Is Marijuana an Effective Coping Strategy for Depression or Anxiety?

The Relationship Between Marijuana Use, Anxiety, and Depression


Some young people use marijuana as a means of coping with certain pressures in their lives such as exams, deadlines, relationships, and stress. They also report using it as a way of relieving boredom, frustration, anxiety, depression, or anger. While the initial feelings achieved from using marijuana can help you to relax, escape reality, and take your mind off your stress, these feelings are temporary. Getting high to cope with the pressures of college is not an effective way to address your problems. In many cases, marijuana will make the underlying problems worse because when the high wears off, you still need to face reality. In addition, marijuana alters the chemical composition of your brain. Over time these chemical changes create an increased likelihood of developing more serious mental health problems in adulthood.

Several studies have examined the link between marijuana use and mental health problems. In one study researchers found that college students often use marijuana as a coping mechanism for dealing with their social anxiety. Although their marijuana use might temporarily alleviate their anxiety symptoms, those who used marijuana had several other problems that interfered with their success. One study found that something about the way in which socially anxious individuals use marijuana as a coping strategy increases their risk for marijuana use problems, including decreased work or school productivity if the social situation in question is work or school, avoidance of social interactions with friends and family, arguments with others, and driving under the influence to or from social situation.

Other studies have shown that college students who use marijuana regularly have an increased likelihood of experiencing anxiety disorders later in life. According to Julia Buckner, Director of LSU’s Anxiety and Addictive Behavior Clinic, there is a strong link between marijuana use, and anxiety problems. In her research, she found that people who self-medicate by using marijuana to alleviate anxiety are seven times more likely to become addicted to marijuana.

In another study completed in Australia, researchers found that individuals who smoke marijuana during their adolescent years have a much higher chance of experiencing anxiety problems in their adult years. Even when an individual quits using marijuana after their teenage years, there is still an increased risk factor for as many as ten years after stopping the drug. The researchers believe that because the teenage brain is still forming in regions that govern emotions, there is a likelihood that extensive marijuana use at that juncture could have a lasting emotional impact.

Studies have also been conducted to assess the link between teenage depression and marijuana. Although there is a definitive correlation between depression and marijuana consumption, often, it is difficult to fully understand what came first, the depression or the marijuana use. Do depressed teens smoke marijuana to relieve their symptoms, or does smoking marijuana actually cause the depression?

According to a comprehensive report by the Office of National Drug Control Policy smoking marijuana during adolescence increases the chances of developing clinical depression. In addition, depressed teens are more than twice as likely as others to abuse and become dependent on marijuana. The report which analyzes dozens of studies on the topic of marijuana and mental health, confirms that there is a link between teenage depression and teenage marijuana use. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science suggests that marijuana users' brains have a decreased reactivity to dopamine compared to non-users, which was associated with negative emotionality (irritability and stress) and addictive behaviors. More research is needed to better understand cause and effect of these associations.

It is important to recognize that it is never a good idea to take any drug without discussing it with a medical professional. If you are using marijuana because you are stressed, anxious, depressed, or unhappy – you could be making your problems worse, not better. There are lots of effective ways to address your mental health so that you feel better permanently, not just temporarily. It is recommended that you discuss your problem with a licensed counselor who can help you to get the treatment or medication you may need.

Using marijuana is against Wentworth policy. Regardless of your motivation for using marijuana, you might still find yourself facing the negative consequences associated with violating the campus drug policy. It is likely that the fines and punitive requirements will only increase your stress and anxiety. There are plenty of better options that are legal, safer, healthier, and will help you in the long run- like learning healthy ways to manage stress.

If you are interested in making a confidential appointment to discuss your mental health or substance use, contact Counseling Services at or 617-989-4390.


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