Why Does Cannabis Cause Paranoia For Some People

Does weed make you paranoid and anxious? If it does, you’re not alone. For years I tried to smoke a joint with friends and ended up an anxious mess, unable to relax and enjoy the moment at the same time my friends were enjoying what they call an "elevated experience." Marijuana is fascinating; for some, it may alleviate anxiety, while for others, it creates or increases already existing nervous tendencies.

How Cannabis Gets You High

According to Gregory Gerdeman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College, when you get high your body is mimicking a process your body has in place to keep anxiety levels in place. The endocannabinoid releases cannabinoids that bind to receptors thorughout our body. This can help us during times of stress, by signaling our bodies and brains to chill out.

When you consume cannabis, the plant contains cannabinoids as well. When you ingest marijuana the phytocannabinoids bind to the same receptors, heightening a sense of relaxation and release. Yet, this is not the case for everyone. For some, the rush of phytocannabinoids from weed can create or exacerbate anxiety.

Why Does Weed Make You Paranoid?

You aren’t crazy, it’s all in your brain chemistry. THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, interacts with endocannabinoid receptors found throughout your brain. Many of these binding receptors are found within the amygdala.

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The amygdala "plays a key role in how animals assess and respond to environmental threats and challenges by evaluating the emotional importance of sensory information and prompting an appropriate response." The main job of the amygdala is to regulate emotions.

When we consume cannabis, THC and other cannabinoids react with the amygdala, causing anxiety in some while relieving anxiety and stress in others. There are some ways to mitigate this if you are more prone to having weed-induced anxiety.

Why Are You More Prone to Cannabis Paranoia?

Some people may be prone to anxiety when they consume marijuana according to James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center.

"THC binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, releasing the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, a neurotransmitter that stops neurons from firing. Increased GABA and serotonin activity inhibits norepinephrine—a neurotransmitter involved in alertness and anxiety—which calms most people down. But for some people, reduced norepinephrine has a rebound effect, stimulating activity in the brainstem’s locus ceruleus and limbic forebrain, which are involved in arousal and excitation"

The result is that our sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, our heart rate increases, while we also release cortisol. The overall perception we have is that of anxiety and sometimes paranoia.

How Can I Be Less Anxious Consuming Weed?

We have some simple tools and tips if you’d like to enjoy the more relaxing sensation that some people correlate to consuming weed.

  • Higher levels of THC often create anxiety while lower levels have a more relaxing effect. Look for cannabis products that have a lower concentration of THC or are a balanced ratio.
  • Smaller doses of weed can have a more therapeutic effect than larger doses, and new research backs this up.
  • Look for cannabis products that are higher in CBD content or solely CBD. CBD is known to help quell anxiety.
  • Start with the lowest possible dosage of cannabis, wait two hours and then assess how you feel. Try a slightly higher dose until you have the desired effect and titrate your way to perfection.
  • Don’t eat the whole brownie or smoke the whole joint. This seems like common sense but with weed, less is often the best route to take!

Want to learn more? HelloMD’s educational cannabis 101 content can help you to figure out how to consume edibles safely, understand the difference between medical and recreational cannabis, how to find your ideal cannabis dose, and more.

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