This Is Why Weed Makes Some People Anxious & Even Paranoid

It’s a cruel irony that the very people who could benefit from weed’s relaxing effects are often the ones who don’t feel them.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.  Remember people, this is a MIND ALTERING DRUG!!!!!!!  

As a type A person—a generous understatement—I used to have high hopes that weed could give me that elusive experience known as chilling out. But each of the five times that I tried it in high school and college, it did nothing. Then, when I was 24, a friend and I took a walk through San Francisco and saw a huge cloud of smoke rising from Golden Gate Park. That’s when we realized we’d arrived at around 4:20 on 4/20. Eager to take advantage of the coincidence, I bought a weed-laced Rice Krispies Treat from a guy in the park and downed a third of it. What followed was one of the most stressful afternoons of my life.

As my brain seemed to become progressively slower and more ineffective over the course of the next hour, I worried I wouldn’t remember how to get home. What if I walked in front of a car and died? Then, I got a text from a colleague who needed me to share a Google doc with her. I panicked as I realized that simple task eluded me. I spent ten minutes trying to figure it out, convinced she’d somehow know why I was taking so long and think less of my adulting abilities.

Reeling from that ordeal, I had my friend walk me home. Two ice cream cones later, I lay down in my bed, where I realized my eyes rolled back when I closed them. I opened them in panic, convinced they’d get stuck in the back of my head. Thankfully, after several minutes of debating whether it was safe to close my eyes, the drug’s sedative effects seemed to override the anxiety and paranoia, and I fell asleep. Needless to say, I gave away the other two-thirds of that Rice Krispies Treat.

It seemed unfair that the substance many swore by for anxiety reduction had only made me more anxious. But it turns out my reaction wasn’t that unusual. “[Weed] made me feel overly aware of everything that was going on around me and paranoid that anyone in the same room was watching and judging me,” says Kim, a 26-year-old teacher in New Orleans who declined to share her last name for her career’s sake. “I would eventually just freeze wherever I was so that I wouldn’t do anything ‘wrong’ but still be anxiously spiraling inside my head.”

Weed similarly has given Alaina Leary, a 24-year-old editor in Boston, a flood of worries like: “Does my girlfriend actually love me? Is what I just said really stupid and are my friends going to abandon me now? What if we split up while walking and I get lost forever?”

These reactions aren’t typical, but they’re not uncommon either, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. They’re especially common for people who are new to weed and unfamiliar with the feeling of being high. “The disorientation can be very anxiety provoking,” he explains, as can the loss of control that comes with compromised mental capacities.

However, there’s another reason why people might feel anxious while stoned, even long after their first time. THC binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, releasing the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, a neurotransmitter that stops neurons from firing, Giordano explains. Increased GABA and serotonin activity inhibits norepinephrine—a neurotransmitter involved in alertness and anxiety—which calms most people down.

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2 thoughts on “This Is Why Weed Makes Some People Anxious & Even Paranoid

  1. Avid smoker and advocate here. I smoke for two reasons; treating anxiety, and creativity.

    You’ve got the information as far as the chemical reactions in the brain down, however, the effects of Marijuana largely depends on the genetics of the strain you are smoking or engesting.

    There are two base strains of Marijuana, Indica and Sativa. Plants that are part of the Indica strain produce heavy, relaxed highs and have a calming effect on people who suffer from anxiety. The Sativa strains, however are much more uplifting and energizing. Sativa strains boost creativity and can be great for treating depression, however, for someone with anxiety they can trigger attacks and paranoia if they don’t channel the energy from the high into something creative.

    This is why an actual mental health diagnosis is required if you intend to use medicinal Marijuana for treating anxiety or depression. They need a legitimate in depth diagnosis because every prescription that’s filled comes from a plant that’s from either an Indica or Sativa strain that has been bred specifically for treating them. If they give you the wrong strain, or you accidentally self medicate with a strain that’s the opposite of the condition you’re using it for it can have completely adverse effects, and for some it can make their condition worse.

    If you’ve only tried Marijuana a handful of times, and since all kinds of weed, regardless of the plants names, are either an Indica or Sativa strain (hybrids of the two exist, but they’re much less common) then it’s very likely that every time you tried it, you were smoking or eating a Sativa strain. The strain combined with your body’s low tolerance for THC is likely why you experienced the high that you experienced.

    As I stated above, I’m not speaking as an addict, but as someone who is both a recreational smoker and a medicinal user. Indica strains treat my anxiety and stop me from having full blown panic attacks dead on the spot. They are a long term treatment that are safe to use in emergencies without fear of overdosing or experiencing severe side effects. However, I am also an artist and a writer, and when it comes to those two things, I often times love enlisting the help of the Sativa strain. As long as I have something to focus all of that creative energy on the high does not affect my anxiety in the least, and I become focused and massively productive at whatever I’m doing. In otherwords, figure out what kind of high you want and choose your plant accordingly.

    So, you see, you have to take the differences in chemical compounds of the plants themselves into account. There are more factors at play here than just the chemical reactions that happen in the brain.

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    1. I hear you, but his article is about anxiety created by weed for some. I do not subscribe to recreational use at all; however, for certain medical issues, it may be helpful. It still becomes a non-lethal addiction either way. The jury is still out because there have been no controlled clinical studies due to these studies still being unable to be funded. Hopefully that will change soon.

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