Marijuana Use and Social Anxiety Disorder

Marijuana for Anxiety in Teens and the Effects on the Brain

Marijuana Use and Social Anxiety Disorder

A majority of U.S. states have approved the use of medical marijuana for treating a few specific conditions.

As governments become more permissive in allowing the use of medical marijuana, people have begun to wonder what mental health conditions the drug might alleviate.

Many people use marijuana recreationally to “calm” their mind, but researchers warn against the long-term risks of prescribing medical marijuana to teenagers.

No parent wants to see their teen suffer from anxiety, and severe anxiety can have a negative impact on a teen’s school performance and their social life. Psychotherapy is generally recommended for treating anxiety in teens, and some young people also may benefit from anxiety medications.

Often parents and teens may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information about anxiety medications on the Internet and beyond. As medical marijuana use has been growing in popularity, many wonder whether the drug is a potential alternative way of treating anxiety in teens.

But researchers and doctors agree that the risks outweigh any potential benefits when it comes to marijuana and the adolescent brain.

What is medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana has only been approved by the FDA to treat a few medical issues, including nausea from chemotherapy and nerve pain.  However, the FDA has not approved the use of medical marijuana for teenagers or children for any medical condition.

These FDA-approved medications contain cannabinoid chemicals in the form of the pill. Cannabinoids are the chemicals found in marijuana, and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical responsible for affecting the body’s central nervous system.

Some medical marijuana medications approved by the FDA contain synthetic THC.

There is also very little research about whether medical marijuana can effectively and safely treat mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression in teens or adults. Researchers know much more about the potential psychiatric risks of marijuana than its benefits. Studies show that some people who use marijuana can become dependent on it.

Research has also found that 20% to 30% of people who recreationally use marijuana will experience severe anxiety and panic attacks. It is unclear whether marijuana can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder or whether people with anxiety simply are more ly to use marijuana.

Studies have found, however, that people who begin to use marijuana in their early teen years are at increased risk of experiencing psychosis later in life.

Article continues below

What is CBD?

There is another chemical known as cannabidiol oil (CBD) that is being studied more by researchers, and there is a possibility that it can be used to treat various anxiety disorders.

CBD is a type of cannabinoid, but CBD is different than medical marijuana because it does not contain THC and does not produce a “high.” Some states allow the use of CBD, and others do not. It comes in a variety of forms, including capsules, tinctures, or vape form.

Scientists don’t totally understand how CBD affects the brain, but it is believed by some to have a positive effect on serotonin levels. CBD has been shown to reduce stress in various animal studies, and the scant human research has shown both positive and inconclusive effects.

More human research is needed to determine how CBD could be useful in treating social anxiety, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders.

How could medical marijuana affect the teen brain?

Teen marijuana use is at its highest point in decades, with teens now more ly to smoke marijuana than tobacco. Teens frequently subscribe to myths about marijuana use, believing that the drug won’t cause long-term damage or that it won’t affect their thinking.

But the use of marijuana among teens can cause school problems, memory difficulty, accidents, aggression, and additional risky behaviors.

Long-term use can cause breathing problems, decrease intelligence, increase the risk of additional mental health problems, and decrease the effectiveness of mental health medication.

The brain is developing until young people reach their mid-20s, so it’s important to consider how marijuana can affect the brain and the future or your teenager.

One research study found that people who persistently used marijuana since their teenage years experienced a decline in neurological functioning and IQ. Marijuana use can affect the parts of the developing brain that control emotion, cognition, and responses to stress.

Because THC potency in marijuana has increased in recent years, the risk of cognitive damage has risen as well.

Most evidence that medical marijuana can be used to treat teenagers is anecdotal in nature. Because no large-scale research has established that using medical marijuana to treat psychiatric conditions in children or teens is effective or safe, researchers still agree that the risks far outweigh any potential benefits.

What medications have been approved to treat anxiety in teenagers?

There are medications other than medical marijuana that have been approved by the FDA to treat anxiety-related disorders.

When teens are prescribed medication to treat their anxiety, doctors typically begin by prescribing antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

These medications are not habit-forming and have proven beneficial in treating various anxiety disorders among teens. SSRIs and SNRIs carry warnings that they may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts, particularly among young people.

