Yes, Quitting Weed Could Benefit Your Mental Health

6 min.

For some people, weed can cause or exacerbate mental health issues, and quitting weed may improve mood and overall well-being.

By: Sarah Fielding

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

May 6, 2024

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Weed, more formerly known as marijuana or cannabis, has been legalized for medical and recreational use in 24 states and the District of Columbia (for people 21+) as of March of this year. It has also become less socially illicit during that period, and most American adults now report having used marijuana during their lifetime.

The drug has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mental health for some people, but others may find that their mental health worsens when taking weed. These risks are particularly problematic among young people, for whom frequent cannabis use has been linked with mental health issues. 

So what are the mental health benefits of quitting marijuana, and should you quit smoking weed or ingesting it? Below, mental health experts detail weed’s impact on mental health and explore different forms of marijuana addiction treatment. 

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Weed use among young people: the data 

Weed is very popular among young people, who can choose from ingesting an edible or smoking marijuana. According to a study on marijuana use in 2021, nearly half (43%) of people aged 19 to 30 had used marijuana in the past year, and about one-third (29%) had in the past month. The report, which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supported, showed a significant uptick over the past decade. In 2011, only 29% of young people reported using marijuana in the last year, and 17% had in the past month. Reported daily use of marijuana saw a smaller jump, increasing to 11% from 6% of young people over the ten years. 

A separate report from the same year looked at a slightly younger demographic: high schoolers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over one-quarter (27.8%) of high schoolers reported ever using marijuana, and 15.8% said they currently use it. 

Experts have also observed this increase anecdotally. “My caseload had kids as young as 12 using marijuana on a regular basis,” says Charlie Health Clinical Supervisor Kathleen Douglass, MA, LCPC. “Although some will find marijuana enjoyable and an occasional thing to do socially, anything done to excess or at a young age can have some serious consequences. Brain development is not even complete by that age, and the long-term effects of marijuana use on an undeveloped brain can be numerous.”

How weed can impact your mental health

The quantity and regularity of weed use are significant determinants of its impact. Notably, frequent cannabis use can bring on severe mental health symptoms — multiple studies have shown that using weed at an early age can make serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia worse or even trigger their symptoms. These side effects can also be exacerbations of existing mental health conditions, says Charlie Health Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Claire Streeter, PMHNP, ARNP.

Some of the more common mental-health impacts of weed are anxiety and intrusive thoughts, says Douglass. “Chronic use can lead to increased depression and a lack of desire to and motivation to accomplish daily tasks, and it can increase panic attacks and paranoia,” she explains. Also, she adds that these symptoms can be sporadic — someone might smoke or ingest weed a few times and feel great, but the next time, face a panic attack without a clear indicator for the change.

Though weed legalization is a step towards solving this problem, there’s also the ongoing issue that many people still buy weed from dealers and can’t verify what’s in it. Young people smoking marijuana or getting edibles could be more susceptible to this as they can’t legally access weed. A person could then face more severe mental health symptoms if they unknowingly ingest another drug and are at risk of an overdose. Also, some people may face marijuana withdrawal when trying to limit or quit their use. 

Is weed hurting your mental health? 

It might be challenging to determine if weed is the cause of any adverse mental health conditions you’re experiencing, but looking at the timing of symptoms can be a good indicator. If your poor mental health started around the time you began using weed — or when you started taking it in greater quantities or frequencies — then it could be to blame. Think: Did anything else happen around that period that could’ve triggered these bad feelings? If not, weed is likely the culprit. 

An outside expert can also help you make the call to start quitting smoking or ingesting weed. “Generally, consulting with a medical professional is a good first step to determine if cannabis use may be worsening your mental health symptoms,” says Streeter. “Often the first step is seeing if symptoms improve or resolve when an individual stops use for some time.” 

A medical professional can also help you manage withdrawal symptoms and seek treatment for mental health conditions. Some people find marijuana withdrawal can be challenging to deal with on their own. In some cases, there might even be the sensation of addiction to weed. While there are a lot of mixed accounts over addiction and the existence of weed withdrawal symptoms, you could certainly feel a dependence on it and might benefit from marijuana addiction treatment. Potential weed withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depressed emotions
  • Disturbed sleep

Benefits of quitting weed

Basically, if weed is what’s bringing your mental health down, then stopping use should lead to improvements. “If you think about how it can negatively impact mental health, the benefits of stopping cannabis use are potentially seeing improvements in all those symptoms listed above,” says Streeter. 

Quitting, or severely limiting, your weed use also gives you more of an opportunity to dive into exploring other coping mechanisms that don’t have adverse side effects, says Douglass. This could be exercise, meditation, or therapy — to name a few options. Your ability to be active could also improve if you quit smoking weed.

This discussion isn’t to say weed should be entirely off the table if it helps you; these are more points to be aware of as you make choices around weed use. “For people who experience anxiety, marijuana or THC can provide a sense of relaxation and calm for them. Some feel that it can improve creativity and relieve depressive symptoms as well,” says Douglass. “Proponents of recreational marijuana use — which is much different than medical marijuana used to alleviate pain or symptoms of chronic diseases — also tout its benefits over alcohol, which can have dramatic negative effects on multiple systems in the body. Marijuana does not cause adverse effects on the stomach lining and liver functioning or give you the dreaded hangover the morning after.” 

However, Streeter adds that there is limited high-quality research on the positive impacts of weed, especially for people with psychiatric disorders, due to the US government’s continued listing of marijuana as an illegal substance.   

A mother and son research the benefits of quitting weed.

How Charlie Health can help

If marijuana use is affecting your mental health and you wonder if quitting marijuana could benefit you, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions — including co-occurring substance use disorders. 

Our expert clinicians can discuss quitting smoking and how to manage withdrawal symptoms and offer resources for weed withdrawal treatment and general addiction treatment as needed. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing your mental health is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today. 

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