Being human comes with a few inherent unpleasantries, including the experience of uncomfortable emotions like stress and anxiety. Undoubtedly, we would all prefer permanent happiness and contentment, but regardless of who we are or what we have achieved, periods of anxiety and worry are common amongst Homo sapiens. We might be triggered by something concrete, such as turbulence on a plane or a big exam. Other times, anxiety arises for no apparent reason. Indeed each of us have fallen victim to creating scary scenarios that never actually manifest. We get caught in a stream of "what ifs" and "if onlys," and turn a quotidian stress into a catastrophe. Most of the time, we figure out a way to reassure ourselves and return to baseline. However, when anxiety becomes overwhelming and interferes with our everyday functioning, it is time to explore options for treatment.
Categorically, when worry prevents you from living a full life, the recommendation is to seek help from a professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. In the process of searching for options to alleviate suffering, many stressed souls also explore alternative treatments. Over the past 5 years, cannabis, in the form of medical and/or recreational marijuana, has become a frequent go to for anxious individuals. More and more people are smoking, vaping, or eating marijuana as a therapeutic intervention to treat negative emotions. While I am sensitive and open minded to non traditional therapies, it is important to consider the evidence when it comes to mood management. After considering the options, meditation seems to be the safest, most cost effective, and most successful alternative technique for remedying worry, stress, and anxiety. This opinion is not based on personal bias, but rather years of scientific research. Here are a few points to consider before you pick pot over meditation when handling challenging feelings.
There have been a few studies that have shown the efficacy of marijuana usage in the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Major Depression. Unfortunately, most of these trials have very small sample sizes, are not randomized, controlled, and/or authoritative. Put simply, with the level of data available for the usage of marijuana in anxiety, few authorities would recommend it as a valid treatment. In fact, observational and epidemiological data seem to point marijuana to mental health risks, rather than benefits, including risk of worsening anxiety. In addition, cannabis has been associated with neurocognitive impairment such as short term memory loss and cognitive slowing (think Dude, Where's My Car.) It can negatively affect judgment and motor coordination and has been shown to decrease reaction time, making it unsafe to use while driving. In addition, when used regularly, marijuana has been shown to cause both physical and psychological dependence. Let's face it, we don't need that. When it comes to managing stress, marijuana is more a temporary bandaid with possible negative effects, rather than an enduring solution.
So, what is the recommendation to those who have been smoking weed to soothe their woe? For most, it is unfeasible to say "stop" without offering a substitute coping mechanism. Many cannabis users are inclined to reject psychotropic medications. Fortunately, we have good evidence that meditation is an alternative, low risk intervention that can help you feel better, and with very little downside. A regular meditation practice has been shown in numerous studies to help anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric conditions. In addition, the practice of meditation has an enduring impact, reducing negative mood states during everyday life. The benefits do not end after a high subsides. The positive effect is pervasive throughout the day, even when individuals are not meditating.
Aside from making people feel content and happy, meditation has been shown to improve insomnia, encourage healthy eating, improve immunity, and reduce bodily inflammation. It is not associated with the negative effects of addiction. In fact, it has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of addiction and withdrawal. Although meditation cannot remove external stress, it helps improve resiliency and adaptability during challenging times. As Jon Kabat- Zinn , Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, HealthCare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School says, meditation cannot stop the waves, but it can teach you to surf. Learning meditation is inexpensive and straightforward. As the practice grows in popularity, it is becoming easier to find qualified teachers. There are also many helpful apps that can guide you towards a regular self-directed practice. One popular app, Headspace, has particular meditations that address anxiety. In the end, it seems trading up cannabis for the meditation cushion might be the best way to handle the stress and anxiety that afflict us all.