Those Who Abuse Cannabis More Likely to Have Problems with Social Anxiety

Those Who Abuse Cannabis More Likely to Have Problems with Social Anxiety

A team of researchers from some of the nation’s leading universities looked at data from tens of thousands of Americans and found that high marijuana intake is often accompanied by serious psychological problems, chief among them a condition known as social anxiety disorder (SAD).

A Team of Experts

The research team members were Dr. Franklin Schneier of Columbia University, Dr. Julia Buckner of Louisiana State University, Dr. Carlos Blanco of New York State Psychiatric Institute and Dr. Richard Heimberg of Temple University. Together they reviewed data collected through the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

The Source of Data

The survey represented the responses of 43,093 individuals from across the country. Nearly eight percent (3,297) of the respondents self-reported drug issues and symptoms connected with cannabis use disorder (CUD). Of that group, 340 also said they had experienced serious symptoms of SAD at some point. It isn’t possible to say that CUD causes SAD or that SAD causes CUD. What is clear is that the two conditions are linked.

Cause or Effect?

Better than 80 percent of the survey participants who said they had CUD plus SAD said that SAD came first. Just 15 percent of respondents said that their CUD occurred first. For those who feel inordinate amounts of social anxiety it may be appealing to ease those discomforts through self-medication with cannabis. For a smaller but still notable percentage of people it seems that heavy use of cannabis creates social anxieties which eventually grow into SAD.

SAD Makes Things Worse

When the two conditions appear together, the problems linked to cannabis use tend to be more severe. There is a difference between cannabis abuse and cannabis dependence. Abuse describes episodic use of cannabis with no physiological problems attached to using. Dependence, on the other hand, refers to compulsive drug use and attending physiological or psychological issues. For those who met the criteria for cannabis abuse, 8.5 percent also had SAD. But among those who met the criteria for cannabis dependence the rate of SAD jumped to 21 percent.

Experiencing the two conditions also made it more likely that the person would have another diagnosable mental health disorder and even poor physical health. Of those with SAD plus CUD, more than 99 percent had another psychiatric disorder. For the overwhelming majority (98 percent) that disorder was either a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder or another substance abuse problem. A smaller but still large number (73 percent) of those with CUD and SAD reported symptoms indicative of such personality disorders as obsessive compulsive disorder, antisocial disorder, avoidance or paranoia.

These respondents who indicated CUD and SAD felt that their overall health was less satisfactory than those who reported CUD only. Around 60 percent of those reporting CUD alone said that their health was either very good or excellent. Just 50 percent of those with the combined conditions said that their health was very good or excellent.

Need to Treat Both

The review pointed to a clear link between CUD and SAD. A notable number of people who misuse cannabis also suffer from SAD. And when SAD is present, the negative outcomes associated with cannabis use are more severe. The researchers conclude from their survey review that it is important to screen patients with CUD for SAD since anxiety problems can be both a cause and a consequence to cannabis use.