Although the risk is low, communicate with your teen about side effects so that you will know if they are experiencing any suicidal thoughts. Sometimes benzodiazepines are prescribed to be taken as needed, but these medications can be habit-forming, so it’s important to talk to your child and their doctor about the risks and benefits.

How can I talk to my teen about marijuana and anxiety?

Permissive attitudes toward marijuana in many states may lead teens to believe that it is safe to use marijuana to “calm down.” If your teen has anxiety, it’s important to them to talk about how using marijuana can cause short-term and long-term problems.

Share your concerns about their growing brain, and ask them what positive ideas they have about how they can manage their anxiety. You and your teen can reach out to their school counselor or their doctor for information about therapy and other treatment options.

It’s important to remember that just because medical marijuana is legal in many states does not mean that it is safe for your child’s growing mind or that it is effective in treating anxiety.

Much research has yet to been done about the benefits and risks of medical marijuana in treating anxiety disorders.

So don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s doctor about safe, effective options in treating their anxiety that also protect your teen’s mind and future.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other healthcare provider.

 This article mentions drugs that were FDA-approved and available at the time of publication and may not include all possible drug interactions or all FDA warnings or alerts. The author of this page explicitly does not endorse this drug or any specific treatment method.

 If you have health questions or concerns about interactions, please check with your physician or go to the FDA [link] site for a comprehensive list of warnings.


Social Anxiety Disorder & Substance Abuse — The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Marijuana Use and Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety and addiction frequently follow from one another. Social anxiety and alcohol addiction are especially common co-occurring conditions. Substance use can cause substance-induced social anxiety, but more commonly, people who have both conditions develop social anxiety disorder first.

Research shows that having an anxiety disorder increases the lihood a person will develop a substance use disorder. This finding is unfortunate because using substances interferes with recovery from social anxiety. Social anxiety symptoms can complicate the recovery process from substance use disorders.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

Some substances trigger an immediate increase in anxiety levels, while others provoke it as a residual effect. Marijuana, hallucinogens and stimulants can induce anxiety while the effects of the drugs are active. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, opiates and sedatives often include anxiety.

Anything that increases anxiety intensifies the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. People who use substances to gain relief from social anxiety often use them when they are alone or with a limited number of people. They might seek more social activity while substances are affecting them, but if the effects wear off while they are socializing, they can experience a sudden onset of anxiety.

If people suffer any humiliation while socializing under the influence, it can cause their social phobia to get worse.

Similarly, recurrent experiences of anxiety during the withdrawal phase can trigger anxious thinking and lead a person to develop even more socially phobic beliefs and thought patterns.

This cycle can cause people to become more withdrawn, making it harder to recover from either condition.

Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol

Social anxiety disorder and alcoholism are, unfortunately, strongly linked. Alcohol provides temporary relief from social anxiety symptoms, lowers anxiety levels and reduces social inhibition. Unfortunately, the temporary nature of this relief can cause a range of problems.

People under the influence of alcohol often do things they find embarrassing; remembering these events can become part of the social anxiety disorder cycle of anxious thinking.

Anxiety also typically increases as the effects of alcohol wear off, in what is sometimes called a boomerang effect.

The research revealed that while social anxiety disorders nearly always develop first, social anxiety associated with significantly higher rates of alcohol use disorders. Higher instances of co-occurring psychiatric conditions, greater severity of alcohol-related problems and lower rates of engagement in treatment link to comorbid disorders.

Social Anxiety Disorder and Marijuana

Marijuana and anxiety disorders also have a clinically significant relationship. Cannabis can have an immediate calming or dissociative effect that relieves anxiety temporarily or at least makes it less distressing.

However, high doses of marijuana frequently trigger anxiety and paranoia, immediately intensifying the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. alcohol, marijuana can also cause higher levels of anxiety in periods between use.

In one study, 26% of people in a treatment group for marijuana-related problems had co-occurring social anxiety disorders. These conditions led to increased cognitive and behavioral problems.

Other studies showed that people who have a pre-existing social anxiety disorder have more marijuana-related problems and are more ly to continue using marijuana even when they have negative expectations about the effect it will have on their symptoms.

