Risks of Using Marijuana to Reduce Anxiety

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu

With the increasing number of states legalizing both the medical and recreational use of marijuana, its use is becoming more popular. Like any drug, there are different reasons why people may initially choose to use marijuana. However, what starts as recreational use can quickly turn into a self-medicating practice, which can lead to chemical dependency and addiction.

There are growing concerns for individuals that use marijuana to self-medicate their distress, specifically feelings of anxiety. There are always risks when it comes to using chemical substances to experience relief. Discussing these risks and encouraging individuals to replace their marijuana use with healthier coping mechanisms is critical, as doing so will benefit all facets of their well-being.

Understanding Self-Medicating Practices

Self-medication happens when an individual consumes drugs or herbs or engages in other home medication remedies without consulting a doctor. When people self-medicate, often, they self-diagnose their mental health problems or symptoms and, in doing so, believe they know what is best to solve their problem. Although many of us would love to be able to fix our struggles on our own, a quick internet search and home remedies can not solve a mental health problem.

Since self-medicating practices often involve drug use, it is much more likely that these practices will cause more harm than good. Substance use causes short-term and long-term consequences and can lead to impairments in critical brain areas. Similarly, using drugs can contribute to developing other mental health disorders and exacerbate present symptoms because the brain changes triggered by substance use can make an individual more likely to develop mental health conditions.

How does Marijuana Use Affect the Brain?

To understand the risks involved with using marijuana to self-medicate, it is essential to become familiar with the effects of marijuana use.

Short-Term Effects

Marijuana can be inhaled or consumed. Depending on how it is administered, the duration and intensity of effects will vary. For example, when smoked, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream and can take seconds to minutes for the user to feel the effects. When marijuana is consumed, the body absorbs it much slower, and initial effects can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour to take effect.

In general, marijuana overrides and over-activates natural chemicals in the brain. Other short-term effects can include:

  • Altered senses
  • Altered sense of time
  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in appetite
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory

When consumed in high doses, an individual may experience hallucinations, delusions and psychosis.

Long-Term Effects

When marijuana is used repeatedly, it can cause long-lasting mental and physical health consequences. The most concerning effect is breathing problems. Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, where repetitive use can lead to chronic cough and phlegm, frequent lung illnesses and an increased risk of lung infections and cancer.

Other long-term effects may include:

  • Altered brain development
  • Poor educational outcomes
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Diminished life satisfaction and achievement
  • Increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders

Marijuana Use and Addiction

Contrary to popular belief, repeated marijuana use is not harmless and can lead to addiction and chemical dependency. When recreational use becomes addictive, it is known as marijuana use disorder. Research shows that at least 30% of those that use marijuana regularly have some degree of marijuana use disorder.

This specific substance use disorder is associated with chemical dependence on marijuana. While drug dependence is often characterized by physical withdrawal, such as discomfort or restlessness, marijuana is known for producing psychological withdrawal symptoms, which results in psychological dependence. Symptoms of psychological dependence may include irritability, mood and sleep difficulties and other intrusive thoughts about substance use cravings.

The risk of developing an addiction is never something to take lightly. Addiction is a chronic and complex brain disease that can cause devastating effects on one’s health and relationships. When using marijuana to self-medicate anxiety, one must find healthier coping mechanisms before they find themselves in the cycle of addiction.

Treatments for Marijuana Use and Addiction

If you or your loved one uses marijuana to reduce anxiety, understand that treatment programs are available to help prevent and treat marijuana addiction. Take your marijuana reliance as a sign that you are not effectively navigating emotional triggers and stress, and allow yourself to be encouraged by the possibility of healing and experiencing true peace in your life. Recovery will help you explore the underlying causes of substance use and teach you healthier, reliable coping mechanisms for navigating stress in the future.

Cliffside Malibu is a comprehensive treatment center that has a specialized program to treat those that struggle with marijuana use and addiction. We offer individualized treatment experiences for our patients, using unique therapeutic approaches that will work for your individual treatment needs and goals. We will help you achieve and maintain long-term recovery and peace apart from your marijuana dependency. To learn more about our many programs, please call us today at (855) 403-5641.