LSU professor links anxiety, marijuana addiction

More than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are addicted to marijuana, and LSU professor Julia Buckner says her research shows that if you have social anxiety, you are seven times more likely to join those ranks.

According to a 2010 survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals, the number of people addicted to marijuana is almost as large as the number of people who struggle with addiction to all other illicit substances combined. A subset of those pot smokers also struggle with anxiety disorders like social anxiety.

“People with anxiety disorders have much, much higher rates (of addiction) than you would expect,” said Buckner who is also director of the university’s Anxiety and Addictive Behaviors Clinic.

Through new research she launched this summer, Buckner hopes to develop treatment that both addresses marijuana addiction and helps people manage anxiety of all types.

“We’re not judging the fact that they use (but looking at) what about their (marijuana) use is causing them problems and how can we help them avoid that,” Buckner said.

She’s looking for participants for the study who are between the ages of 18 and 65, experience daily anxiety and want to quit smoking pot. All participation in the study is confidential and protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the study incorporates cognitive behavior to find new, better ways to deal with anxiety-causing situations.

The participants meet in small groups of four to five people several times a week for up to 12 weeks. The meetings are led by two graduate students under Buckner’s supervision.

“It’s been very positive so far,” Buckner said.

Among the things the groups look at are what are called “false safety aids” — activities people do to feel “safe,” but that actually maintain their anxiety.

“We look at marijuana use as a false safety aid,” said Buckner, whose colleague in the research is Michael Zvolensky, of the University of Houston, an expert on the relationship between anxiety and substance abuse.

The researchers are also consulting with Kathleen Carroll, a professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

Addiction to marijuana can disrupt a person’s life in many ways.

“It interferes with people going to work,” said Buckner. “They don’t have the motivation to go to work or to go to class.”

The addiction can cause problems with partners, family members and friends.

People addicted to pot are “smoking instead of doing other activities they used to enjoy,” Buckner said.

Buckner and her colleagues are writing a treatment manual, with the goal of publishing it.

To learn more about the study at LSU, contact the LSU Anxiety and Addictive Behaviors Clinic at (225) 578-5778 or email