Social Anxiety Disorder and Stimulants

Stimulants work by driving the sympathetic nervous system into action. This internal process is what triggers the fight-or-flight response and the release of adrenaline, which links to the subjective experience of anxiety. When environmental stimuli do not cause this response, it can result in prolonged anxiety.

Cases of stimulant-induced social phobia may be explained not only by this basic cause-and-effect relationship but also by the long-term dopamine depletion caused by stimulant abuse.

Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment

Substance use can interfere with the treatment of social anxiety in many ways. Active use often makes people who have social anxiety disorders become even more avoidant and withdrawn. If they begin therapy for their anxiety before starting to use substances, they are ly to stop going as substance use progresses into addiction.

People may take actions they wouldn’t otherwise take because of progressive substance use. These actions and their unintended consequences can become significant sources of shame.

The understanding gained in recovery can make sense of these events and alleviate self-blame.

However, before recovery begins, these experiences tend to reinforce the cognitive distortions linked with social anxiety disorder.

Taking actions that trigger self-accusation and shame can reverse the progress made in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Therapists might try to help clients who have social anxiety and a co-occurring substance use disorder try to understand that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, but this is difficult when active substance use is impacting a person’s cognitive and emotional functions.

Under these circumstances, therapy can become a prolonged cycle of crisis management and damage control, instead of a journey of progressive recovery.

Drug Abuse as a Cause of Social Anxiety Disorder

It is rare for a social anxiety disorder to develop later in life, but it is possible.

Environmental or physical causes chronic stress, medical conditions, hormone imbalances and substance use can trigger anxiety symptoms in people who did not have them before.

If these symptoms arise in contexts that cause people to attribute them to social situations, they can develop into a social anxiety disorder.

The feelings of shame complicate this predicament that many people develop from addiction. Due to the social stigma, people often see their substance use as a moral failure rather than as an abnormal survival strategy or a disease rooted in neurochemistry.

A major component of social anxiety disorder is the fear of or actual experiences of negative judgment for using substances, which can cause people to become more withdrawn and anxious. In some cases, this can develop into clinical levels of social phobia.

Statistics on Social Anxiety Disorder and Drug Abuse

  • There have been several studies conducted to learn more about social anxiety disorder and drug addiction, some of the statistics that were uncovered include: Nearly 20 percent of people who have a social anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder.
  • Almost 80 percent of people with both had social anxiety disorder before they developed an alcohol use disorder.
  • People who have social anxiety disorder are 5 times more ly to develop cannabis dependence and 4.5 times more ly to develop alcohol dependence.
  • At least 10 percent of people with cannabis use disorders have a lifetime prevalence of social anxiety disorder.

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder with Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

An integrated approach best serves simultaneous treatment of both social anxiety and substance use disorders. Ideally, all treatment services are provided by the same organization, through an integrated approach is possible if treatment providers coordinate their interventions.

A clinical review advises that, in addition to integrated treatment, it is important to treat co-occurring anxiety and substance use disorders with interventions that minimize the use of medication.

This approach can help break the “self-medication cycle” and facilitate the adoption of new coping strategies, helping clients learn how to regulate their emotions and manage their anxiety on their own.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is recommended as the most effective therapeutic intervention for both social anxiety and substance use disorders. These co-occurring conditions can be targeted together in CBT groups or separately in a group and individual therapy.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use or co-occurring disorder social anxiety, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals provides a continuum of care for substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program could work for you.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes.

We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Share on Social Media:


The Relationship Between Cannabis Use And Social Anxiety — RQS Blog

Marijuana Use and Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety is the fear of judgement, rejection, and being negatively evaluated in a social and/or performance situation.

When a person experiences these feelings for 6 months or longer, a diagnosis of SAD or social anxiety disorder typically follows, provided the person seeks treatment.

Moreover, the DSM-5[1] (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, published 2013) lists a total of 10 diagnostic criteria.

The definition of SAD has changed significantly over time. Previously referred to in the early 20th century as social phobia or social neurosis, then later divided into two types: generalised SAD and specific SAD, we are now back to simply SAD in the 21st century.

Perhaps Greek physician Hippocrates[2] was the most accurate, describing the first SAD patient in 400 BC as follows: “through bashfulness, suspicion, and timorousness will not be seen abroad, loves darkness as life and cannot endure the light, or to sit in lightsome places, his hat over his eyes, he will neither see nor be seen by his good will”.


