The topic of weed and paranoia is a popular one. This side effect is one of the most-quoted by those against legalization of the plant and by people who tried it once in high school, and there is certainly ample anecdotal and scientific evidence of its truth. And yet, patients with conditions like GAD and ADD swear by marijuana’s ability to calm their minds and heart rates, and lower blood pressure. So why does weed make some people paranoid, while it relieves anxiety in others? Let’s find out!

Why Cannabis Causes Paranoia

It’s true that paranoia is a side effect of marijuana use. Sure, much like the long list of side effects monotonously listed by the narrator of almost every pharmaceutical ad, it’s not a guaranteed sensation – but it is a possibility.

THC seems to be the cannabinoid to blame for this effect and the subsequent disparagement of this healing herb. Cannabinoid receptors (you’ve heard of CB1 and CB2, right?) are found in many different parts of the brain, including the amygdala, where anxiety and fear are regulated. The quantity of THC – not to mention its prevalence compared to other cannabinoids – determines which side of this metaphorical coin you’ll experience.

Studies have shown that people given THC injections of about the amount you’d get from “a strong joint” had heightened feelings of paranoia (compared to the placebo-injected control group), such as feeling suspicious of others.

I feel that the seemingly disparate effects of THC here can also be compared to the strange case of cannabis acting as a bronchodilator for people with asthma. Even though smoking cannabis can make the throat constrict and cause coughing, for people who have the chemistry that causes an asthma attack, it can have the opposite effect, opening the airways.

In this example as well as with the neurotransmitter dopamine, we already know the existence or nonexistence of certain chemicals in a person’s brain or other internal factors can play a large role in how one experiences marijuana.

xray of a human showcasing the brain

The way you feel (physically, the chemicals in your brain) will determine how cannabis affects you, to a certain point.

Cannabis may sharpen how you already feel

Take the 16-year-old lighting up in their parents’ garage, for example. Before they’ve even taken a toke, imagine what is going through their mind. What if they get caught? Will they get grounded? Maybe they’ll get called inside and their parents will be able to tell they’re high. What if they can’t stop giggling in front of their mom? There’s a good chance a kid who is secretly smoking a joint is going to be feeling a bit anxious.

Then, consider an adult in a legal state sitting on their deck for a couple pulls on their vaporizer, knowing this strain eases their pain. They aren’t worried about repercussions because they know exactly how they are affected, they don’t have to work for ten hours, and their family knows and accepts that they medicate with marijuana.

It’s easy to see how the person in the first case could get a serious case of paranoia after smoking, while the second person could experience none of that – even if they’re smoking the exact same strain, in the same dose.

Of course, this isn’t to take away from the actual chemical changes prompted by THC (chances are the people in the above-mentioned study weren’t too worried about repercussions), but it does help to illustrate why different people are affected differently, especially once you realize the amygdala can both heighten and ease anxiety.

This comparison also helps explain why people with higher marijuana tolerances are less likely to feel paranoid – they’re prepared for any amygdala alterations and are unlikely to panic when they set in.

CBD vs THC for Anxiety

There’s another, perhaps obvious, reason for the lack or prevalence of paranoia in cannabis users. If THC is the culprit, then CBD is the antithesis, promoting calmness and easing anxiety. In addition to causing no psychoactive high (and actively reducing the psychoactivity of THC), CBD has shown to be a calming agent – both mentally and physically – in people with many different conditions including:

dried cannabis flower held up by fingers

The amount of THC in your strain could affect how much paranoia you feel, or how much your anxiety is eased.

  • Schizophrenia (mental)
  • Anxiety (mental)

Using Cannabis for Anxiety

The reasons outlined above are likely why even medical professionals in support of marijuana are very cautious about recommending cannabis to people hoping to ease anxiety. There are so many factors at play – including environment, legality, medical history, cannabinoid content – that simply saying “yes, cannabis may ease your anxiety” is out of the question.

If you’re hoping marijuana will help you feel a bit more zen when your mind is racing, we would suggest taking a look at our medical marijuana strains, which have equal amounts of CBD and THC (which amounts to high CBD and low THC). Ensure you’re in a safe place when you try this medicating alternative, and start with a small dose.

**Remember that we are not doctors and cannot officially prescribe or recommend specific strains for your condition. Always speak to a medical professional, and if you choose to treat yourself with medical marijuana – where legal – be sure to do so in an environment where you feel safe and supported.**

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