The Connection Between Marijuana and Anxiety

by HelloMD

People familiar with marijuana know that the plant can have two very different effects. Sometimes, people who consume marijuana feel pleasantly mellow and anxiety-free. Other times, marijuana consumption results in paranoid feelings that leave the consumer less than relaxed. Many people wonder how the same plant can produce two reactions that are so very different. The answer comes down to brain chemistry and each user's individual experiences.

How Marijuana Affects the Brain

In order to understand why marijuana sometimes causes relaxation and sometimes causes paranoia, it's important to understand how the compounds contained in marijuana affect the human brain. When marijuana is consumed, the cannabinoids (such as THC) in the plant react with receptors in the brain. Many of these receptors are located in the amygdala, which is responsible for processing complex emotions such as stress, fear, and paranoia. As the cannabinoids react within the brain, they influence the function of the amygdala, causing a series of emotions that can be either positive (relaxation and happiness) or negative (paranoia and anxiety).

In some cases, cannabinoids like THC can overstimulate the brain, leading to feelings of paranoia and anxiety. This is especially common in people who are new to the use of medical marijuana. While nobody knows exactly why THC produces anxious feelings on some occasions but not on others, one working theory is that the human body relies on a store of natural endocannabinoids that act very similarly to the compounds found in medical marijuana.

The brains of people who have suffered trauma or intense stress have been found to have lower levels of endocannabinoids. When individuals with depleted endocannabinoid levels consume medical marijuana, the cannabinoids contained within the plant replenish the body's store of endocannabinoids, which produces a relaxing effect. This may offer some hint as to why marijuana makes some people feel relaxed and others anxious. While further research is needed to solidify this connection, researchers are optimistic about the potential treatments that this connection may pose for people suffering from mood disorders.

Marijuana and Anxiety

The first thing to understand about the connection between marijuana and anxiety is that a consumer's pre-marijuana anxiety levels have a huge effect on post-marijuana anxiety levels. According to a 2009 review of several prominent cannabis and anxiety studies, people who use cannabis frequently have higher anxiety levels than moderate users.

Additionally, these consumers generally show signs of anxiety disorders before they show signs of cannabis dependence. Upon further review, researchers interpreted these results to mean that people who are naturally prone to anxiety tend to use cannabis as a means to cope with that anxiety. This theory lies in direct opposition to the theory that cannabis causes anxiety.

With those results in mind, however, it is important to remember that the presence of anxiety is highly dependent upon many factors, including the following:

  • Family history
  • Personality
  • Gender
  • A consumer's personal history of paranoia or anxiety

When a consumer uses cannabis on a regular basis, other factors like the frequency of cannabis use and the dose consumed can affect anxiety levels as well. With that being said, researchers have noted that people who use marijuana on a regular basis actually see a decrease in anxiety levels. As a general rule, new users or those who consume a high level of THC are more likely to experience marijuana-induced paranoia or anxiety.

Avoiding Paranoia and Anxiety When Using Marijuana

Despite the fact that marijuana and anxiety are highly individualized, there are things consumers can do to avoid marijuana-induced spells of anxiety and paranoia. These include the following:

  • Consumers who are new to marijuana or have experienced anxiety and paranoia while using cannabis in the past should opt for a strain that is low in THC and/or high in CBD. Because CBD is non-psychoactive, it's likely to decrease anxiety and produce a more relaxed and lucid experience.
  • Regardless of whether a consumer is an experienced marijuana user or not, it's important to be careful about doses while consuming marijuana. As a general rule, it's more difficult to control the dose of oils and edibles than it is vaporizing or smoking. Consumers who have had poor experiences with marijuana in the past should consider smoking or vaporizing and upping the intake dose slowly to avoid uncomfortable episodes.
  • One of the best ways to avoid marijuana-induced anxiety and paranoia is to always consume cannabis products in a comfortable and calm space. Selecting to use these products at home rather than in a crowded setting can help consumers reduce the likelihood of marijuana-induced paranoia naturally.
  • Consumers who are having difficulty avoiding anxiety even after trying the above tips should consider changing the strain of marijuana consumed. While this may seem like a simple tip, every strain of marijuana offers a different selection of chemicals, which affect the body differently. Consumers shouldn't be afraid to experiment with different strains to determine which ones work best for their personal preferences and needs. When experimenting with new strains, consumers should remember that Sativa strains generally produce a more active experience while Indica strains are known to be more mellow and relaxed.

While marijuana-induced anxiety and paranoia do occasionally happen, there are steps consumers can take to avoid these negative emotions. By being educated about how marijuana affects the brain and knowing what to do to limit the risk of anxiety and paranoia, consumers can be proactive about ensuring a positive marijuana experience every time.

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