A 2009 study[3] called “Social Anxiety Disorder And Marijuana Use Problems: The Mediating Role Of Marijuana Effect Expectancies” is oft evidenced against cannabis regarding SAD. This study concluded, “These data support the contention that SAD is uniquely related to marijuana problems and provide insight into mechanisms underlying this vulnerability”.

The same study acknowledges that cannabis use is not usually associated with anxiety disorders in general, but also speculates “it may be that specific types of negative affect are associated with marijuana problems, among which SAD appears to be one”.

A 2002 study[4] published in the American Medical Journal entitled “Rates of psychiatric comorbidity among U.S. residents with lifetime cannabis dependence” is another study that’s frequently invoked on the subject. This suggests that American adults suffering from social anxiety are “7 times more ly to develop a cannabis addiction”.


A 2005 study[5] published in The Journal Of Clinical Psychiatry named “The epidemiology of social anxiety disorder in the United States: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions” debunks the findings of those mentioned above. This research discovered “Over 80% of individuals with SAD received no treatment, and the mean age at first treatment was 27.2 years”.

In fact, the conclusion states “Social anxiety disorder was associated with substantial unremitting course and extremely early age at onset”. This implies SAD is a pre-existing condition prior to a person’s first toke of a spliff.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) theorised that SAD could actually be a “learned behaviour”. However, the best is yet to come from the APA.

The DSM-5, the very text that defines and lists the symptoms for the condition, unequivocally confirms SAD begins in adolescence[6] in the vast majority of cases.

It states, “According to the DSM-5, the median age of onset of social anxiety disorder in the US is age 13, with 75% of those with social anxiety disorder experiencing the onset at a range of ages 8–15”.

If you can’t trust the empirical evidence from the APA, who can you trust? Well, there are millions of stoners the world over that toke feel-good greenery with friends regularly, who can confirm their data. Unless you’re blazing up and living the outlaw life before you even hit your teens, marijuana is probably not responsible for SAD. And even if you are, SAD is the least of your worries.


Recreational cannabis users have been aware of the mood-boosting and calming effects of high-THC varieties for decades. Sativa-dominant cannabis strains Lemon Shining Silver Haze and Sour Diesel are renowned for their energetic, uplifting high, while heavy indica strains Northern Lights and White Widow have a reputation for a dreamy, stress-relieving physical effect.

Then there is the global community of medical cannabis growers who have embraced the cultivation of CBD-rich cannabis strains. In less than a decade, strains Medical Mass and Dance World have become world famous, not because of a potent psychoactive effect, but for their purpose-bred medicinal value.

Anecdotal evidence aside, the University of Sao Paulo Brazil[7] studied the effects of CBD on a small group of 36 patients suffering from SAD. This research is most valuable as it placed the participants in a situation that was guaranteed to trigger their condition. The test was a public speaking simulation.

Split into 3 groups of 12, one group was dosed with 600mg of CBD; another group received a placebo; the third served as a control group.

Granted, this was a small double-blind test, but the results at least show some promise for CBD as a treatment for SAD. The study found that patients dosed with CBD reported less social anxiety in comparison with the control group.

In contrast, the placebo group reported increased social anxiety compared with the control group.


SAD, in ordinary decent stoner terms, is shyness. In this writer’s opinion, it is certainly a real mental health condition and it is treatable.

Cognitive behavioural therapy has opened up a whole new world for many people.

But the best advice I’ve heard is what David Goggins, ex-Navy Seal and ultra-marathon runner refers to as “callusing the mind”—putting yourself in uncomfortable situations to become less vulnerable to the anxiety over time.



Marijuana Use and Social Anxiety Disorder

As of 2019, 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form. 11 of those have laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use, in addition to the country of Canada.

A Turn of the Tide for Cannabis in the USA

Social norms and the stigma of cannabis use are beginning to shift nationwide, particularly in places that have legalized recreational use such as my home state, California.

One is as ly to see a billboard advertising a new cannabis dispensary website as the next blockbuster movie driving around Los Angeles these days. In addition, new and often exciting lines of research are beginning to open up around the various potential health benefits of different cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC.

Many of these potential benefits are well deserving of our excitement and openness to following the research, wherever it leads.

