Cannabis-Induced Problems?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. Adjustment issues, anxiety, Cannibus induced? I am a Freshman in college, just now finishing up my first year. In high school, I ran XC and track, and was an occasional pot smoker. Also, I was a popular kid, and got decent grades. However, since I’ve graduated high school, I rarely run, and smoke more pot than I ever have (about 2-3 times a week when school is in session, and almost everyday during my breaks), but still manage to maintain my grades. The summer after graduation, I started to develop anxiety and absurd, negative thoughts. For example, I started having this idea that there was some “social” cosmos, and that every action someone made, was a part of this “plan.” While smoking, I experienced some panic attacks and a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, some of which were violent. Also, after an attack, I have a self-accusation that I’m gay. However in the past, I’ve never had such thoughts of homosexuality. I have had a good history with women, and am currently seeing a girl back home. These thoughts seem to have come out of nowhere. Also, they have caused major stress, to the point where it becomes difficult to socialize, even with my best friends. I’ve felt strong feelings of insecurities and some loss of self-worth, and constantly compare myself to my father and my brother. I’ve always been a happy, out-going person, but now I feel like I’m incapable of being either.

I had been attack-free for about 3 months, however, recently I “celebrated” 4/20 by being high all day. I had one attack that day. My symptoms are the worst they’ve ever been. The most scary part is I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know if these thoughts are a product of my shift to college. Or is it the fact that I live a less healthy lifestyle, all intensified by the increase of marijuana use. Please, a little insight from a professional view is all I need to get an idea of what I need change in my life.

A. You only used to smoke marijuana occasionally. Then you went to college and your marijuana use increased significantly. After your marijuana use increased you stopped doing most of the activities you enjoyed. Then panic attacks started. Not only have you begun to have panic attacks, seemingly related to your use of marijuana, it also seems that you’ve developed paranoid thoughts. You’ve also developed insecurities that you didn’t used to have. You seem to be experiencing depression and an overall decrease in your psychological well-being. All this has caused you a great deal of stress.

If we look at this analytically and objectively we’d see a correlation between your increased use of marijuana and a significant decrease in your quality of life. You were an energetic teenager, who engaged in many social activities, who had a good sense of self-worth and who seemed to be relatively happy. Then you started using drugs and your life started falling apart. I hope you can see the connection between your drug use and your negative symptoms.

I cannot answer the specific question of whether the issues you are experiencing are related to stress from attending college or your use of drugs. It seems that you had some stress associated with going to college, then you started to use drugs and everything went downhill from there. I hope you can see that your use of drugs has not helped you in any way and it has significantly hurt you.

I know people believe that marijuana is not that bad of a drug. Many people think it’s a relatively safe drug to use. I’ve known many people who psychologically separated in their minds marijuana from other drugs such as cocaine, PCP etc. For them marijuana is as innocent as smoking a cigarette. The fact is that marijuana is a hallucinogenic drug. LSD is also a hallucinogenic drug. These are very serious drugs. Both of these drugs have been associated with the development of severe mental illness. There is no one known cause of severe mental illness but it’s important to note that marijuana has been linked to illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. My point in bringing this information to your attention is that by using marijuana you’re not only decreasing your quality of life but you’re essentially “playing with fire.” Marijuana can permanently alter your brain chemistry in a negative way.

I would strongly encourage you to stop using marijuana. As you mentioned in your letter the last time you used marijuana to celebrate “420” day you had a panic attack. This should be enough to tell you to stop. Your body and your brain are rejecting these drugs. It’s possible that if you never used marijuana or any other drugs again, that you may not ever have a another panic attack. Your quality of life almost certainly will improve as well.

You also mentioned that you stopped engaging in athletic activities. People who smoke marijuana often lack motivation and energy. That’s one of the side effects of the drug. Perhaps if you stopped smoking marijuana you’d have the energy to return to the activities you once enjoyed. Engaging in these activities will probably also improve your quality of life.

For your own mental health and well-being it is advisable that you stop using marijuana. The concern is that your mental health symptoms will continue or intensify. If you need help and are not sure how to stop then you should consider making an appointment at the counseling center at your college. If you stop using marijuana and get help, if you need it, then your sophomore year will be much better than your freshman year.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Apr 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Cannabis-Induced Problems?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/04/27/cannibus-induced-problems/