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Marijuana and Anxiety

Benefits and Risks

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Updated May 21, 2014

Young man smoking weed outside
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People who struggle with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) often try a variety of things to feel better. Effective ways to cope with anxiety and GAD are available on this site (e.g. “5 Ways to Cope with GAD”). There are also many other forms of coping that people adopt, and one route that seems to have a growing interest is using marijuana. The following is brief overview of using marijuana to cope with anxiety, specifically addressing the potential risks.

Self-Medicating with Marijuana

Anytime someone uses a substance to cope with some sort of symptom, it is referred to as “self-medicating.” Often, self-medicating produces an immediate relief of the uncomfortable symptoms, which then reinforces its use. The logic is simple: “substance X makes me feel better when I’m anxious, so I will use it again as long as the risks and consequences are not too great.” For anxiety, the relaxing properties of marijuana on the brain can create a calming experience that does temporarily relieve symptoms for some people.

Consequences

The central problem with using marijuana as an anxiety coping tool is that it can create a psychological dependence on the substance. Since the effects of the drug are fast acting, more sophisticated coping strategies may seem less helpful at first. Additionally, long-term marijuana use can create brain damage, most notably to memory.It also can have negative consequences on the brain’s motivation system, and there are obvious risks of legal trouble. More proactive coping strategies, which can be learned in counseling, various self-help books, or on websites like the one you are on, can create lasting change without the additional negative components of extended marijuana use. Prescription medication is also preferable to marijuana since the long-term risks are much more minimal than marijuana use. Read this piece for more on The Best Treatments for GAD.

Conclusion

In summary, using marijuana for anxiety often has a temporary calming effect on the brain that can feel pleasurable and relieve symptoms. However, these effects are short-term and extended use of marijuana has harmful physical effects (not to mention it is currently illegal to use). Although non-substance coping strategies take more time to work and integrate into life, they can create enduring change and symptom relief, and are completely safe.
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