Cannabis-induced anxiety is a common side effect when consuming marijuana. The same qualities that make cannabis a great medication for a variety of conditions can also lead people to feel anxious, uncomfortable and even paranoid. Cannabis has a biphasic effect, meaning low and high doses of marijuana can have very different effects on people. In small doses, cannabis can help reduce stress and anxiety related to conditions like PTSD. But in high doses, it can lead people to feel extremely anxious, uneasy and nervous.
Maureen Dowd, a well-known New York Times columnist, is now infamous for her marijuana trip down the anxiety-laced rabbit hole. Dowd bought a cannabis-infused chocolate bar from a Denver dispensary in 2014 and had a most unfortunate experience after consuming the majority of the chocolate.
It's important to note that the chocolate bar she consumed was intended to have 16 individual doses, but she gobbled it all up, which led to her paralyzingly paranoid experience. Dowd wrote about her living-personal-hell experience; it went insanely viral online, and she got lambasted publicly for her stupidity.
Dowd's bad experience with marijuana made her an internet sensation.
Yet, Dowd's experience basically comes down to a lack of education. She was unaware of:
These are all things that people should be aware of before consuming marijuana.
Cannabis-induced anxiety can echo traditional physical stressors that are experienced by people when they have anxiety attacks. Symptoms like a racing heartbeat, sweating, chills, chest pain, weakness, tingling, numbness and trouble breathing are all physical symptoms of marijuana-induced anxiety. They're harmless, but they can be scary at the time they're experienced. Feeling these physical symptoms can also cause a person to panic, even though they're in no real harm. There has still never been a documented overdose death due to marijuana.
If you're trying a higher dose of cannabis than you usually take, prepare for the chance that you may experience cannabis-induced anxiety by consuming your marijuana in a safe space with people you trust.
The most important thing to remember when experiencing a cannabis-induced anxiety attack is to stay calm if you may feel completely out of control. Keeping calm can help anxiety pass more quickly. Keeping a high-ratio cannabidiol (CBD) tincture on hand is also helpful as it can typically help take the edge off much more quickly.
For many, CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, can help decrease the anxiety-producing, psychoactive effects of the THC found in marijuana. Perhaps if Dowd had had some handy, she may have been able to circumvent some of her paranoia hell. What's most important though is to remember that most of the time, less is more, especially for first-time cannabis consumers.
Remember: You can't overdose from marijuana, even if it feels like it at the time of an anxiety attack. Cannabis-induced anxiety doesn't last long, usually 30 minutes to an hour. However, this does depend on the person and how much and what you've consumed.
In Maureen Dowd's case, she probably felt out of it for 24 hours based on the extremely high dose she took. In most cases though, if you're experiencing cannabis-induced anxiety, remind yourself that you're in no real danger and the feeling will pass.
It's also important to remove yourself from situations that could worsen your anxiety. For example, if you feel like you're unsafe where you are, this will lead to more anxiety. Also, cannabis-induced anxiety can feed off personal stressors, like social situations that may normally make you anxious.
Focusing on self-care can help your anxiety become more bearable. Engage in an activity that helps you relax and feel comfortable through the anxiety you're experiencing. Whatever it is that can help you feel calm and safe will help your anxiety dissipate more quickly. For example, you could:
Though cannabis-induced anxiety may feel inevitable at times, it's important to be aware of how different doses of cannabis affect you so you can try to avoid it in the future. If you've tried a new strain or dosage, and realized that it triggered anxious feelings, make note of it so you can avoid that in the future. Some people are particularly vulnerable to cannabis-induced anxiety. But for most people, anxiety is caused by a specific factor from the marijuana dose they consumed.
Try to recognize if the size of the dose was larger than what you typically consume or if it was a different marijuana strain with higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that may have caused the problem. Many people find it helpful to keep a journal of their cannabis consumption, so they have a record of what and how much they've consumed.