As with all substances, consuming cannabis creates certain effects in the consumer’s body. While many of these effects are exactly why the plant has long been sought after, some side effects of marijuana are less than desirable. Unfortunately, paranoia from marijuana is a very real side effect. However, as science and technology continue to unlock the secrets of the infamous herb, we are learning how to mitigate the negative effects of paranoia from marijuana.
Few will forget the now famous incident of cannabis-induced paranoia as reported by Maureen Dowd in 2014. After consuming too many THC edibles, she wrote about her experience and the paranoia which ensued in the New York Times.
"As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me," Dowd recollected.
Another Anecdotal Tale of Terror
While many cannabis advocates blasted Dowd for her irresponsibility, I got my own taste of accidental over-consumption. Before becoming a writer, I worked as a budtender in the Colorado cannabis industry, and I often told this cautionary tale of woe about over-consumption of marijuana and the level of paranoia it can cause.
I had just moved into my new living quarters with two, twenty-somethings I didn't know. The fact of the matter was... I didn't know anyone. I was new to Denver, and I was feeling very alone in the world. My new roommates invited me to smoke dabs with them. While I had been an avid cannabis consumer for many years, concentrates were totally new to me. After inhaling the vapor from the sativa-based cannabis oil, it only took a few minutes before I started to feel uncomfortable. The feeling wasn't overwhelming, it didn't come on suddenly, but an intense feeling of dread slowly enveloped my sense of well-being.
I quickly left the room and went to my own bedroom to try and relax. However, as I sat on the edge of my bed, every negative, "what if” scenario flashed through my mind.
I thought to myself, "What have I done? Why did I move out here? I am all alone... living with strangers... in a place I don't know. What was I thinking?"
My mind raced in circles going over all the terrible, awful situations my mother had warned me about. Was I going to wake up in a tub of ice, missing a kidney? Or worse, what if this was some sort of sex-trafficking scheme? After all, I met my new roommates through a Craigslist ad, so anything was possible; and then I envisioned myself waking up chained to Jabba the Hutt somewhere in Afghanistan.
I spent the next hour stuffing pieces of toilet paper in every nail hole I could find, convinced there could be cameras. Then, for another two hours, I cried on the phone with my husband (who was in another state). He listened helplessly as I rambled on and on and on about every mistake I made in my lifetime.
Then, although slower than it came on, the effects started to fade. As I started to come to my senses, I laughed because I realized my thoughts and fears were completely unfounded and illogical. I made several critical errors and I paid for them with an extremely difficult and uncomfortable experience. Since then, I learned what causes this effect and how to effectively avoid it or curb it when it happens by mistake.
How Marijuana Causes Paranoia
Clearly, you can get a sense of paranoia from marijuana, yet the herb is also frequently recommended to patients who suffer from anxiety disorders. This leaves us to wonder how the same herb elicits such a broad range of effects. The answer lies in several factors not only within the plant, but within the consumer as well.
The Endocannabinoid System
The brain contains a high number of cannabinoid receptors, especially in the amygdala. This area of the brain is thought to regulate mood, particularly anxiety and the fight or flight response. THC binds to these receptors to create a response. Whether or not the substance helps to calm anxiety or ramp it up is dependent on many biological and environmental factors.
THC is Biphasic
Basically, this means “less is more” when dosing with high-THC content cannabis. A biphasic substance creates a different effect in lower doses than it does in higher doses. Many may experience a calming effect with small doses of THC, while larger doses are more apt to cause paranoid thoughts. Research performed at the University of Chicago tested this theory and published results showing a higher dose of marijuana causing significantly higher paranoia in consumers.
In my story, I consumed a high-THC cannabis concentrate. Not only was this a new consumption method for me personally, it was an extremely potent product. This was my first critical error. New products, new strains, and higher THC content can impact the overall experience – always start low.
Frame of Mind
Research at the University of Oxford led by Professor Daniel Freeman, suggests paranoia from marijuana is more likely when consumers already have a predisposition to negative thoughts, worrying, or low self-esteem. In their study all 121 participants admitted to having some form of paranoid thought within the last month. Which, according to Freeman, is not uncommon. More than half the population reports having occasional paranoid thoughts or feelings.
Dr. Freeman defines paranoia as, "excessive thinking that other people are trying to harm us." He goes on to include, "Many people have a few paranoid thoughts, and a few people have many paranoid thoughts."
Incidentally, 30 percent of the patients receiving a placebo expressed feelings of paranoia as well. Showing regardless of the THC level, if the consumer is preconditioned to feel paranoid, they likely will.
In my story, I had just lost my mother to cancer, I was a thousand miles from my husband, and was already being treated for anxiety disorder. Critical mistake number two: I was already troubled and adding a high dose of THC only made matters seem worse than they were. When predispositioned to anxiety or paranoia, avoid high THC products.
Naturally, if the state of mind of the consumer can impact the effect, a comfortable environment is also critical. Being in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment can increase the feelings of anxiousness and paranoia from marijuana.
In my story, I had just moved in with three people I didn't know. I was extraordinarily uncomfortable already anyway, and the unfamiliar environment didn't help. Always try new products in a comfortable and relaxed place.
Understanding the effects of cannabis is also extremely important. Certain cannabis strains are more apt to ramp anxiety than others. Learning which types of cannabis work best for the consumer is a learning process. When we understand how different cannabinoids can affect us, we can manipulate the outcome.
Clearly, in my story, it was a learning experience where I learned a bsativa concentrate may not be the best choice if I'm feeling anxious or uncomfortable. I didn't even bother to ask. This was another critical error on my behalf. Be a cannabis snob. Know the products and understand the effects.
What to Do When You Get Too High
Being too high is a horribly uncomfortable feeling and one you'll likely only experience once, simply because after learning the lesson, you'll not likely make the same mistake twice. However, there are a few steps to take to minimize paranoia from marijuana.
- Consume CBDs. Cannabidiol works with the endocannabinoid system by binding with the allosteric site of the CB1 receptors. In doing so, CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of the THC. Having a CBD vape cartridge or CBD beverage on hand is highly recommended.
- Relax. If you're not comfortable, find a place where you can relax. Listen to music, color, or do something creative to help take your mind off whatever is causing your heightened sense of anxiety or worry.
- Drink Water. Staying hydrated is always important. Avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol as the additional substances could make you feel worse. Additionally, if you're high on an edible, the water will help.
- Eat a Light Snack. While eating something can create a sense of comfort, keep it light, especially if you've consumed edibles. Avoid fatty foods. Adding fat calories on top of an edible can increase the bioavailability of the THC in your digestive tract and actually make you feel higher.
- Remember, This Too Shall Pass. Fortunately, the effects of cannabis are short-lived, and the discomfort will eventually go away – even if it feels like forever. A fatal overdose is absolutely impossible, and there's no permanent damage created by marijuana consumption. Although your mind may try to convince you you're dying, rest assured... you are not.
Marijuana and paranoia do not have to coincide. As cannabis consumption becomes more prevalent, consumers are learning how to consume the plant in a manner which best suits their needs. Additionally, cannabis producers are continually introducing new products with cannabinoid formulas engineered to help mitigate the negative side effects, like paranoia, so the consumer receives all the possible benefits with very little risk.