Estimated 5-minute read
It is universally known that weed reduces anxiety and induces a state of relaxation in the person who consumes it. However, there are also stories of people becoming paranoid and growing increasingly anxious while they’re high (guilty).
In this article, we’ll explore the neurological reasons why paranoia may affect some people, how to reduce the risk of anxiety, and how to help someone if they start falling into that state of mind.
What is paranoia?
First of all, let’s talk about the feeling of paranoia.
Oxford Dictionary defines it as a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically elaborated into an organized system. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder, drug abuse, or a severe condition such as schizophrenia, in which the person loses touch with reality.
On a more subtle note and specifically about weed, Healthline describes it as:
An irrational suspicion of other people, where someone might believe people are watching them, following them, or trying to rob or harm them in one way or another.
Reasons why some people become paranoid
Genetics and neurological response
The endocannabinoid system plays an enormous part in cannabis-related paranoia. The psychoactive compound known as THC targets your endocannabinoid receptors in several parts of your brain, including the amygdala.
Quick biology refresh: The brain is a wonderfully complex organ. Experts have pinpointed some of the origins of emotions in a certain part of the brain called the limbic system, which is responsible for the behavior and emotional responses.
So back to the amygdala, it helps you regulate your responses towards feelings of fear and other related emotions, like anxiety, stress, and paranoia.
Way of Leaf mentions a study published in Nature back in 2019, where it observed cannabis’s impact on animals. They found that when the substance reduces anxiety and relaxation, the central part of the brain stimulation takes place in the front region, which has to do with the high number of opioid receptors.
But here’s the catch: If your brain’s back portion has a higher level of THC sensitivity than the front part, then there is indeed a greater risk of an adverse reaction, culminating in anxiety and paranoia.
The THC content you consume also affects the brain. The higher THC, the more likely it will contribute to negative reactions. However, this affects everyone differently depending on how much they use it or, as mentioned before, their brain chemistry.
Healthline points out a ScienceDirect 2017 study, where 42 healthy adults received either 7.5 mg of THC and others received a higher dose of 12.5 mg and put both groups under stressful conditions. The result was that people dosed with 7.5 mg reduced negative feelings associated with a stressful task, while those who dosed with 12.5 mg reported increasing those same negative feelings.
So yes, brain chemistry and tolerance play an essential part in the process. Still, Healthline concludes that people are generally more likely to experience paranoia or anxiety when they consume a lot of cannabis at once or use high-THC strains.
Way of Leaf encourages cannabis consumers to exercise caution when using edibles, also known as cannabis-infused food.
Edibles often have higher amounts of THC, and because food goes through the digestive system, the high effect is delayed until your body processes the food completely. There’s always a risk of a person consuming too much as they don’t want to wait for the effects to kick in, resulting in negative emotions.
It is no secret that cannabis strains have become more potent throughout time. Way of Leaf mentions that in the “Golden Age” of marijuana (the 1960s-1970s), it was harder to get THC-rich cannabis.
Nowadays, as weed starts to become legal and tolerated worldwide, breeders are trying to produce stronger strains. For example, 5-7% THC could be found a few decades ago, while 20% is the norm these days.
Mood and proper setting
Mood and environment are also known to have an impact on the user. If the setting you’re in makes you feel anxious or stressed out, paranoia may strike.
If you’re already feeling stressed out, Way of Leaf suggests that using too much THC will most likely lead to anxiety. If you’re worried about “being caught” using weed, trust me, it will play with your mind. That could also be the case if you’re naturally a nervous person.
Additionally, if you’re already predisposed to paranoid thoughts, staying away from THC is probably the best option. You can always try it another day.
How to reduce the risk of paranoia when consuming cannabis
If you’re naturally a nervous or anxious person, here are three basic things you can do to reduce the risk of paranoia when consuming cannabis:
Find the perfect setting.
Look for a place where you feel absolutely comfortable, like your bedroom, a quiet space outdoors, or a close friend’s house. Additionally, you can play soothing, calm music and maybe call a friend you trust if you decide to smoke alone.
Choose a high CBD and low THC strain.
Try looking for a strain that's high in CBD and low in THC; nowadays, there are a lot of online resources like Leafy that will help you find the perfect strain for you. You can also ask your stoner friends which strain they recommend for you.
Be patient and stay calm.
Keep your dose low, relax and stay calm. If you smoke and don’t feel the effects immediately, just sit back for a while and wait for it.
If you’re trying it for the first time, here’s an article that can help you be prepared for any situation.
How can I help my friend if they get paranoid?
Help them relax.
Coloring, a warm bath, or breathing exercises can help a lot.
Compounds in pepper are known to have soothing effects. If you have fresh peppercorns, grind them up and make your friend smell them.
Be mindful of your friend’s experience.
Listen to their needs and remind them that the effects will pass, maybe take them somewhere more calm or where they feel safe. Try not to be judgemental; everyone experiences weed in different ways. Reassuring a person can make the whole difference.
Author: Mary Jane
Raypole, C. (2019). Cannabis Got You Paranoid? How to Deal With It. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/marijuana-and-anxiety#takeaway
Vandergriendt, C. (2018). What Part of the Brain Controls Emotions? Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/cannon-bard
Way of Leaf (2021). Why Do Some People Become Paranoid After Using Marijuana? Retrieved from https://wayofleaf.com/cannabis/101/paranoia-and-weed