Most of us know the paranoia that pot can elicit: we channel our inner Chicken Little whenever we imbibe. A little too much THC and the sky is falling. And your spouse is having an affair. And your next-door neighbor is a member of the mob. And your dog wants to eat you with some fava beans and a nice chianti. Yep, we know that paranoia is often part of the pot experience, but why?
It turns out, there are a few different theories….
This is Your Brain on Drugs
One of the reasons Mary Jane turns you into a Nervous Nellie has to do with the amygdala, an almond-shaped portion of our brain that helps with emotional processing. It dictates how we respond to things like fear, stress, anxiety, and, of course, paranoia.
The THC in marijuana binds to many receptors inside the brain, including those inside the amygdala. When it interferes with the amygdala, it also interferes with how we respond to the things mentioned above (fear, stress, etc.).
THC can leave the neural pathways overstimulated, heightening the response to whatever stressors we’re facing. Because THC is the culprit, strains high in THC tend to cause a greater amount of paranoia. Likewise, people with a lower tolerance (i.e., new smokers, people who return to smoking after a long period of abstaining, and people who are trying a new route of consumption), tend to feel the jitters more acutely.
But the endocannabinoid system places a role too.
When a body is short on natural endocannabinoids – as people under extreme pressure or stress tend to be – THC doesn’t necessarily result in paranoia; rather, it can result in relaxation. The endocannabinoid system isn’t overstimulated because of the shortage that innately existed. But this isn’t always the case (it never is with marijuana!).
According to Web MD, one study conducted at the University of Oxford found that people who were worriers, had low self-esteem, or prone to depression and anxiety experienced more paranoia when exposed to THC.
They tested 121 people between the ages of 21 years and 50 years – all had taken marijuana before (though some had only used it a single time), all were free of mental illness, and none had any health conditions that would interfere with the results. However, all had admitted to feeling paranoid within the past month.
The researchers injected THC into their test subjects (to assure accuracy), with a third of the participants receiving a placebo. The result was increased paranoia among those administered THC – 50 percent of participants felt paranoia compared to only 30 percent of those administered a placebo.
This led the scientists to conclude that marijuana causes paranoia because of a variety of factors. One possible reason is that THC increases negative changes and people who give these negativities validity will experience more paranoia. People who had higher self-esteem, confidence, and less propensity for worry, weren’t as likely to experience paranoia. The reason is that they’re better able to dismiss “paranoid” thoughts as what they are: thoughts.
What all the above means is that your state of mind before imbibing plays a huge part in how paranoid you do or do not get.
A person’s anxiety level is dictated by many things including their underlying mental health, their genetic makeup, their personality, their personal history, what is going on in their life, and even their gender.
Marijuana isn’t the only factor that sets someone up for paranoia. The young, the poor, those in bad health, and those who are suicidal are more likely to face paranoia than the general population.
Pot Without the Paranoia
Does this mean that worry warts are destined for paranoia every time they smoke a joint or consume an edible? Not at all. As most people are aware, strain choice is extremely important – even the least worry-prone can experience paranoia if they use a strain that is high in THC. And whatever is going on in your life matters too – an emotionally draining week or a rough day at the office can leave you more paranoid even if you smoke the same type of strain you always favor.
Even so, there are ways to decrease your odds of paranoia – choose indica over sativa, for example. Indicas are more likely to induce relaxation, calmness, and sleep while sativas are better utilized for social get-togethers and “wake and bake” moments. Of course, within indicas and sativas are dozens of different strains with some more apt at promoting paranoia than others. If you’re trying to avoid paranoia, a good budtender should be able to point you in the right dope direction.
CBD is another thing to consider – unlike its party animal cousin THC, CBD doesn’t cause a frank high and it doesn’t cause paranoia either. If you’re looking for a good stone, CBD-only strains won’t take you to Funky Town, but a THC strain with CBD can help rein in the THC, reining in the paranoia in the process.
Other ways to avoid paranoia include:
Smoke somewhere you feel safe – paranoia is always worse in public than it is in the comfort of your own home. Smoke or vape in favor of edibles - smoking hits quickly, making it easier for you to control your dose. The high also isn’t usually as potent as with edibles. Try black pepper – at least anecdotally, black pepper is rumored to control a high that’s raging out of control. If you’re feeling a little too gone and too paranoid, eating some pepper balls can’t hurt (at the very least, pepper is good for you. Yay health food!). Drink water – you may be able to keep the paranoia at bay if you drink water. This works for some people but not others. It’s worth a shot. Since cannabis is notorious for dry mouth, odds are you’re consuming water anyway.