Anxiety and paranoia are among the most discussed side effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the primary psychoactive in the cannabis plant and is the molecule responsible for the famous “high” the herb provides.
However, recent research questions whether the anxiety-provoking effects of the herb are worth worrying about. Surprising to many, a study published in early 2017 suggests that cannabis produces only a slight risk of long-term anxiety in most people. Here’s the scoop:
Cannabis & anxiety: a complex history
Let’s travel back to the United States in the late 1930s. Up until mid 1930s, hemp and cannabis cultivation had been legal and the plant was frequently used and prescribed by medical doctors.
The herb was first outlawed by the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937”, which forced hemp farmers to pay a hefty tax if they were found cultivating hemp.
Just prior to this tax, the “Reefer Madness” era kicked into full swing.
Reefer Madness is a propaganda film that first debuted in 1936 and was originally funded by a church group called Tell Your Children.
The film and related propaganda encouraged a culture of fear around the cannabis plant, suggesting that it contributed to loose morals, violence, and eventually a descent into insanity. This insanity is an extreme depiction of the paranoia and anxiety that cannabis can exaggerate.
Today, the idea that the plant can cause anxiety and paranoia in just about anyone still prevails. However, research over the past five years has uncovered that this is not the case.
Study suggests cannabis produces only slight risk of anxiety
A recent review published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health sought out to test whether or not cannabis consumption was associated with an increased risk of anxiety in the general population.
Previous research published in 2016 uncovered that cannabis-induced anxiety may be genetic in nature.
Specifically, researchers found that those with variations with the AKT1 gene were more likely to experience anxiety, paranoia, and visual distortions after consuming psychoactive cannabis.
Now, this new meta-analysis of scientific literature suggests that cannabis consumption is associated with only a “slight risk” of anxiety in the general population.
Using the herb was statistically associated with only 1.15 times greater risk of developing anxiety symptoms. This data suggests that the association between cannabis and anxiety is much smaller than is often made out to be.
The study author, Dr. Conal D Twomey, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences in the School of Psychology at the British University of Southampton, concluded:
“The findings indicate that cannabis use is no more than a minor risk factor for the development of elevated anxiety symptoms in the general population. They may inform the debate surrounding the legalisation of cannabis.”
Previous research using short-term studies have found that cannabis can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Though, it was unclear whether or not the plant caused anxiety or if those with anxiety were more likely to be drawn to the plant.
The meta-analysis discussed here does not provide an answer to that question. Though, the new research used data from longitudinal studies rather than short term cross-sectional research. This means that in the long term, cannabis is not associated with an increased risk of developing anxiety.
Longitudinal studies test the outcomes of high-quality research conducted over the long term. In contrast, cross-sectional studies look at the effects of short term research only. When trying to find the best possible information, longitudinal studies are always preferable.