Cannabis Research is still in its Infancy

However, as of the landmark 2016 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, there is sufficient evidence to categorize the health benefits of Cannabis as strong and conclusive for solely the treatment of chronic pain in adults, the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea, and for managing symptoms of multiple sclerosis. If your experience is anything similar to mine, this will stand in stark contrast to the various and seemingly limitless therapeutic benefits proclaimed of Cannabis, including for help managing social anxiety. Indeed, there is even a small number of initial studies showing that administration of a dose of CBD can help lower reported symptoms of anxiety during a public speech performance. Utilizing a cannabinoid such as CBD may also turn out to be a relatively safer alternative with less side effects compared to other anxiolytics and substances used to manage anxiety. So…is it a simple and all natural solution to something that can be as painful and difficult to shake as intense social anxiety?

Short-term Gain for Long-term Pain?

Unfortunately, be it CBD or THC, the potential (which often backfires) of a short-term anxiety reducing substance has proven time and again to be more of a barrier than an aide to truly overcoming anxiety over the long run.

Conceptualizing the problem from the perspective of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), there are core components that often keep social anxiety going over the long run. Notably, these include avoiding social situations that may elicit anxiety, along with negative predictions about our ability to cope with the feelings in the situation.

So, when we run away from feeling anxious, or fight it and suppress it through different strategies, we are actually keeping ourselves from learning how to get through it, and that we can do it.

Limitless are the strategies we create to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of social anxiety. Common ones are to avoid certain social situations all together, avoiding eye contact or initiating interaction, or utilizing a substance such as alcohol or a short-acting anxiety medication to manage the experience.

The potential short-term anxiety reducing effect of Cannabis falls into the same category.

It is tempting in that it may reduce symptoms in the short-term, but if it functions to avoid experience or feared outcomes, it will be just another behavior that gets in the way of the learning through exposure therapy that is needed to truly manage Social Anxiety Disorder.

Changing the Motivation of Cannabis Use

So, if you happen to be someone who struggles with social anxiety, you are ly to come across Cannabis use described as something that is a helpful way to cope with anxiety.

It will also be quite easy to find a doctor online saying it is backed by research for this, and for many it may not be as big of an issue. But if Cannabis is serving as a means of consistently coping with anxiety and avoiding feelings or situations, it will be hurting much more than it is helping.

If this is the case, here are some strategies to start thinking about how to free up this interfering behavior:

  • Spend time non-judgmentally observing how cannabis use works for you. What are the motivations around it? What thoughts come up for you in social situations before you use? Is it being used to avoid anything…a feeling, sensation, or interaction?
  • Commit to a goal of letting go of Cannabis use that is predominantly motivated by coping with anxiety and/or as a safety or avoidance behavior.
  • Develop a list of target changes to your Cannabis use. For example, delaying the amount of time before you use Cannabis after you start feeling anxious, or reducing the frequency and quantity of use in social situations over time.
  • As you begin to delay and alter the use of Cannabis use as a coping behavior, implement more helpful strategies such as mindfulness and cognitive restructuring to reinforce that you can tolerate the feelings and be present in social interactions.

In summary, we will all ly continue to see Cannabis use become normalized and hopefully see more of its true benefits come out over time.

In the meantime, we must be vigilant of the hype and marketing forces that portray it as a positive way of coping with social anxiety.

True progress can be found in letting go of Cannabis use as means of coping with or avoiding anxiety, and learning to embrace the moment and move forward towards what we truly value in life.

Robert Yeilding, Psy.D.
NSAC – Newport Beach/Orange County

The National Social Anxiety Center is a national association of regional clinics with certified cognitive therapists specializing in social anxiety and anxiety-related problems. We have compassionate therapists who can help you to reduce social anxiety.

Currently, we have regional clinics in San Francisco, District of Columbia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City, Chicago, Newport Beach / Orange County, Houston / Sugar Land, St.

Louis, Phoenix, South Florida, Silicon Valley / San Jose, Dallas, Des Moines, San Diego, Baltimore, Louisville, Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Maryland / Northern Virginia, Long Beach, Staten Island, North Jersey, Brooklyn, and Santa Barbara.

Contact our national headquarters at (202) 656-8566 or visit our Regional Clinics contact page to find help in your local area.

Share this blog post


Добавить комментарий

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: