Alcohol reduces social anxiety

Smoking weed and social anxiety

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There are probably many reasons why people use cannabis. For most consumers, the positive effects of cannabis intoxication are certainly in the foreground. However, other motifs can also be concealed behind it. Especially if there is already problematic consumption. An American research team has found that social anxiety - also known as social phobia - is related to problematic cannabis use. Consumption is therefore used by socially anxious people to cope with problems, but at the same time promotes them.

Fear is a vital human reaction to dangerous situations. But if there is an inappropriate or persistent fear reaction, it is called an anxiety disorder or anxiety disorder. This can lead to significant impairments in the everyday life of those affected. People with agoraphobia ("claustrophobia"), for example, avoid crowds in queues, buses or public places and in the worst case hardly leave their own apartment.

Anxiety Disorders in the Population

Anxiety disorders are widespread among the population, with women being more likely to be affected. In Germany around 20 percent of all women and 9 of the men suffer from an anxiety disorder. The most common are fears that relate to certain things or actions, such as the fear of flying or animals (spiders, dogs, etc.). According to the latest surveys in Germany, 2.7 percent of women and 1.3 percent of men suffer from the social phobia. One or the other prominent person also suffers from anxiety disorders. The American actress Kim Basinger is said to suffer from panic attacks and social phobia. The social phobia of the actress is so pronounced that she is said not to have uttered a single word in the acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.

Afraid of the reaction of others

People suffering from social phobia would avoid situations in which they have to speak in front of others or attend social events. The expectation of social situations alone can trigger fear. Strictly speaking, social phobia is the fear of possible critical reactions from other people because they fear they will behave in a clumsy or embarrassing manner. In such situations, anxiety can escalate to a panic attack.

Association with cannabis use

The social phobia usually occurs for the first time in adolescence. The average age for first-time cannabis use is also around this time. Studies from the USA have shown that 29 percent of all people who suffer from social phobia develop problematic cannabis use. In the general American population, however, problematic cannabis use only applies to 4.2 percent.

Given the apparently increased prevalence of cannabis use among people with social phobia, the question arises whether fear of social situations is a possible cause of smoking weed. Cannabis also has a relaxing effect. It is also conceivable, however, that fears only arise through the use of cannabis. After all, it is known that intoxicated users can have panic attacks. Then the fear would be more the result of smoking weed.

To investigate these questions, a research team led by Dr. Julia Buckner of Florida State University in the USA carried out a longitudinal study that spanned a period of 14 years. 1,709 students with an average age of 16.6 years took part in the first study. At the time of the last follow-up examination, 816 people took part, who were now 30 years old on average. In order to take into account other possible influencing factors, risk factors such as depressive problems, other anxiety disorders or behavioral problems were included in the statistical analysis.

Smoking weed follows fear

The results clearly indicate that problematic cannabis use only develops after the first signs of social phobia and is significantly related to it. Social anxiety is therefore a significant risk factor for developing problematic cannabis use. The psychology professor Julia Buckner and her team were also able to prove that of the anxiety disorders only social anxiety is actually related to problematic cannabis use. This means there is a very specific connection between smoking weed and being afraid of social situations. Panic attacks are known to be the result of smoking weed, but those who suffer from them anyway tend to avoid the consumption of psychoactive substances. People who suffer from what is known as generalized anxiety disorder are also no more likely to develop problematic cannabis use than healthy people. Since the effects of cannabis itself can trigger anxiety, those affected would rather keep their hands off it.

Follow-up problems

In another study, the research group also looked into the question of whether the frequency of cannabis use is related to the extent of social anxiety and the subsequent problems. 159 students between the ages of 18 and 26 were interviewed to clarify the research question. The students were asked to participate in a psychology seminar. All of them had used cannabis at least once in their life. About 60 percent stated that they consume regularly.

Contrary to expectations, the results could not establish a connection between the extent of the social phobia and the frequency of consumption. Anxiety symptoms are therefore no more common in people who smoke weed a lot than in those who only take a joint every now and then. Rather, there was a connection between the social phobia and the extent of secondary problems that the respondents attributed to smoking weed. Problems include, for example, absenteeism from school or university, financial difficulties or problems with your partner.

Incorrect coping behavior

How can the connection between social phobia and problematic cannabis use be explained? And why is it not the frequency of use, but consumption-related problems, that is related to social anxiety? The Florida State University group of authors explains that socially anxious people are more motivated to smoke weed by “coping with” uncomfortable feelings. The technical term “coping”, which comes from the English, describes this behavior, which is also known from drinking alcohol. Anxious people use the relaxing effects of cannabis to ease their fear of social situations. However, this in turn could result in them avoiding social situations for fear that they would not be able to behave appropriately when intoxicated. After all, fear of criticism from other people is an expression of social phobia. However, the avoidance behavior results in follow-up problems such as disputes with family or friends.

In addition, the team of authors writes that because of smoking weed, the socially anxious will probably not develop any other coping strategies to cope with their anxiety symptoms, which in turn leads to more problems with the social environment.


People who suffer from social anxiety and who use cannabis are particularly at risk of developing problematic use and even addiction. The study results of Julia Buckner's research group reveal another aspect that is particularly important for those people who want to reduce their cannabis consumption. If up to now smoking weed was (also) motivated to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, precisely these could come to light if consumption were to be restricted or stopped. However, if cannabis use is continued to “self-treat” the fears, this would exacerbate subsequent problems. It is more effective to reduce or stop cannabis use and at the same time develop alternative coping strategies against social anxiety. For this, however, it is advisable to take advantage of expert support as part of a consultation or therapy.