijuana use led to poorer mental health functioning.” In addition, the study determined that medical marijuana was associated with reduced physical health functioning.

Part of the problem with using marijuana either recreationally or medically is that there is no way to regulate the amount of THC you’re getting, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t oversee the product. This means not only the ingredients, but the strength of them can differ quite a lot. “We did a study last year [2016] in which we purchased labeled edible products, like brownies and lollipops, in California and Washington. Then we sent them to the lab,” Bonn-Miller says. “Few of the products contained anywhere near what they said they did. That’s a problem.”

Another area of concern is that, as we know from regulated psychiatric medications, one dose may affect you differently than it affects your sibling or a friend. People are unique – each person’s reaction to a medication will vary, which is why psychiatric medications are monitored by the prescribing doctor so that the dosage can be adjusted for your specific needs.

Be Careful with Marijuana Use

In summary, if you choose to use marijuana either medically or recreationally, be careful. Talk to the doctor who authorized it, or speak with a mental health professional if you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of depression or anxiety, or if you have panic attacks that begin or worsen while you are using pot. Additionally, be sure your doctor knows your psychiatric history before they authorize medical marijuana for you, especially if you have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, or psychosis.

Do You Have Questions?

We can help! The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida can answer your questions about how medical or recreational marijuana use can affect your anxiety, depression, or other condition. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

Resource:  Bahorik, Amber L.; Leibowitz, Amy; Sterling, Stacy A.; Travis, Adam; Weisner, Constance; Satre, Derek D. (2017). Patterns of marijuana use among psychiatry patients with depression and its impact on recovery. Journal of Affective Disorders, 213, 168-171.

12 Comments
  1. Reply
    CAROLYN FORTNEY

    I think this study is highly flawed. I have anxiety and suffer with severe panic attacks. My treatment is pills because I am not a weed smoker, with very little help from the pills. But there are several people that I know that smoke week for their anxiety and their quality of life and coping is 100% heater than my coping due to read studies like this. I have been in corporate America as a major employee and using drugs is prohibited which hurts people like me. New study needed

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  3. Reply
    Moriah

    I recently smoked out of a weed pen and i feel like i haven’t been the same since. I still felt like i was high days after and I started having panic attacks and really bad anxiety and sucidal thoughts and i was crying daily and it was just bad i don’t know what’s wrong with me but i need help.

    • Reply
      Siddhartha

      @moriaah consult a physcatrist , and take proper guidance you will be fine 🙂

  4. Reply
    Lucy Cote

    Wow happy to have run into this article! My daughter suffers mental illness, general anxiety and other symptoms to benfully determined. Since the legalization here she has been smoking pot to releive her stress and anxiety but has actually worsen. She is on lexapro. She s an adult and does not tell me everything but we have the same family doctor. She is seeing a psychotherapist and she suggested a service dog for her many panic attacks. Of course the right drug will be good, not sure about lexapro. And she does go off at times. She is taking it more seriously now as it s affecting her job and contracts. She doesnt drink alcool.

  5. Reply
    Gigi

    I’ve had issues with anxiety on and off all my life. Was a heavy pot smoker “back in the day” and at age 23 or so developed an extreme case of panic and agoraphobia. By age 26 I stopped weed and the worst of my panic and agoraphobia resolved on its own.
    Fast forward a few decades. I’m 70 now and for the past couple of years have been using it both medically for ptsd and fibromyalgia, and recreationally. For the past 6 months or so I’ve noticed I experience panic attacks and my agoraphobia is extreme. I’d totally forgotten about my experiences when I was younger until I found this site! Can’t be a coincidence can it? In all those intervening years I’d never had severe panic or agoraphobia—and I hadn’t smoked any weed. I hate to give it up, but if the cause/effect is this dramatic, I probably have no choice. Sigh.

    • Reply
      Alex

      Right now I currently feel like I just experience what you experienced before and I’m also young 20 and been smoking heavy since 16. Do you think there’s a way the panic attak over a certain issue will go away after I stop smoking for a certain time

      • Reply
        Virginia

        Have you stopped? If so did the panick attacks go away? How long did it take? My daughter is 19 and is going through this!

  6. Reply
    April Spry

    There definitely needs to be more research conducted into using marijuana for mental health related issues, especially speaking of depression and anxiety. I have a friend who suffers with fibromyalgia and has horrible reactions to weed but then there’s someone like me who suffers with anxiety, depression and body image and when I smoke or vape weed, I can live like a normal person. My mood stabilized, I don’t need my anti-depressants, I can function (and eat!) like a normal person. Just because it effects one person negatively didn’t mean it won’t change someone else’s life for the better.

  7. Reply
    Christopher

    Hello !! Please I need help
    I have been smoking weed and it helps a lot to ease my stress and anxiety and I feel happy taking it , at some point when I had some family issues and stress I started having strange behaviors that seems like someone is talking to me that seems real and and make me feel it’s like God talking to me and wants me to see visions and prophecy and this happens for like almost a month , I never knew what it was and I thought it was real, each time I get high I feel like it’s talking to me again to prophecy to people about the future after some time I had to quit for some weeks and I started taking pot again and this time I started having fears that this voice will come back again please I need help what do I do !! I love taking pot because it ease my stress a lot now I had to stop taking pot because I think it developed anxiety disorder to me and serious migraine and tightness in my head , most times I have unwanted thoughts when am alone but with friend I don’t have this thought I think I developed agrophobia also when I am in places
    Or see things that that make me shock when I was hearing this voices that makes it seem to be like God is talking to me I really need help for medication and know how I can get healthy again and if it’s safe to continue with pot after am fully fine

  8. Reply
    Amy Anderson

    Thanks for sharing such a great article.
    I have been smoking medical marijuana for more then a year now and it helps a lot to ease my stress, pain and I feel happy taking it. I seriously don’t have any kind panic or anxiety attack till the date. I think people need to take this serious and concern a doctor as soon as they feel anything like panic or anxiety attacks.

  9. Reply
    Ish

    I’m 46 and I have been smoking weed for about 25 years and here recently it gives me anxiety so bad I have to call the paramedics because I think I’m about to die

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