For many, cannabis provides relief from anxiety better than any prescription drug. Anxiety is one of the most popular conditions treated with medical cannabis in places like California and Colorado. However, cannabis can have a powerful effect in the opposite direction for some, leaving users with crippling anxiety and paranoia. Many of us have experienced a bit of cannabis-induced paranoia at one point or another, but the reasons why might surprise you.
Any substance that we put into our bodies will have an effect in some way. Whether it’s drinking and becoming off-balance or smoking and becoming paranoid, our brain is wired to respond to these outside stimuli in many different ways.
For some, cannabis provides relief from anxiety and delivers a calming sensation that might otherwise be unachievable by the user. THC and CBD work on the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS controls the brain’s response to stress, fear, rewards and many other emotional responses, including anxiety. This system is kept in check by varying chemicals in the brain and the slightest change in those chemicals can create a massive difference in performance and behavior.
Dr. Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explains how cannabis can impact a person’s ECS, leading to anxiety and paranoia that previously did not exist.
When talking about brain science and cannabis, it’s easy to be swept away by anecdotal evidence and sound bites. What the ECS does is it optimizes our brain between excitation and inhibition.
Fear stimuli that we can normally cope with can become unmanageable under the effects of marijuana because our fight-or-flight response gets disrupted. You may not be able to keep those stimuli under control because your ECS is so out of whack because of all the THC in your system.
The strangest thing about the ECS is that cannabis can wreak havoc during one smoke session, then leave the user completely relaxed and calm after another. Just as any slightly different chemicals in the brain can cause vastly different outward reactions, the differing components in any given cannabis strain can cause varying reactions on the inside.
For instance, indica strains are known for their ability to induce a sleepy, relaxing high, while sativa strains often provide an uplifting, clear-headed buzz. Within each group of indica or sativa are dozens and dozens of different strains, each with a different chemical configuration and makeup. What this means is that while one indica or sativa might not cause anxiety or paranoia, another strain very well could.
Outside factors also play a role in how cannabis affects the brain. If a user has been experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions lately, cannabis might deliver a different effect than if the same user was experiencing a period of great calmness.
If you’ve never experienced cannabis-induced anxiety or paranoia, consider yourself lucky. For those that have experienced the mind-numbing effects, know that changing the strain or frequency of smoking can greatly impact the chances of anxiety or paranoia occurring again.
Try to calm yourself and quiet your mind before using cannabis to reduce the chances of experiencing any negative side effects.