I've suffered from anxiety for most of my life, but I never received any treatment until my mid-twenties when I first tried antidepressants. Unsatisfied with the results, I eventually ditched the meds to try a more natural approach. I improved my diet, started exercising, meditating, and did an online cognitive behavioral therapy program. The combination of those things truly helped. I continue the healthy diet, exercise, and meditation to this day. Those natural lifestyle modifications have been the most helpful in combating my anxiety—as has learning about neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, what anxiety is and the reasons why I feel anxiety.
It was after all that, when I was thirty years old and living in a state where medical marijuana was legal, that I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was surprised to discover it actually helped in my meditation and mindfulness practice. Cannabis makes me more present, more conscious, and more self-reflective to help further remove the anxiety from my life.
That doesn’t mean marijuana is an instant cure for anxiety. In fact, many people say weed makes them more anxious and paranoid. Why is there that seeming contradiction? It’s not that cannabis makes you anxious and paranoid—you were already anxious and paranoid. The weed is simply bringing those issues to the front of your mind. Your subconscious mind is telling you that you need to deal with those issues. People who were just looking to party while high and hang out with friends can’t handle that sudden dose of deep introspection, so it turns them off of marijuana.
For me, cannabis is not a party drug. It works best alone, for introspection and meditation, and for boosting my creativity. If I started smoking weed in my teens when I was a very anxious person without a mindfulness meditation practice, it very well may have made my anxiety worse. But using it after learning CBT, mindfulness, and meditation, cannabis became an aid to my health and psychological well-being. It actually helped reduce my anxiety further.
Because I already addressed my anxiety and mental health, when I use marijuana it’s almost always a pleasant experience. My mind has no demons to bring forth, so the cannabis inspires me with positive creative thoughts. That’s essentially what cannabis does: it makes your mind run wild. So if your mind is full of negative thoughts, marijuana will instigate more negative thoughts resulting in paranoia and anxiety. But if through mental health practices such as CBT, meditation, and mindfulness, you learn to suppress your negative thoughts, then when your mind runs wild on cannabis, it will result in positive creativity. That’s why it’s important to do the self-work of CBT and meditation before trying cannabis.
Some people mock the idea of “medical” marijuana, but it actually can be medicinal in myriad ways. One obvious benefit is pain relief, but it can also help your psychological health by combating anxiety and boosting creativity and empathy. But you should not only use cannabis to mitigate anxiety—it is not a miracle drug in that respect. For the best results, cannabis should be used in conjunction with the hard work of mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
So if you're one of those people for whom marijuana makes you anxious, the problem may not be the marijuana—it may be you. Do the self-work to fix your mind first, then maybe using marijuana will be a more pleasant experience.