The connection between anxiety and cannabis is not new to cannabis users. Chances are, if you have consumed cannabis, you have a story about a time you got “too high” and entered into a state of panic, paranoia, or overall anxiety. Some experience mild anxiety like the type you get from drinking too much coffee, while others get a fit of giggles that leads them to believe they will never catch their breath again and that they have reached the end.
Although stories of cannabis induced anxiety are somewhat common, how is cannabis helping people living with anxiety, stress, or paranoia? Where does the polarizing effect come from? – turns out, it’s all in your head.
Brain Chemistry, Anxiety and Cannabis
Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD bind with receptors throughout the brain where anxiety and cannabis go to play. Most of the brain’s receptors are found in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional processing – governing your response to fear, stress, and paranoia.
How does the amygdala work? The amygdala receives all sensory inputs from your environment and forms associations with neutral information such as sound or smell in your surroundings. These interpretations are then processed into an emotion and can turn into adaptive behaviors. For example, if you hear a noise just before feeling pain you will likely associate that noise with pain at a later occurrence.
When you add cannabinoids to the mix it can modify the neural communication happening in your brain; this can be either good or bad. When things go south it’s because THC has over-excited the neural pathways in the brain which is what causes the anxiety or paranoia.
Anxiety and the Endocannabinoid System
Receptor sites that belong to the endocannabinoid system exist in your entire body and fill with cannabinoids and other naturally produced compounds called endocannabinoids. Anxiety and other ailments occur when there is a deficiency in the endocannabinoid system.
An endocannabinoid deficiency is most often seen in brains that are exposed to excessive stress and trauma – think PTSD or similar disorders. Because anxiety is commonly seen in brains with an endocannabinoid deficiency, cannabis has a soothing effect on these brains as it replenishes the system with cannabinoids.
Risk Factors for Anxiety and Cannabis
Anxiety can affect anyone and the effects of cannabis vary widely from person to person, but certain elements make some more at risk of experiencing anxiety than others.
General Risk Factors
- Genetic predisposition
- Personality and psych history
Anxiety and Cannabis Risk Factors
- Frequency of use
- Dose of THC
- Setting and atmosphere
New users are more likely to experience heightened anxiety or paranoia due to their low tolerance levels and inexperience with dosing their cannabis. The anxiety is triggered when large doses of THC are introduced into your system.
A good way to avoid cannabis induced anxiety is to dose by smoking or vaping cannabis. The effects are almost instant and easier to moderate than other methods of consumption. Edibles can be inconsistent and easy to overdo as their effects are time released.