Social anxiety disorder is just the latest terminology for a mental health condition that’s probably always been around. Marijuana has been around for quite a while too. Recently, the theory that cannabis could be the cause has begun to take root. It’s time for us to investigate to get to the truth of the matter.
WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY?
Social anxiety is the fear of judgement, rejection, and being negatively evaluated in a social and/or performance situation. When a person experiences these feelings for 6 months or longer, a diagnosis of SAD or social anxiety disorder typically follows, provided the person seeks treatment. Moreover, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, published 2013) lists a total of 10 diagnostic criteria.
The definition of SAD has changed significantly over time. Previously referred to in the early 20th century as social phobia or social neurosis, then later divided into two types: generalised SAD and specific SAD, we are now back to simply SAD in the 21st century.
Perhaps Greek physician Hippocrates was the most accurate, describing the first SAD patient in 400 BC as follows: “through bashfulness, suspicion, and timorousness will not be seen abroad, loves darkness as life and cannot endure the light, or to sit in lightsome places, his hat over his eyes, he will neither see nor be seen by his good will”.
THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THE DEVIL WEED
A 2009 study called “Social Anxiety Disorder And Marijuana Use Problems: The Mediating Role Of Marijuana Effect Expectancies” is oft evidenced against cannabis regarding SAD. This study concluded, “These data support the contention that SAD is uniquely related to marijuana problems and provide insight into mechanisms underlying this vulnerability”.
The same study acknowledges that cannabis use is not usually associated with anxiety disorders in general, but also speculates “it may be that specific types of negative affect are associated with marijuana problems, among which SAD appears to be one”.
A 2002 study published in the American Medical Journal entitled “Rates of psychiatric comorbidity among U.S. residents with lifetime cannabis dependence” is another study that’s frequently invoked on the subject. This suggests that American adults suffering from social anxiety are “7 times more likely to develop a cannabis addiction”.
THE EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT MARIJUANA
A 2005 study published in The Journal Of Clinical Psychiatry named “The epidemiology of social anxiety disorder in the United States: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions” debunks the findings of those mentioned above. This research discovered “Over 80% of individuals with SAD received no treatment, and the mean age at first treatment was 27.2 years”.
In fact, the conclusion states “Social anxiety disorder was associated with substantial unremitting course and extremely early age at onset”. This implies SAD is a pre-existing condition prior to a person’s first toke of a spliff.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) theorised that SAD could actually be a “learned behaviour”. However, the best is yet to come from the APA. The DSM-5, the very text that defines and lists the symptoms for the condition, unequivocally confirms SAD begins in adolescence in the vast majority of cases. It states, “According to the DSM-5, the median age of onset of social anxiety disorder in the US is age 13, with 75% of those with social anxiety disorder experiencing the onset at a range of ages 8–15”.
If you can’t trust the empirical evidence from the APA, who can you trust? Well, there are millions of stoners the world over that toke feel-good greenery with friends regularly, who can confirm their data. Unless you’re blazing up and living the outlaw life before you even hit your teens, marijuana is probably not responsible for SAD. And even if you are, SAD is the least of your worries.
COULD CANNABIS BE A TREATMENT FOR SAD?
Recreational cannabis users have been aware of the mood-boosting and calming effects of high-THC varieties for decades. Sativa-dominant cannabis strains like Lemon Shining Silver Haze and Sour Diesel are renowned for their energetic, uplifting high, while heavy indica strains like Northern Lights and White Widow have a reputation for a dreamy, stress-relieving physical effect.
Then there is the global community of medical cannabis growers who have embraced the cultivation of CBD-rich cannabis strains. In less than a decade, strains like Medical Mass and Dance World have become world famous, not because of a potent psychoactive effect, but for their purpose-bred medicinal value.
Anecdotal evidence aside, the University of Sao Paulo Brazil studied the effects of CBD on a small group of 36 patients suffering from SAD. This research is most valuable as it placed the participants in a situation that was guaranteed to trigger their condition. The test was a public speaking simulation.
Split into 3 groups of 12, one group was dosed with 600mg of CBD; another group received a placebo; the third served as a control group. Granted, this was a small double-blind test, but the results at least show some promise for CBD as a treatment for SAD. The study found that patients dosed with CBD reported less social anxiety in comparison with the control group. In contrast, the placebo group reported increased social anxiety compared with the control group.
THE LAST TOKE ON SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER
SAD, in ordinary decent stoner terms, is shyness. In this writer’s opinion, it is certainly a real mental health condition and it is treatable. Cognitive behavioural therapy has opened up a whole new world for many people. But the best advice I’ve heard is what David Goggins, ex-Navy Seal and ultra-marathon runner refers to as “callusing the mind”—putting yourself in uncomfortable situations to become less vulnerable to the anxiety over time.