Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Cannabis and Anxiety

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Question
QUESTION: Hello,

I was wondering if science has any word on a connection between marijuana use and derealization.
I am diagnosed OCD, and have been my entire life. I am a university student who has smoked marihuana on occasion, as is commonplace in English culture unfortunately. Most of the times that I have smoked I have had panic attacks and racing, wacky thoughts. It was not at all an enjoyable experience. I read an article on the internet (not a medical journal but rather a public forum) stating that marijuana can induce "derealization."  After reading this I thought this may be what i am/was experiencing.  Many people on the website said that "smoking pot has ruined my life. Ive been derealized for fourty years" and other sensational claims along those lines.

Is there any scientific backing to these claims or is it just anxious people, such as myself , doing what we do best (worrying) and tricking themselves into experiencing things that are nothing but good old anxiety.

Thank you for your thoughts.

Also out of curiosity, why does cannabis illicit reactions of panic and uneasiness in many people?

ANSWER: Hi, William, thanks for your question. You asked,

"Is there any scientific backing to these claims or is it just anxious people, such as myself , doing what we do best (worrying) and tricking themselves into experiencing things that are nothing but good old anxiety."

The answer is, yes, of course. I did a search on google scholar, using the words Marijuana and Anxiety, and came up with 30,000 entries. For example,

Comeau, N., Stewart, S. H., & Loba, P. (2001). The relations of trait anxiety, anxiety sensitivity, and sensation seeking to adolescents' motivations for alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use. Addictive behaviors, 26(6), 803-825.

Every substance, whether a prescription or illicit drug, has both intended effects and side effects. Sometimes it has effects unique to the individual.

That does not mean, of course, that you are NOT worrying - it could be that both are happening. One effect of marijuana - in addition - is that it makes you more conscious of your mental state. So, if your tendency is to be anxious, and you start focusing on that feeling, you could become more anxious, by being anxious about your anxiety (if that makes sense).


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you!
Can you tell me a little bit about derealization? Is it a permanent illness or just a symptom of anxiety and depression? I'm worried I may have developed this from cannabis but I think I may just be having a hypochondriac reaction after reading about the alleged links.

Answer
Sure! Derealization is just like it sounds - one's experience does not seem "real". There is a sense of "unreality" to life. It is a common experience, both in everyday life and in mental disorders. Having these experiences does not necessarily mean that one has a mental disorder, and it does not mean that one is completely healthy either. To get a diagnosis, one should go to a mental health professional; HOWEVER, even "having" a mental health "diagnosis" typically means nothing more than one is distressed by the experiences one has, or that one's ability to function is not as optimal as desired.

I should add that, many times, worry or anxiety, especially if it concerns inconsequential things, is merely the mind's way of distracting one from matters that are more important, but more difficult to deal with. So, instead of dealing with the important stuff, we spend all our time worrying. It's so much easier, even if it makes us miserable!

So, I would suggest getting a professional consult if this really bothers you. If not, then focus on more important matters.

Psychiatry & Psychology--General

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Bruce Borkosky, Psy.D.

Expertise

any related to psychology, especially related to forensic psychology

Experience

15 years as a licensed psychologist, 15 years in private practice. My practice began primarily doing individual and group psychotherapy, is now devoted to assessments, but I occasionally do take on clients in therapy.

Organizations
American Psychological Association

Education/Credentials
B.A. psychology, B.A., music, Ohio Wesleyan U., 1978 MCS, computer science, University of Dayton, 1984 MA, psychology, Miami Inst. of Psychology, 1991 Psy.D., psychology, Miami Inst. of Psychology, 1993 post doctoral training in Neuropsychology, Fielding Institute, 1995-1997

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