Although marijuana use is still illegal in many countries (despite the growing trend towards legalisation), it has long been used by people who suffer from stress as a form of self-medication, often along with other substances, both illegal and legal. Alcohol and “soft” and “hard” drugs are often used by people with anxiety, stress or other mental disorders in an effort to control their symptoms. Unfortunately, these attempts at self-medication can often lead to many more problems over time.
With the growing use of legal medical marijuana for treating a range of disorders, is it time to revaluate the drug’s potential for treating stress? Research on the effectiveness of the approach has not provided any conclusive answers. Some people find that their stress and anxiety reduce when they use marijuana, and others find that they are exacerbated. A lack of research also leaves much to learn on the issue of the impact of marijuana on a range of physical disorders and sensations.
There are also various other practical considerations to bear in mind. Many people use marijuana by smoking it, often in combination with tobacco. Smoking marijuana is bad for our lungs per se and smoking it with tobacco is worse again—with the added risk of becoming physically addicted to the tobacco. While marijuana is not physically habit-forming, users can nonetheless become psychologically addicted to the sensation of getting high, and heavy marijuana use can be associated with lower levels of motivation and energy, which can cause problems at work and in one’s social life, exacerbating potential causes of stress. Nor should one overlook the fact that marijuana remains illegal in places. This means that there is typically little or no oversight in terms of quality control, and that it is impossible to know how strong a particular strain is, while users risk getting a criminal record if they are apprehended with the substances.
Of course, legally prescribed medication also comes with risks, including addiction, lowered motivation, tiredness, and more. Beyond the issue of legal and illegal marijuana use, the bigger question is whether or not stress should be treated with drugs of any sort.
Regardless of the substance used to deal with stress, the most important thing to remember is that stress should not be managed long-term with drugs. During particularly difficult periods in our lives, a short-term prescription might help us to get through a tough patch, but in the longer term, anyone with stress or anxiety needs to learn how to manage their symptoms effectively without the use of drugs. Together with a healthy lifestyle, including a good diet and exercise, therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, group therapy, aversion therapy (for those whose stress is associated with specific triggers) and mindfulness meditation can all help to provide coping mechanisms that will bring stress and anxiety under control and remove the need, or temptation, to try to manage the symptoms with marijuana or other psychoactive substances.
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