Should medical marijuana be used for the treatment of anxiety? Is it a healing herb for anxiety, or is the whole idea a hoax?
I treat young men and women with anxiety issues. Not surprisingly, this is a topic that comes up frequently.
Whether medical marijuana is a healing herb for anxiety, or a hoax, is a question I wrestle with from time to time. Just when I have it figured out, a new wrinkle is brought to my attention.
My current short answer is "I don't know." My current more complicated answer is "It depends."
Some people experience marijuana as a healing herb for anxiety. Some people have experienced severe side effects, such as paranoia or extreme anxiety and panic.
The reason I entertain the idea of medical marijuana for anxiety as a hoax, is that the medical status is often used as a legal way to get marijuana for recreational use.
In my therapy practice, some who have had medical marijuana cards see it as a joke. They have said that it is too easy to get the card, and their use of marijuana is not monitored medically.
Some states have legalized recreational pot, and a number of other states seem to be heading in that direction.
If and when recreational use becomes legal, and there is no longer a need for a medical marijuana card, there will still be things to consider before deciding whether or not to use it as self treatment for anxiety.
Following are some of the reasons people give for using medical marijuana for anxiety, and my thoughts on each reason.
"It is a natural herb, and is not dangerous like the drugs pushed by Big Pharma."
I understand the reasoning behind this. Big Pharma has probably caused a lot of harm to a lot of people. It is very understandable that people would want to seek out more natural remedies.
I am not a big fan of Big Pharma either. There are plenty of drug free strategies for overcoming anxiety. Too often, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety medications instead of referring to a therapist for assessment for drug free solutions.
Many people do self medicate with marijuana. The results I have observed have been mixed. Some people find it helpful, while some find it brings new problems.
Unfortunately, in my position, I have become aware of too many instances of it not working very well. It has caused paranoia, and, paradoxically, more severe anxiety and panic.
"Big Pharma" drugs, on the other hand, are standardized and available by prescription only. They are monitored by the prescribing physician, who can make changes to deal with side effects or other problems that may develop. They can also monitor withdrawal symptoms if a person decides to stop the drug.
Doctors cannot write prescriptions for marijuana, because of the federal government's classification of it. They can only authorize a medical marijuana card.
The consumer then is allowed to possess marijuana, up to the amount within the state's legal limit. They are left to figure out dosages and frequency on their own. Their use is not monitored by the doctor, and there is no need for the doctor to approve a "refill."
Research on medical marijuana has been severely limited, due to the federal government's restrictions on accessing it for studies. It is still in the same classification as drugs such as heroin, considered dangerous and without any medical benefits.
Unless and until the government changes the classification of marijuana, there is no definitive data available to support that it is safe and helpful in the treatment of anxiety.
"It helps me socialize better. I can put my shyness and awkwardness aside and enjoy getting to know new people."
This is a common reason for using marijuana for anxiety. It is similar to the idea of alcohol being a "social lubricant."
The trouble with marijuana, alcohol, and the prescribed fast acting anxiety drugs, is that they can be said to "work too well." Many people become dependent on them for socializing.
They may attribute their social enjoyment to the action of the drug, rather than to their own efforts.
Most people struggling with anxiety do not realize that there are strategies to help them face their fears and overcome them.When a drug is depended on to take the edge off social awkwardness, the person may never develop their own abilities to do so.
There are psychotherapists who specialize in treating anxiety. They can help people build skills and their own inner strengths. This can greatly increase a person's self confidence and pride in their accomplishments.
There are also some great self help books out there. That is another way to learn skills for dealing with social anxiety, without the use of drugs.
"It helps me stay focused and stop worrying about the past and the future."
This is another common benefit reported by people who use marijuana for anxiety. Artists and others involved in creative works are able to immerse themselves in their projects and be fully present with what they are doing.
Unfortunately, this can foster dependence on a drug, as discussed above as it relates to social awkwardness. Often people will slide into using too much too often. New problems arise, such as lethargy, loss of motivation, and loss of focus.
Another sad effect is sometimes seen after a profound experience, while high, of being immersed in a great work. Once the high wears off, and the artist takes another look at their work, they see it as not only not profound, but not even very good.
"Having a medical marijuana card keeps me out of legal trouble."
To a degree, this is probably usually true. This in itself probably goes a long way in reducing anxiety for those who use marijuana for recreation or for self medication.
One should keep in mind that a medical marijuana card authorizes possession only under the state law, and within the legal limit of that state. The card cannot protect someone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One possibility is being at the marijuana dispensary when it is raided by federal agents. Another situation that comes to mind is being swept up in a bust, when socializing at someone's home, and unbeknownst to you, the host is a dope dealer.
I hope you have found the ideas in this article to be helpful. My intent is that it will give you a few things to consider, in your own exploration of whether or not medical marijuana is a valid tool for coping with anxiety.
In working with people in therapy, I support people in exploring all the issues, and coming to their own conclusions.
Some will continue to use marijuana for anxiety issues. Some will cut down on the amount they use, or limit the circumstances under which they use. Others will quit entirely.
I will leave you with a book recommendation:
"Stoned: A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana" by David Casarett, M.D. is a book which I highly recommend in your own exploration of whether medical marijuana may be right for you.
The author is a hospice doctor. He spent a year researching the benefits and risks of medical marijuana.
He interviewed patients, other doctors, and even posed as a patient when visiting marijuana doctors and marijuana dispensaries. His findings were very interesting and enlightening.
Kate Boswell MFT is a therapist in Marina del Rey, Ca. She helps anxious young men and women become calmer and more confident. Nearby communities served are Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Venice, Culver City, and Westchester. Kate can be reached at (310) 658-3158.