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The Link Between Marijuana Use and Panic and Anxiety

What is the link between marijuana use and panic or anxiety attacks? Can marijuana cause paranoia. Read here information about marijuana use and panic and anxiety disorders.

BACKGROUND

The main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana in any form is delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, shortened to THC. Cannabinoids act on a specific receptor that is widely distributed in the brain regions involved in cognition, memory reward, pain perception, and motor coordination.

WHAT HAPPENS

A lot depends upon the user's mental state before smoking, the environment and the user's expectations. Marijuana causes perceptual changes which make the user more aware of other peoples' feelings, enhance the enjoyment of music and give a general feeling of euphoria. It can also make the user feel agitated if they are in a situation which is not pleasant - if they are with strangers or trying to hide the fact that they are using - which is often referred to as a paranoia. Using marijuana with other drugs, such as alcohol, can make the user feel dizzy and disoriented.

Marijuana causes a number of physical changes. It can produce an increased pulse rate, a decrease in blood pressure, an opening of the airway leading to the lungs and suppression of the vomit reflex. It can also produce bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, dizziness and an increased appetite. Sometimes short term memory loss can occur, although this passes as the effects of the drug wear off.

ACUTE EFFECTS OF MARIJUANA

Marijuana produces euphoria and relaxation, perceptual alterations, time distortion, and the intensification of ordinary sensory experiences, such as eating, watching films, and listening to music. When used in a social setting, it may produce infectious laughter and talkativeness. Short-term memory and attention, motor skills, reaction time, and skilled activities are impaired.

The most common unpleasant side-effects of occasional marijuana use are anxiety and panic reactions. These effects may be reported by users, and they are a common reason for discontinuation of use; more experienced users may occasionally report these effects after receiving a much larger than usual dose of THC.

Marijuana smoking or ingestion of THC increases the heart rate by 20-50% within a few minutes to a quarter-of-an-hour; this effect lasts for up to 3 hours. Blood pressure is increased while the person is sitting, and decreased while standing.

SUMMARY OF ADVERSE EFFECTS OF MARIJUANA

What is the link between marijuana use and panic or anxiety attacks? Can marijuana cause paranoia. Read here information about marijuana use and panic and anxiety disorders.Acute effects

  • Anxiety and panic.
  • Impaired attention, memory, and psychomotor performance while intoxicated.
  • Possibly an increased risk of accident if a person drives a motor vehicle while intoxicated with cannabis, especially if cannabis is used with alcohol.
  • Increased risk of psychotic symptoms among those who are vulnerable because of personal or family history of psychosis.

Depressive Reactions

In novice marijuana users, rarely in regular users, marijuana may precipitate reactive or neurotic depressions.

Panic Reactions

The majority of all adverse responses to marijuana are panic reactions in which people begin to fear that they are dying or losing their minds. Panic reactions, or "bad trips", may become so severe as to be incapacitating. Smith (1981) reports that roughly 50% of marijuana smokers in the United States have on some occasion experienced this adverse reaction.

Cognitive effects

The longer marijuana has been used, the more pronounced the cognitive impairment.

Anxiety Reactions

The most common disturbing reaction to marijuana is acute anxiety. The user becomes fearful of dying or going insane. Mounting anxiety may lead to panic. The reaction is not a psychosis; there are no hallucinations. The anxiety reaction or delusional disorder is a milder version of the frightening LSD experience known as a bad trip. A truly nightmarish experience is rare under the influence of marijuana, because it is less potent than hallucinogenic or psychedelic drugs and the user is better able to control its effects.

Use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs is often followed by flashbacks - the recurrence of emotions and perceptions originally experienced under the influence of the drug. They usually last only a few seconds and are not necessarily disturbing, but sometimes they become a persistent problem, which has been labeled post-hallucinogen perception disorder. Marijuana smoking may precipitate flashbacks in psychedelic drug users. A few reports suggest that marijuana flashbacks also occur without the previous use of psychedelic drugs.

Read some of the comments from people who have had experiences with marijuana and anxiety

Comment: Hi, I've had panic attacks for more than 1.5 years now. Fortunately, I can now control the attacks and am aware that "I am not going to have a heart attack"

Approximately twelve acquaintances of mine have since discussed, through different conversations, evidence of having panic attacks. Speeding heart beat, panic, going to hospital, etc. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM HAD THEIR FIRST ATTACK while consuming marijuana, including me. About half of them, including me, were heavy smokers (minimum 1 joint/day).


Also, I saw a small TV report about a year ago where a medical doctor (psy.) says that he's encountered more-and-more adolescents coming to see him about anxiety disorders. The TV report's subject was about high levels of THC in Canadian cannabis plants. He seemed to state that there was a link. I am not a doctor, I am an engineer and am ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that there is a link between THC levels in cannabis and Panic Attacks. Ever since my first panic attack, I have completely stopped smoking pot! Most of the many acquaintances that I know that also smoked pot have also stooped.

I am available for any further discussions on this subject. The amount of people I know (that I have known for many, many years) who also now have panic attacks is astounding. There should be a lot more studies on this matter. A person who has had panic attacks is the only one who knows how scary and devastating an attack is!!!

Comment: I was reading the information at your website and decided I would write you regarding some questions I have. As a teenager, I experimented with LSD and PCP a couple of times. About a week after taking a half dose of LSD, I was getting high on pot when suddenly I felt as if I was tripping on LSD again.

This frightened me very much and I quickly developed a panic disorder problem. I thought I was doomed to a life where I would never be "normal" again. I got help by learning T.M. (transcendental meditation). This helped me to control the panic, but I never really got over the belief that I was somehow not like everybody else. I felt I was somehow different, that my mind had been permanently changed because of the use of these drugs.

I'm in my thirties now, and over the years I had two-or-three episodes where I've developed panic disorder again. It usually lasts a couple of months and then goes away. The latest bout started this past November. I purchased a book about help for panic attacks and it has been a big help. But my question still remains - have other users of LSD, PCP and pot had these same problems? How have they gotten over them? Is there a group on the internet of people with similar backgrounds? I'm interested in talking with others who have passed through similar experiences.

Comment: I first experienced panic when I was 17 after having marijuana. It was so extreme, the word panic doesn't seem strong enough. It was more like absolute terror. I am now forty, and in recent years depression has also been a problem for me. I have tried most of the antidepressants but I just can't seem to tolerate them, even at a very small dose like a quarter of a tablet. They make me feel more anxious and susceptible to panic.

I know I get quite apprehensive about taking them, but I feel that it is more than psychological. I remember taking moclobomide which is supposed to be non-drowsy and falling asleep for 6-hours in the middle of the day. A half a tablet of tolvon put me in bed for 24-hours. A full tablet of Prothiaden brought on a panic attack. Aropax made me feel drowsy and disconnected with things.

I have been in a support group and never known anyone else to have such weird reactions to drugs. In recent years, I have found even antibiotics make me feel more depressed and anxious. I don't experience full blown panic very often, but when I do it seems to be extreme. To say to myself "don't worry it is only a panic attack" seems ludicrous. It would be like the fear of someone holding a gun to your head and really thinking they were going to shoot. That's what it feels like.

I really feel like a freak of nature. Can you explain to me what's happening? Do other people have these kinds of reactions?

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APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2008, October 2). The Link Between Marijuana Use and Panic and Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/articles/link-between-marijuana-use-and-panic-and-anxiety

Last Updated: October 31, 2017

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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