Paranoia is one of the most common side effects of marijuana. Some users experience it regularly almost every time they smoke, while a few lucky ones have never felt it. It is not life threatening and goes away once the “high” starts to wear off.
Paranoia caused by cannabis can be frustrating and discouraging for novice users, and is probably the main culprit for people giving up on smoking altogether.
The collective knowledge tells us that marijuana-induced paranoia can happen to anyone but it usually goes away when the effects of marijuana wear off.
As you also may know, people that suffer from anxiety tend to use medical marijuana, so how is it possible that the same herb that has the potential to cause paranoia is the one who is prescribed to hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis patients in North America?
It’s all in the unique combination of cannabinoids and terpenes, in every single cannabis strains. THC is the one that is psychoactive and most likely to cause paranoid episodes, while CBD is the one that tones it down. Terpenes are molecules that give cannabis its flavor, but even these little substances can influence the type of high we get and either reduce or increase paranoia.
To avoid making their patients paranoid, cannabis-friendly doctors have to be extra careful when recommending the cannabis therapy. This is usually done by placing a limit on the amount of THC in a strain, which ensures that patients that are likely to experience paranoia don’t accidentally consume a strain with over 20% of THC.
But even if you do have short-term paranoid episodes, it’s highly unlikely that you need to quit smoking marijuana forever.
Using cannabis can be a wonderful experience, and I’ll try to teach you a few trick on how to avoid annoying paranoia episodes and reduce it if it does happen.
So, let’s see why marijuana makes some people paranoid and others not and then we’ll head over to actionable tips.
What is paranoia?
Paranoia is an unfounded fear that others want to harm you. It’s characterized by feeling like being under constant threat.
When having paranoid thoughts, people are usually overwhelmed with thinking about conspiracies against them.
For example, while most people would think of one incident to be a coincidence, person with paranoid thoughts would think of it as something planned and intentional.
These irrational thoughts and beliefs can get so fixated that it becomes extremely hard to convince that person otherwise.
For many people, it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. This is especially the case if one is under the influence of cannabis, when there is a plethora of other accompanying effects, like euphoria, couch-lock and that ever-annoying dry mouth.
Some symptoms, though, are typical for the condition: mistrusting almost everyone, having difficulties to relax, constant vigilance and being unable to forgive.
Can marijuana cause paranoia?
Let me start this off by saying that anxiety sufferers have been using marijuana for decades, with reported noticeable improvements.
And yes, some marijuana users do experience paranoia when using cannabis.
So, what’s the deal with this duality and how does it happen?
Here, like in all other things that have to do with cannabis and the human body, the specific interaction between cannabis and our endocannabinoid system is all to blame.
The endocannabinoid system is an enchanting cellular signaling network, made out of cellular receptors and activators which are scattered throughout the body and regulate many neuronal functions. Feeling hungry, for example, is the result of your stomach and brain communicating through an activator called anandamide. These activators, we call endocannabinoids.
Scientists have found that certain molecules from cannabis (THC, first and foremost) are able to replicate endocannabinoids, so when we smoke weed, the compounds inside it break through the blood-brain barrier and mimic the endocannabinoids our body makes. The end result of that is what makes cannabis so beneficial in medicine, but is also what may cause a bunch of side effects.
When it comes to paranoia, THC is the molecule that most likely causes it, as it stimulates the receptors in a part of the brain called amygdala. Amygdala regulates emotional processes, such as fear and paranoia.
Researchers from the University of Western Ontario found that rats exposed to THC reacted more to the smells they were trained to be scared of. (1) Rats have similar processes and reactions to fear as humans do, but still, the results of this study could not be taken for granted.
The study did not give a definitive answer to why some people feel more paranoid than others, as well as why some don’t feel paranoid at all.
Professor Freeman and his team from Oxford University tried to provide an answer to that enigma.
121 participants from 21 to 50 years of age who had used marijuana at least once in their life and did not have any mental issues were given either THC or placebo. (2)
50% of those who used THC and 30% of placebo users reported having paranoid episodes.
Although marijuana did produce short-term paranoia in some users, researchers concluded that we were more likely to experience paranoid episodes when we are worried or have mistrustful thoughts. (2)
If you do experience paranoia when you are high, think of it as an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Think about your feelings and what might trigger that paranoia.
This could be the opportunity to resolve problems from your past and eventually move on.
The best precaution is to be happy and uplifted even before you use cannabis.
How to get rid of paranoia when you’re high?
As I’ve said before, weed-induced paranoia can happen to users of all levels, without exceptions.
Feeling paranoid from marijuana usually occurs after smoking too much… Although sometimes we do feel more or less paranoid, most of us continue smoking weed nevertheless.
Anyway, even if you smoke so much weed that you think you’re going to die, don’t worry, you won’t. The feeling will go away.
Here are some simple tricks to keep in your sleeve if you want to get rid of paranoia when high.
When marijuana kicks in and you start feeling paranoid, it’s not the best feeling in the world. If you want it to pass through quickly, it’s important to stay calm. Lay down and close your eyes, try counting if that’s what relaxes you. Take deep breaths and exhale slowly. And remember that it will wear off eventually.
Play relaxing music
While you are laying down in your bed trying to relax, play some smooth music to help you overcome your marijuana paranoia. Play your favorite song on your phone, it can help.
Make a pepper lemonade
Lemons have been used for sobering up from alcohol and it looks like this fruit can also help you if you get yourself too high. So when marijuana makes you paranoid, make lemonade… with pepper. Yes, both lemons and pepper have terpenes, some of which diminish the psychoactive effects of THC.
To make pepper lemonade, take one big glass, squeeze one fresh lemon, add a pinch of pepper and lemon zest, some ice and a little bit of fresh mint if you like, and pure club soda. Drink it slowly and you should feel the paranoia creeping away.
Take a nice shower
Lukewarm or icy cold… Find the right temperature which feels the most pleasant for you. Although you might be lazy to take one but believe me, you’ll feel a hundred times better after taking a nice shower.
Take a walk
If you are feeling too high and paranoid, take a nice long walk outside. Some fresh air could be just the thing you need. Also, when you feel the breeze you’ll feel much better and relaxed. Take a few deep breaths of fresh air.
Eat and stay hydrated
Help your body to recover from marijuana paranoia by having a nice, healthy snack. Eat something that you really enjoy. You should also try some fresh fruits, cereals with some honey or a nice warm broth. Also, if you get paranoid from smoking marijuana, try to remember to stay hydrated all the time.
- Tan H, Lauzon NM, Bishop SF, Chi N, Bechard M, Laviolette SR; Cannabinoid transmission in the basolateral amygdala modulates fear memory formation via functional inputs to the prelimbic cortex; The Journal of Neuroscience; April 2011; 31(14):5300-12.
- Freeman D et al.; How Cannabis Causes Paranoia: Using the Intravenous Administration of ∆ 9 -Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to Identify Key Cognitive Mechanisms Leading to Paranoia; Schizophrenia Bulletin; March 2015; 41(2):391–399.