Marijuana and Panic Attacks

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Written by Casandra Jones on 01/29/2023.
Data Last Updated: 05/30/2024.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon Author avatar Medically reviewed by Dr. Kimberly Langdon Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine, earning Honors in many rotations. She then completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University...

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What are Panic Attacks?

While marijuana is known for its calming effects, some people have reported feeling anxiety and even panic attacks after using it. This can be quite disturbing and confusing, especially if you are new to marijuana. In this article, we’ll look at why this may happen and whether there’s a real connection between marijuana and panic attacks. We’ll also provide some tips on how to lower your chances of having a panic attack if you decide to use marijuana.

What are Panic Attacks?

A panic attack is a sudden, intense surge of fear or anxiety. These episodes typically peak within a few minutes but can last longer. They are often accompanied by a range of distressing physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms.

Panic attacks are a common mental health issue that can affect anyone, regardless of age or background. When it occurs, people tend to experience an overwhelming fear that leaves them feeling helpless and confused.

Generally, panic attacks can be grouped into two:

Unexpected Panic Attacks:  As implied by the name, this kind strikes suddenly and without warning. They can occur in various settings, at any given moment, and without an obvious cause. 

Expected Panic Attacks: These are panic attacks brought on by specific triggers or situations. For instance, an individual with a fear of enclosed spaces might have an expected panic attack when entering a crowded elevator. Similarly, someone with a fear of flying may experience an expected panic attack shortly before boarding an airplane.

What is the Relationship Between Marijuana and Panic Attacks?

What is the Relationship Between Marijuana and Panic Attacks?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are responsible for the effects exerted by marijuana on the mind and body. Depending on the cannabis strain bought, you will generally get either more CBD or more THC. Therefore, your experience with marijuana will vary significantly according to the THC/CBD composition balance and individual reactions.

Now, here are some reasons why an individual may experience panic attacks after marijuana use:

1. The THC and Anxiety Connection

THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, has been linked to causing anxiety in some people when taken in high doses. Most persons tolerate the effects of THC better in low doses. When consumed, THC is known to cause increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and altered perception. Some persons may find these effects to be particularly distressing, potentially triggering a panic attack.

2. Setting and Environment

In line with THC’s ability to induce paranoia, the setting in which marijuana is consumed may influence the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack. People still negatively judge those who use cannabis, even if it is for health reasons, therefore, unfamiliar or uncomfortable environments, especially in the presence of strangers or in high-stress situations, can increase the chances of anxiety and panic.

3. Strains

Marijuana strains differ in chemical strength and effects. Although all have the same look, the effects produced from strain A may be far different from the effects of strain B. This is why it is important to consult your physician before choosing to manage the symptoms of an illness with cannabis. For example, while indica strains are often associated with relaxation and stress relief, sativa strains can be more stimulating and potentially anxiety-inducing.

CBD Relieves Anxiety and Panic Attacks

CBD Relieves Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Unlike THC, CBD exerts anti-anxiety effects on the mind and body. In fact, according to Forbes, about 50% of US adults use CBD to manage anxiety. There is a growing body of evidence to support the use of CBD for the treatment of anxiety disorders. A 2015 research revealed that CBD interacts with key receptors, including the cannabinoid type 1 receptor (CB1R) and the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor, both of which play pivotal roles in regulating behaviors associated with fear and anxiety. 

Moreover, CBD is thought to have anxiolytic effects through several mechanisms, including:

  • Increasing levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which has calming effects;
  • Reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol;
  • Modulating the activity of the amygdala, a brain region involved in processing fear and anxiety; and 
  • Reducing inflammation, which may play a role in anxiety disorders.

The Truth: People Respond Differently to Marijuana

The relationship between marijuana and anxiety or panic attacks is highly individual. Cannabis is a complex plant that is yet to be fully understood. It contains over 400 chemicals, all of which affect the body in some way. Factors like the user’s prior experience with marijuana, their mental state, and the dose consumed all play a crucial role in determining the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack.

Also, a personal predisposition to anxiety and panic disorders may be a significant factor, such that people with a history of anxiety disorders may be more susceptible to panic attacks when using marijuana.

Tips to Prevent Marijuana-Induced Panic Attacks

Tips to Prevent Marijuana-Induced Panic Attacks

Here are some ways to avoid panic attacks while using marijuana:

1. Know Your Tolerance

Understanding your personal tolerance level is key. If you’re prone to anxiety, it’s best to consume smaller amounts and monitor your reaction closely.

2. Choose the Right Strain

When it comes to preventing panic attacks, this is the one area you should pay close attention to. Choose a marijuana strain with lower THC levels and a higher CBD. 

3. Start with Low Dosage

The risk of anxiety increases with dosage. The more THC you take in, the higher your risk, especially if you’re a novice. This approach allows your body to acclimate to the effects of marijuana without becoming overwhelmed.

4. Mindset Matters

Check your emotional state before using marijuana. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, it might be best to go for a high CBD strain.

5. Avoid Mixing Substances

If you are using marijuana on recreational grounds, try your best to avoid combination with alcohol or other central nervous system-acting substances. It’s best to consume marijuana on its own.

6. Seek Professional Help

If you find that you consistently experience panic attacks when using marijuana, consider consulting a healthcare professional or therapist for professional guidance and support to address the root causes of your anxiety.

Signs You May Be Having a Panic Attack

Signs You May Be Having a Panic Attack

Here are some indications you might be experiencing a panic attack:

  • Overwhelming Fear
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Trembling and Shaking
  • Sweating Profusely
  • Feeling Dizzy or Lightheaded
  • Nausea and Stomach Upset
  • Tingling Sensations

Final Thoughts

A good understanding of your body system, strain, and dosage control can help you prevent panic attacks from cannabis usage because they all play a role in determining how marijuana affects a person’s mental state.

Nevertheless, if you’re concerned about experiencing panic attacks while using marijuana, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or consider alternative methods of relaxation and stress relief. If you are yet to get your MMJ card, get one today from Dr.Weedy so you can easily access the best cannabis strains for your health. Stay safe!

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