Does using cannabis make you anxious?

Published Jul 28, 2021 11:00 a.m. ET
iStock / AaronAmat

Have you tried a few puffs from a joint in hopes of obtaining that ultimate sense of relaxation that so many cannabis users talk about, only to discover that it held you feeling far worse? It could be a deep feeling of nervousness, nausea, fear, dread, panic, or just a confusing sensation that messes up your internal compass, leaving you lost, upset, and waiting for it all to be over. For some, these side effects can last for mere minutes, but for others, it can be long-drawn-out torture that goes on for several hours. No matter how mild or severe, this probably isn’t the result you were hoping for, and we’re here to try to explain some of the main reasons it can happen.

Using cannabis for anxiety

It’s liable to come as a shock to the system when you’re expecting a warm hug of euphoria and happiness from cannabis only to find a terrifying or, at the very least, uncomfortable range of sensations and feelings that aren’t quite so pleasant. It’s true that many are able to manage anxiety with the help of cannabinoids, terpenes, and terpenoids, but we don’t all achieve that same warm, fuzzy feeling. In fact, many of the most confident and seasoned users have at least one story to tell about a similar experience.

Cannabis can make anxiety worse (or appear out of nowhere)

Those who’ve had enough experience with pot products to comfortably consume them today as a way to manage anxiety didn’t start out that way. Many first-time users, in particular, report the complete opposite effect, and some say that this is caused by the nervous mind we often start out with. This may be true to some extent, as most who report this terrible result say that their second, third and any following sessions led to an entirely different mindset.

We know that how we feel before we hit the pipe can have a significant impact on how cannabinoids might influence us, which is why education and comfortability are two key elements to a successful industry, but what is better documented is the chemical reason behind what likely makes it so much worse for some of us, and the main culprit is THC. THC, the most powerful mind-altering element naturally produced by the plant, is generally regarded as the one that sedates and relaxes, but for some reason, it also seems to trigger fewer desirable effects for some users.

Why the mixed reactions?

We really aren’t sure why some consumers report feeling absolute dread at the same time with the same strain as someone else who ends up floating on a cloud and without a single care in the world. What we do know is that it seems to be caused by a combination of three things including mindset, prior experience, and tolerance. Those who dive in scared are likely to have that emotion amplified, while anyone who knows what to expect is much more relaxed the moment they’ve got a joint in hand.

Tolerance however is likely one of the biggest factors, as those who aren’t used to the effects of THC might find them to be heavy, and they come on fast, which can be scary, as you lose all control. Think of how fast you go from sober to drunk when you’ve had 10 drinks in a row, and then imagine that feeling coming on after your very first sip. Unfortunately, that’s just how it seems to be with the herb, which can have adverse effects.

Ways to avoid it

There is no way for us to guarantee that you won’t experience anxiety when you use cannabis, but we can equip you with these tips and tricks which should help to improve your chances of achieving a more enjoyable state of mind.

1. Start low and go slow

Even if you’ve used the herb in the past, if it’s been a while, it’s best to start low and go slow. Lower doses will induce less powerful sensations so that if things start to go sideways, you can bow out before they get completely overwhelming. As time passes, slowly increase your dose, avoiding situations where unusually strong options might be available, like edibles, which can pack a hugely powerful punch in a small wrapper.

2. Always do your research

If you don’t feel confident about what you’re about to do, then the chances of it going well are slim to none, and that’s not just true with cannabis. Of course, it’s natural to experience some nervousness especially if it’s your first time. A lot of this anxiety can be mitigated with research and information. Once you have all of the answers, it’ll be easier to relax and enjoy the ride rather than getting all caught up in it.

3. Select an appropriate environment

If you’re worried about anxiety, then it’s a good idea to avoid getting high alone, and it’s best to do so in the best environment possible. Somewhere where you feel safe, comfortable, and have all of the things you could need accessible, like food, water, or a comfortable bed. Stop all phone calls, and make sure that the environment is conducive to a therapeutic session, and you’ll be much more likely to enjoy it.

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