Although the idea of legal marijuana is new to some people, the cannabis plant has been used for thousands of years dating back to multiple ancient civilizations.
Despite a politically motivated ban on marijuana in the United States, cannabis has recently become re-legalized in many states and countries around the world. With new legalization, comes a wave of people experiencing one of marijuana’s less side effects…. Anxiety and even feelings of mild paranoia.
Why does weed sometimes cause anxiety ?
And why doesn’t everyone experience anxiety with weed?
It’s a common complaint from those new to cannabis. But, more experienced “”cannabis connoisseurs”” have come to ‘ride the wave’ and use it to their advantage.
In this article we explore expert opinions, different perspectives, and the latest science behind why cannabis causes some people temporary feelings of anxiety and even mild paranoia.
Let’s Dive In.
How Cannabis Interacts With The Body
Why does smoking weed give (some) people anxiety and even temporary feelings of being paranoid ?
To get a better understanding first we’ll explore how cannabis interacts with the human body.
Both CBD and THC are cannabis compounds, but they affect the body, and especially anxiety, very differently.
The molecular structure of THC and CBD put both compounds into a group of molecules called Cannabinoids…
Cannabinoids are important to humans, because they interact directly with our Central Nervous Systems.
More specifically, cannabinoids interact with a section of the central-nervous-system known as the ‘Endo-Cannabinoid System’ (ECS)
How Weed Interacts with the ENDO-CANNABINOID SYSTEM (ECS)
Cannabis molecules interact with the Endo-Cannabinoid System which is one of our most important internal bodily systems because it’s responsible for maintaining a chemical balance inside the body.
According to Dr. Alison Burggren, director of Neuroimaging at University of Oregon, “increased endo-cannabinoid signaling is associated with reduced stress response and improved emotion regulation”.
The endo-cannabinoid system works similar to a house thermostat.
For example, if the temperature in your house if too cold, the thermostat kicks on the heat to balance out and normalize the temperature.
If anxiety, inflammation, or a pain response is activated in the body, the endo-cannabinoid system kicks on to normalize (or balance) the body’s response.
However, while THC has been known to reduce long term anxiety, it can also trigger short term anxiety. But CBD is known for effectively reducing both short and long term anxiety.
Cannabinoid Receptors Type 1 (CB1) –
CB1 receptors are critical to our central nervous system and are most heavily concentrated in our brain and spinal cord.
Cannabinoid Receptors Type 2 (CB2) –
CB2 receptors are concentrated in various parts of the immune system, the skin cells, and most internal organs.
CBD vs. THC: INSIDE YOUR BODY
Researchers have found that it’s THC’s interaction with the CB1 receptor that is responsible for the psychoactive ‘high’ feeling.
Being ‘high’, much like being drunk, can result in an altered ‘state of consciousness’.
The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecule fits directly into endo-cannabinoid system’s CB1 receptor. While CBD also fits, although in a different configuration.
It’s the similar fit, yet different configuration, that makes all the difference in the effects on anxiety between CBD and THC.
Both THC and CBD interact with the CB1 receptor. But while THC fits directly into the CB1 receptor, causing a high feeling)…
CBD attaches to the CB1 receptor differently, which blocks THC from the receptor. For this reason some people take CBD to calm any effects of anxiety or paranoia associated with feeling “high”.
Natural Causes of Anxiety and Paranoia
Life, stress, and being a human.
According to leading experts and as published in the National Library of Medicine…, anxiety is a natural part of being human.
Anxiety is hardwired into our brains as an evolutionary trait to give us a competitive advantage, and to keep us alive. When we have anxiety, theres a root cause behind why our body is triggering that “anxiety response”.
Sometimes we’re consciously aware of why we’re having anxiety. And other-times, it’s not so obvious and may be happening to us on a more sub-conscious level.
For example, social anxiety commonly has a root cause from a fear of being judged.
It’s important to understand the root cause behind your anxiety. And self-awareness tools such as meditation are geared toward helping us better understand both ourselves, and the world around us.
Why Does Weed Cause Anxiety
The amygdala is known to control your fear and anxiety responses and has also been found to contain an abundance of CB1 receptors.
In a 2014 study Dr. Teniel S. Ramikie concluded that when you use THC heavy cannabis products your brain suddenly receives more cannabinoids than usual….This excess of cannabinoids can overstimulate the CB1 receptors in your amygdala, causing you to feel anxiety and even moments of slight paranoia.
Cannabis interacts with the EndoCannabinoid System, the endo-cannabinoid system interreacts directly with the amygdala in your brain, and the amygdala can trigger anxiety. Losing control of that anxiety (overthinking) is exactly why weed makes some people paranoid.
Oxford University conducted a clinical study in 2015 looking into why cannabis can cause some people feelings of paranoia. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Freedman, paranoia was more common in vulnerable individuals.
Tips If You Start Feeling Anxiety or Paranoia From Weed
Advice From Oxford University Study
In the same Oxford study mentioned above, Dr. Daniel Freedman concludes that by building greater self-confidence and improving your self-esteem, the effects THC are less capable of inducing feeling of anxiety and paranoia.
