Paranoia is a very important and confusing subject around cannabis.
It’s an interesting topic because many people who use cannabis find that it reduces anxiety and calms them. But here’s the irony: The biggest reason people say they want to stop using cannabis is because it makes them paranoid.
Why do some people get paranoid from using cannabis, and what are solutions to avoid this? How do you reduce paranoia but still get medicinal benefits from cannabis?
Let’s talk briefly about how cannabis acts in the brain. We have something called an endo-cannabinoid system, little regulators in our body. They regulate the nerves, immune system, and a really important neuro-transmitting system called GABA that is responsible for the peaks of anxiety and the lows of depression in our brain chemistry. We also have receptors for cannabinoids in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain known for its fight-or-flight response.
You may know that THC is the active chemical in cannabis. That is the chemical that makes people high but can also induce paranoia when we have large amounts. Imagine THC is like the fire department. If somebody has pain or nervousness, they can introduce those little firemen into their system. The fire department comes, they calm things down, and they make sure things are okay. But they drive big, loud trucks and stomp around with boots.
CBD is more like a social worker or a therapist. It’s very quiet. It comes to the house and helps with things, but it doesn’t always instantaneously affect our systems the way THC does. CBD is also way less prone to cause anxiety.
It’s important for us to know the interplay of THC and CBD in our system and how they interact with our body differently when triggering receptors in our amygdala, nervous system, and gut. Trillions of nerves receive cannabinoids and can either become overly stimulated or regulated by their action.
So, what’s causing this anxiety? Essentially, too much THC or CBD in the system at once. You’re ingesting a large amount of these chemicals when you smoke cannabis. The chemicals go from the lungs straight to the brain and stimulate the amygdala, GABA, and the nervous system. If you induce too much into your system, it’s like calling the fire department and they all show up at once. Imagine 10 fire trucks to get a cat out of a tree in your yard. It’s going to make you panic a little bit because that’s just too much.
The interesting thing about anxiety is that it’s a very subjective and psychological experience. People can have anxiety due to genetic factors, life events, trauma – any of these things and more. These people often tend to have elevated anxiety and paranoia that small amounts of THC can intensify. The context is really important.
Some studies have delivered placebos and varying amounts of THC to volunteers. Researchers tell some people it’s THC and tell others it’s just a drug. What’s interesting is that some respondents relax when they know they have THC in their system, where other people find it very scary and that elevates their anxiety.
It’s also important to remember that everyone has a unique endo-cannabinoid system. You can’t say five milligrams of THC isn’t enough to cause anxiety. We work with clients who are often sensitive or have very specific ailments and medicinal history. Those are important factors to consider so it’s not all too much for them to handle.
But what about CBD? That lone therapist chemical there to get the cat out of the tree, to help regulate your system. CBD is non-psychoactive, so it’s not going to trigger this physical response, but some people still have a paranoid experience on an extremely low dosage. The reason why is because cannabinoids are biphasic. This means that for some people cannabis is activating and energizing, where for others it’s sedating and calming.
Anxiety and paranoia create a feedback loop. If somebody ingests cannabis these feelings might start with a sort of tingling or a little bit of a warm, fuzzy feeling. However, as it becomes stronger in the body, they might start to attach their thoughts to the way they’re feeling.
When you’re walking through the woods and you see a snake in the grass your amygdala says, “Jump back! You don’t want to get bit.” But you may jump back and realize it’s just a stick. The amygdala is a very important part of the brain, but it’s not very rational. When somebody feels THC or CBD flood their system, they might think, “Is this what a stroke feels like? This is a very vulnerable feeling in my body. Will people see me and think that I’m freaking out or behaving really strangely?”
These thoughts lead to paranoia and can be exacerbated by the THC or CBD. It’s also important to know that cannabinoids have a nonlinear dose reaction in people. This means that they’re up and down. You can have a person who uses cannabis every night for years to feel calm and totally relaxed, but then their life situation changes and they become more paranoid smoking the same cannabis. We see this happen all the time. It’s important to be intuitive and in touch with your body so that you know what your response is going to be and how to shift that dosage over time.
When cannabinoids see cells that are behaving out of whack they want to reach homeostasis. They want to bring it into balance. If you’re introducing more and more THC into your system, it may eventually trigger a response in your body that says, “That’s enough.” I know it feels good. You may think it’s reducing your anxiety temporarily. But if you’re getting prolonged paranoia experiences from cannabis, it’s a sign. It’s a message from those cannabinoids that they’re regulating themselves. They’re telling your body to slow down. To stop.
This brings me to the solution, how we reduce or prevent paranoia if we’re taking recreational or medicinal cannabis. The very first thing is taking a tolerance break. If you’re starting to get anxiety, it’s often a sign that you need to pull back on your dose. Reduce your dose or take a full break. A tolerance break can be 48 hours, which resets the cannabinoids for many users. Then introduce cannabis back into your system. You can take a tenth the amount that you normally do and still get the benefits from it. Daily users sometimes need as long as a month off cannabis. It’s really healthy for most cannabis users to take a few weeks off each year for tolerance breaks.