It’s a legit question! How many times have you heard these opposing stories or even better, how many times did you get too high and experienced a bit of a paranoia? And what about people who experience an episode so intense that they have to dial 911 because they found themselves thinking this is the end? Paradoxically, one group of people seems to benefit from consuming weed and raves about how it helped lower their anxiety levels, while other group seems to become paranoid after a certain period of time spent consuming cannabis, which implies their anxiety levels are going through the roof while under the influence. What’s happening behind all this and why does marijuana have such a polarizing effect?

How does cannabis affect your brain’s chemistry?

Cannabinoids (such as THC or CBD, only CBD is not a psychoactive cannabinoid) bind to receptors throughout the brain, many of which are focused in the amygdalae. The amygdalae are two almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep in the brain and are involved in emotional reactions, governing responses such as fear, stress, and paranoia. Beside that, amygdalae perform a primary role in the processing of memory and decision-making. When THC acts upon the amygdalae, it modifies the neural communication for better or for worse. So yes, it’s all in your head, dear – as many of us often hear when complaining about paranoia. Apparently, THC can overexcite the neural pathways and lead to anxiety and paranoia.

So why does cannabis have the opposite, calming effect on other humans? Well, human body contains receptor sites that are filled by naturally produced compounds called endocannabinoids that act a lot like those compounds found in cannabis. When scientists observed brains of humans exposed to excessive stress and trauma they noticed shortages of these naturally produced endocannabinoids, which could explain why THC has a relaxing, anti-anxiety effect in some people. It could be that because in the case of these folks, cannabis replenished the shortage of endocannabinoids, resulting in a therapeutic effect.

Pre-existing anxiety does something to your cannabis experience

A 2009 review of anxiety and cannabis studies found that “frequent cannabis users appear to have higher levels of anxiety than non-users,” and that “a considerable number of subjects developed anxiety disorders before the first symptoms of cannabis dependence.” These findings led researchers to believe that anxiety-prone people tend to use cannabis as a self-prescribed anxiety medicine, opposing the idea that cannabis is what’s causing the anxiety. Now, it’s important to point out that anxiety has many faces, and it is unique in every individual who has the condition. However, researchers noticed that frequent users tend to experience a decrease in anxiety levels as opposed to occasional and new users who were more likely to experience heightened paranoid episodes.

Another research by Canadian scientists suggested that marijuana might enhance fear-based learning by acting on pathways in the amygdala. Team of researchers found that THC intensified how rats reacted to certain smells that they were trained to fear. The study linked marijuana directly to the area of the brain that regulates the fight-or-flight response. This response is part of the body’s overall process of reacting to factors of threat or stress.

While no one can tell you how exactly will cannabis affect your personality and mood, it is important to understand what biological and environmental factors are at play here, as it will help guide you to a better experience. Apparently, regular marijuana use can desensitize the brain’s cannabinoid receptors over time. Perhaps this could explain why novice cannabis users are more prone to paranoid side effects than experienced users. But ultimately, more research is needed to say for sure.

Is it possible to avoid cannabis-induced anxiety and paranoia?

If you had just one paranoid episode, you certainly don’t want to experience anything like it again. There are always methods you can apply to prevent that kind of anxiety. For instance, you can try strains that have a low THC level or high CBD levels. As we mentioned earlier, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that is famous in successfully fighting anxiety and it counteracts THC’s psychoactive effects, which results in a calmer and more clear-headed experience. That said, the most important advice here is to go easy on the dose. Control how much you consume! Smoking or vaporizing are some of the consumption methods that allow a better control, unlike edibles – it is way too easy to eat too much of those brownie cookies and then spend eight hours trying to keep your soul in one place. Consider that if you’re worried about getting too high.

Our last two advices have to do with something so obvious yet often ignored. First, become friends with the strain that is right for you. Most of cannabis users (and now we think of recreational users, not medical ones) have this tendency to try as many strains as possible. People, this is not wine. Although, if you love wine you probably prefer either red or white, either pinot or shiraz – and you explore that one thread because for some reason it suits you best. When it comes to cannabis, you have to know that every strain has something different to offer on chemical level. And for our final advice, don’t just smoke anywhere – find a nice and comfy place where you can relax. Set and setting is crucial to the overall experience, so get to a happy place to reduce panic and paranoia.


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