If you’re a fan of cannabis, chances are, it doesn’t tend to make you paranoid. But you’ve probably felt slightly paranoid at some point, or wondered why a friend never wants to get high because they say weed always makes them feel anxious. Why does weed make some people paranoid and not others?
To understand the answer, you first have to know the way THC interacts with your endocannabinoid system and psychology. Endocannabinoids engage the body’s cannabinoid receptors to regulate functions like appetite, sleep, mood, or pain. When THC acts upon the amygdala, it modifies the neural communication for better or for worse.
For some, that THC may reduce fear, stress, and paranoia — while for others it might heighten it. While there’s no precise formula for who will get paranoid, there are a few risk factors I identified after doing the research and speaking with Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist and author of The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis.
The first trigger for paranoia is how much THC is in your strain. While some people swear by the idea that sativas make them more paranoid than indicas (or vice versa), it’s actually the amount of THC that is going to affect how psychoactive — and therefore potentially triggering — your high is. If you know someone who might benefit from cannabis but says they get too paranoid, Dr. Holland says introducing them to a purely CBD strain should solve that problem.
Other risk factors for paranoia include your age, having to hide that you’re high, and being uncomfortable with your feelings. Let’s tackle those one by one.
While there’s no age where you’re more likely to be paranoid, your brain is developing into your mid-twenties, so it follows that your reaction to THC might change. That explains why some people are able to smoke as teenagers without being paranoid, but may find they have a different reaction as an adult (the THC is binding to receptors in a vastly different brain). Of course, the older you get, the more triggers you might have for anxiety as well.
Similarly, as you get older you might find the reverse is true — that you get less paranoid than you used to be. That could again be due to a changing brain, but it could also have to do with the fact that as you get older, you don’t feel you have to hide your high to the same degree. With legalization spreading, there’s less fear around consuming cannabis — which very well may be one of the main reasons Mary Jane has a reputation for making people paranoid in the first place. If you’re worried about getting caught, or start off with the assumption that you’re doing something you have to hide, of course you might feel anxious!
Finally, another risk factor could simply be a lack of comfort or practice sitting with uncomfortable feelings. If you’re a person who doesn’t like losing control, or sitting with your mind, a high-THC strain with lots of psychoactive effects is likely to make you paranoid.
“There are definitely some people that aren’t comfortable with losing control, and there are some people that aren’t comfortable with looking at their own thoughts or at their own behavior as a sort of outsider. You know, not everyone is built for self-reflection,” Dr. Holland says.
So there you have it. If your mom wants to try cannabis but says she gets too paranoid, get her a high-CBD or entirely CBD strain, sit with her in a safe space, remind her that she’s doing nothing wrong, and encourage her to voice any uncomfortable feelings as they come up so that she might get more comfortable sitting with them.