Drugs and anxiety

A glass of wine to wind down, a joint to relax or some psychedelics to spice up your night. It is tempting to take drugs to escape the corona crisis for a few hours. But what if you’re feeling down, anxious or stressed? Drug use can also increase these negative feelings. But how? And what tips does Unity give under these extraordinary circumstances?

The effects of drug use on anxiety

Okay, let’s go back to the basics. To understand the effects that you experience from a drug, it is important to know that there are several factors that will influence how you will. We call these factors; drug(s), set and setting.

The developments around the corona virus ensure that the set and setting are less than ideal for recreational drug use. If you’re feeling down, stressed or anxious, then it is very likely that using drugs will only reinforce those feelings. Don’t enjoy being alone? Or are your housemates starting to get on your nerves? Then this can also have a negative impact on your experience. The drugs themselves will also affect your mood.

Anxiety and psychedelics

If you are not feeling well mentally, the use of psychedelics can intensify these feelings. This also applies to the use of cannabis. The main active substances in cannabis are THC and CBD. THC creates a “high” and active feeling. But it can also make you feel anxious or paranoid. CBD (cannabidiol) on the other hand creates a calming, anti-anxiety and stoned feeling. CBD can also weaken the intense effects that THC can have. 

(Dutch) cannabis often contains more THC than cannabis from more tropical countries. The Dutch cannabis generally hardly contains any CBD. This increases the risk of having paranoid thoughts, thus it can amplify feelings of anxiety.
If you experience feelings of anxiety, it is best not to use cannabis for some time. If you do choose to use cannabis, try to find a strain that is low in THC and high in CBD. North African hashish (Maroccan for examples) often has a better THC-CBD ratio than Dutch cannabis.  

Are you planning to take psychedelics? We’d suggest being patient for a little while longer, as we have an article on psychedelics coming out soon! Alternatively, check out this article from the lovely project Zendo in the meantime.

Anxiety and alcohol

Bars and restaurants are shut. Many shops are closed as well, but supermarkets and liquor stores are often still open. Alcohol is (and will be), also in this social isolation, the drug that is easiest to find. 

Alcohol has a calming effect and therefore seems the ideal drug to counter anxious feelings. It numbs your negative thoughts and represses your fear. But if you’re already suffering from negative emotions, alcohol can intensify these feelings. Once the effects of the alcohol wear off, you often feel down and you may experience more anxiety symptoms. And if you drink more often, you will develop a tolerance. The more often you drink, the more you’ll have to take to feel the same effect. In the long term this means you can end up in a downward spiral towards problematic use or addiction. You’ll need alcohol to combat the negative effects of the alcohol

The day after drinking people often have a hangover. Then they often feel extra anxious. So in the short term it seems like a good solution, but it really isn’t. And it never solved the problem in the first place. The anxious feelings are still there, they’ve only been temporarily numbed.

Anxiety and stimulants

Stimulant use can also intensify (underlying) feelings of anxiety. This risk is the greatest for stimulants that also have a psychedelic effect (like MDMA), but it also occurs with amphetamines and cocaine. Stimulants increase your body temperature and your heart rate. These bodily signs can be interpreted by your brain as signs of fear. Are you not feeling well mentally? Then this can trigger feelings of anxiety and panic. At higher dosages you can become anxious or paranoid. When the drugs are starting to wear off (the come down), you can feel down or empty, only making things worse. High dosages, not eating well and poor sleep increase these negative and empty feelings or make sure they last a long time. And this too can increase feelings of anxiety. 

So what can you do?

Using alcohol or other drugs is not a good way to deal with anxiety. So preferably, don’t use anything at all. If you do decide to use alcohol or other drugs, use as little as possible. And make sure you have a few days off of drugs every week.

What else can you do to decrease stress? Quit smoking! It might sound odd… Given that many people associate a cigarette with a relief of stress. But research suggests that smoking regularly increases the chance of having a panic attack. Not so strange then, to think that with even stronger drugs you may trigger a panic attack more quickly. 

Tips of our peer educators

You can’t really change the situation on the world and the accompanying new rules. So it is important to focus on what you CAN change. For example strictly following the rules of your government. Or by limiting the amount of news you are reading every day. Once or twice a day is more than enough to stay up to date. This way you can create space for activities that influence your mood in a positive way. Dennis
Give yourself a corona free day. Last Saturday me and my room mates agreed not to speak about the virus for a while. I turned off news updates and I put a profile picture on WhatsApp that I did not want messages about corona. That helped me to occupy my mind with other things. Eline