This advice is a bit over simplified as it’s not always easy to just “have greater confidence in yourself”, but “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.
Self-confidence and less overthinking might be the goal, but how do you get there.
1. Listen To Your Inner Dialogue
What is it you’re being paranoid or having anxiety about?
Are you ignoring your inner feelings, and pushing deep insecurities down even deeper?
For example… I have a friend who told me that every-time they smoke weed they get paranoid about their credit card debt. Therefor they don’t like smoking weed.
If you’re ignoring your credit cart debt or spending all your free time binging Netflix on your couch, the problem isn’t the weed or the anxiety.
The problem is your unhealthy lifestyle choice, and your anxiety is trying to bring your attention to it.
Cannabis might induce some feeling of anxiety, but maybe your anxiety is trying to tell you something important that you’re only sub-consciously aware of.
2. Control Your Set And Setting
The set and setting is everything (and can make all the difference) when it comes to any kind of consciousness altering substance.
A beer with your boss in the company conference room is much different than a beer with your best friend at the local pub. The same is true for cannabis.
Smoking weed before you go to the airport is likely to give anyone feelings of being paranoid and anxiety. The bright lights and hectic atmosphere of an airport is not the best ‘set or setting’ for cannabis.
If you’re concerned about being paranoid, then only use cannabis where you’re most comfortable.
Try being in nature, relaxing at home, or only being around people you’re the most comfortable with.
2. Practice Mindfulness
According to a 2018 study lead by Dr. John Durocher from Michigan Technical University, one hour of practicing mindfulness was shown to reduce anxiety and reduce risk for heart conditions.
If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, deep breaths and mindfulness training can ‘keep the train on the tracks’ and prevent a full blown panic attack. The same concept applies to feelings of paranoia after using cannabis.
3. Try CBD
In 2009 a study lead by Pharmacologist, Dr. Leonardo Resstel, found that CBD, by activating the ‘5-HT1A serotonin receptors’, can reduce both mental and physical behavioral responses to stress and anxiety.
THC is the ‘psychoactive compound’ which triggers the CB1 receptors in the amygdala.
CBD also connects to the CB1 receptor, but it blocks the THC compound which reduces feelings of anxiety or paranoia.
4. Stay Hydrated and Get Fresh Air
If you’re getting any feelings of paranoia try getting some fresh air and practicing deep (slow) breathing.
The goal is to try and get as much oxygen into your body with out increasing your heart rate. You’ll be amazed at how well this works.
A 2018 study published by the World Journal of Psychiatry found that in over 3,000 adults, those who drank more water had a lower level risk of anxiety.
4. Experience Helps Reduce Feelings of Anxiety
Paranoia is more common in new or infrequent cannabis users.
Those more experienced in cannabis use (like Snoop Dogg) get used to the feelings of consciousness changes and it becomes much easier to relax and control your thoughts and allow any feelings of anxiety to float by.
5. Listen To Music
The right kind of music can make all the difference and can even change your brain wave frequency.
In a recent 2022 study released by the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, Dr. Adiel Mallik & Dr. Frank Russo lead a team that found sound-based treatments in the ‘’theta frequency’’ were shown to be “effective in reducing cognitive state anxiety”.
Many experts today now beleive that binaural beats can be used to reduce anxiety, control pain, and much more.
How to Take Advantage of Temporary Anxiety or Paranoia
No-one likes feeling anxiety, but by understanding the root cause of your anxiety, you can use it as a tool towards your advantage. I certainly do.
Some people go their whole life feeling anxiety and never figure out why.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ve learned to take any feeling and thoughts of paranoia or anxiety and use those thoughts to explore deeper rooted causes which I can take action on to improve.
Life throws a lot at us, and keeping up can be difficult.
I use cannabis as a tool to intentionally trigger an abundance of thoughts, many of which are new ideas, lost ideas, forgotten tasks, or items on my to-do-list.
Instead of getting anxious because I forgot to pay my credit card bill, I look down deep into why I forgot to pay it, why I ‘m spending so much, and what i need to do to move forward.
Usually I acknowledge the thought, write it down, and come back to it later with a clear head. Acknowledging the thought and writing it down allows me to let go of the current anxiety, and avoid overthinking.
Often this leads to a feeling of euphoria or jubilation because you’ve managed to acknowledge the anxiety instead of just trying to bury it in your mind and forgetting about it.
Final Thoughts: Weed vs. Anxiety and Paranoia
Not all cannabis is the same. While THC may induce temporary feelings of anxiety, CBD is known to reduce feelings of anxiety.
If you start to feel anxiety from a cannabis product, it’s normal so don’t panic. Cannabis induced anxiety is only temporary, and there’s a lot of ways to relax it and control it.
With experience cannabis use becomes more comfortable and you can even flip any anxiety encounters into little nuggets of information and tips for sub-conscious personal improvement.
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