Cannabis and Anxiety: Why Weed Can Sometimes Make You Anxious

For some people, cannabis has a reputation for being anxiety-inducing. Bad experiences with cannabis and anxiety lead some to abstain for life. Or can cause a significant amount of trepidation before consumption.

Generally, cannabis users consider it comforting, relaxing and fun, but there is no denying that it doesn’t quite work that way for a good number of people. Today, let’s figure out why cannabis can cause anxiety and what you can do to avoid that.

The Science Behind Cannabis and Anxiety

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Many people who report feeling anxiety from cannabis use are typically first-time or infrequent users. Some of the most common effects include:

  • Paranoia
  • Fear
  • Tension
  • Discomfort
  • Nausea

First, we need to understand what cannabis consists of: cannabis contains THC, a psychoactive compound. Its psychoactive effects result from its interaction with the endocannabinoid receptors in your brain. Basically, this is why you get high, and it could also be why you get paranoid.

The amygdala is a part of your brain that contains endocannabinoid receptors. Emotions such as fear, stress and anxiety originate from the amygdala. When you consume THC, whether by smoking, eating or more, these compounds enter your endocannabinoid system, and your amygdala now has all these stimuli that it has to make sense of. In fact, there are so many different ways that cannabis interacts with your brain.

Experts theorize that an excess of THC can lead to the amygdala becoming overstimulated, which then causes those aforementioned emotions to emerge and subsequently even amplify them.

A THC Specific Problem

This is a THC-specific problem, as cannabis also contains other compounds such as CBD, and CBD does not bind to endocannabinoid receptors.

With that said, some people appear able to consume copious amounts of THC without feeling any anxiety. At the same time, many people continue to experience anxiety even after trying cannabis multiple times and reducing the dose. Why is that?

Brain chemistry and genetics can come into play. The amygdala is located somewhere in the middle of the brain, in front of the hippocampus. Endocannabinoid receptors populate various regions throughout the brain, but the regions responsible for fear, anxiety, stress and more tend to be near the middle and back of the brain. If the middle and back areas of your brain have stronger or more endocannabinoid receptors than the front, meaning the THC you consume will concentrate towards those areas and can result in increased sensitivity to those emotions.

On top of that, some research indicates that individuals with higher estrogen levels may experience much higher sensitivity to cannabis; The plus side of that is it is also true for the positive effects of cannabis.

How to Overcome Cannabis Anxiety

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There is no bulletproof way to ensure cannabis consumption will not trigger anxiety. With that said, there are things you can try to avoid cannabis anxiety:

  1. Reduce the amount of THC consumed at a time or opt for products with lower THC levels
  2. Try cannabis products that contain CBD instead of THC
  3. Ensure your environment or location is known to you, comfortable and relaxing
  4. Get a trip sitter, someone you trust, to accompany you

If you’re already in the throes of an anxious or paranoid session, try these different things to calm you down:

  1. Try to do something you know will relax you. Meditate, listen to music, do breathing exercises, etc
  2. Try some gastronomical remedies: pepper and lemons are two ingredients that contain their own terpenes and may help counter the effects of cannabis.
  3. Take a nap. It will be better when you wake up.

In less common cases, feelings of anxiety can persist long after an individual has ceased cannabis consumption. Some individuals may feel prone to anxiety regardless of cannabis use, and smoking or eating cannabis products heightens those feelings. In these cases, it is helpful to remember that professional support has helped many people deal with feelings of anxiety and paranoia.

Cannabis should be a fun and relaxing experience. Many individuals even use cannabis for medical purposes, to tame pain, stress and even anxiety. While there is still much more research to be done on the relationship between cannabis and anxiety, it helps in the meantime to know that there are options to give you more control over your experience with cannabis.