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  • Writer's pictureAaron Killion

Can THC Cause Anxiety? What Can You Do About It?

The link between THC and anxiety is a complicated one. On the one hand, medical marijuana is often recommended as a treatment for anxiety (some states, like New Jersey, even recognize anxiety as a qualifying condition for patients). On the other hand, cannabis is also known to induce anxiety under certain conditions. We’ve all heard about the paranoia effect that can result from excess THC consumption. So what’s the real story? Can THC cause anxiety? And if so, how can you avoid it?

Does THC Cause Anxiety?

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can create feelings of anxiety in certain cases. There are numerous reasons for this. For instance, THC heightens the senses, which can contribute to anxiety both by amplifying the anxious feelings you already have and (in extreme cases) by triggering hallucinations—causing you to perceive things that aren’t actually there.

In addition, THC affects the central nervous system. As a result, it can trigger side effects that mirror the effects of a panic attack—like elevated heart rate, dizziness, nausea, racing thoughts, and dry mouth. If you’re someone who already lives with occasional panic attacks, your brain may think you’re having an anxiety attack as a result of these symptoms.

Anxiety is also a known withdrawal symptom of cannabis. So if you take a tolerance break or try cutting back, you may experience heightened anxiety as a result of the reduction. This is temporary and should fade as the withdrawal symptoms subside.

In rare cases, you may suffer from cannabis-induced anxiety disorder or cannabis-induced bipolar disorder, which are identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health. If cannabis use triggers anxiety attacks on a consistent basis, speak to your doctor right away. There may be alternative solutions or adjustments available.

When Does THC Cause Anxiety?

You may be especially susceptible to THC-induced anxiety if:

  • You’re new to cannabis: For new medical marijuana patients especially, it’s recommended that you start with extremely low doses (about 2.5 mg) and gradually increase your intake by about 2.5 mg at a time. This should help you to avoid any anxiety attacks.

  • You’re consuming strong sativas: If you’re consuming cannabis to address a primary anxiety disorder diagnosis, sativas may only heighten your anxiety (as these strains can lead to racing thoughts and heightened awareness). To treat anxiety, indicas and hybrids are usually the better bet.

  • You’re consuming a high-THC product: Some modern cannabis strains contain over 30% THC. While everyone’s tolerance is different, it’s best to start with low-THC strains (as low as 10% or less) and gradually work your way up to the more potent products as your tolerance allows.

  • You’re consuming edibles or extracts: You have to be careful with your medicinal cannabis formulations, especially in the beginning. Edibles can pack an enormous punch. Your liver converts THC into a metabolite known as 11-hydroxy-THC, which by some estimates is up to four times stronger than regular THC. And cannabis extracts like wax, shatter, and live resin can contain over 80% THC.

  • You’re trying to reduce your cannabis intake: Cannabis withdrawals may trigger temporary anxiety symptoms.

  • You’re taking another anxiety medication: If you take an anxiety medication prescribed by your doctor, it may interact negatively with cannabis. Talk to your doctor about any prescribed medications you’re taking and whether they’re safe to use alongside cannabis. Your doctor may recommend adjusting the drug dose for your anxiety medication.

  • You have a cannabis-induced anxiety disorder: If you still struggle with cannabis-related anxiety after you’ve tried reducing your THC intake, sticking with indicas, and monitoring your dosage, speak to your doctor. One or more anxiety disorders or mood disorders may be to blame.

If you’re consuming cannabis to treat a medical condition, you don’t want severe panic attacks standing in the way of your relief. But as long as you stick to the right products, know your tolerance, and measure your THC intake accordingly, you can usually avoid the paranoia and anxiety that plague some heavy users.

What to Do If You’re Having a THC-Induced Anxiety Attack

If you’ve taken your morning dose of medical marijuana and your anxiety is running wild, there are a few things you can do.

  • Drink water and stay hydrated

  • Eat a meal (consuming cannabis on an empty stomach can heighten the effects of THC)

  • Breathe slowly and practice mindfulness

  • Go to a safe place and relax (in extreme cases, you may need to sleep it off; you’re going to be fine)

In addition, you can try taking CBD oil if you have it available. CBD is a THC antagonist, so you can use it to counter the most aggressive effects of THC. Plus, CBD is legal in Arizona and all 50 states without a medical card, so it’s extremely easy to access.

If all else fails, just wait it out. Within a few hours, the effects will wear off and you’ll be okay. Treat it as a learning experience, and use that knowledge to reconsider your product or your dosage.

Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Medical Cannabis Experience

If THC causes you to have anxiety, your body is trying to tell you something. By switching to a more anxiety-friendly strain, cutting back on your dosage, or opting for a less intense delivery system, you can usually achieve the medical benefits you’re looking for without the unwanted anxiety.

So if you’ve been thinking about pursuing a medical marijuana card in Arizona or anywhere in the U.S., but you’re concerned about the “paranoia” you’ve heard so much about in movies, we hope this breakdown has put your mind at ease. When it comes to medical marijuana, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, and once you find the ideal strain and dosage for your condition, you’re going to feel a lot better.


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