Why does cannabis cause paranoia for some people and not for others?
Anyone who has tried intoxicating cannabis knows that it can have a profound impact on the brain. Consumers may find themselves distracted easier, more prone to creative tasks, or simply more mellow and relaxed in the moment. Unfortunately, marijuana’s side effects are not always enjoyable and often include feelings of paranoia or anxiety.
Marijuana-induced paranoia can be quite discomforting and may even be enough to turn some users off completely. However, many others consume cannabis to treat anxiety. So why is it that marijuana increases anxiety and paranoia in some users and reduces it in others?
To answer the question, “Why does cannabis cause paranoia?” we’ll have to talk a little neuroscience.
Synapse Development in the Brain
Our brains are incredibly efficient. As a brain matures (as we experience new things), new synapses develop to improve its efficiency.
Synapses are little electrical pathways that send information from one part of the brain to another. It can take a while for synapses to develop, though. If not, you’d never have to study for a test or Google the lyrics to a song you just heard. However, after these electrical messages travel the same neurological pathway enough times, new, more efficient synaptic pathways can develop. This is why you will never have to look up the alphabet or search the internet for the lyrics to your favorite song – your brain already downloaded that information for you.
However, synapse development is not only beneficial for nailing Useless Trivia Night. In fact, synapses fire every time you have a thought or take action, whether conscious or not. You don’t have to burn yourself twice to know the stove is hot, and you don’t have to put in a conscious effort to remove your hand from a red-hot burner. Those synapses developed instantly from trauma (burning yourself on a stove once at least once before). Essentially, when you brush up against a hot surface, your subconscious mind can trigger action (get away from the hot surface) before your conscious mind has any time to process it.
Pretty efficient, eh?
Synapses in the Amygdala
The reason why does cannabis cause paranoia has to do with synapses in the amygdala. Importantly, the amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for things like memory and fear and is absolutely covered in endocannabinoid receptors. EC receptors help control the flow of information across synapses, usually with the help of endocannabinoids or cannabinoids that the body produces naturally.
According to a Neuroscience study, the brain produces the endocannabinoid 2-AG within the amygdala in response to stressful situations, thus triggering a fight-or-flight response. Notably, THC can also interact with these same EC receptors either by dulling or heightening its effects. Depending on several factors, the artificially introduced THC may cause either an increase or decrease in anxiety and paranoia.
Factors that Affect Cannabis Paranoia
Genetics may predispose some people to certain mental health conditions. For example, researchers found that people who are prone to anxiety also have markedly lower endocannabinoid levels. However, excessive cannabinoid levels can have the opposite effect by overstimulating the amygdala and triggering hyper-diligent tendencies. As such, those who are prone to anxiety may be more likely to find relief from THC, whereas those with average or elevated endocannabinoid levels are more likely to experience paranoia and flight-of-flight responses.
The environment plays a major role in determining if a person will experience paranoia while high or not. Uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations are especially likely to induce paranoia, especially when THC is pulsing through the amygdala’s fight-or-flight mechanism. What’s more, THC may make people more receptive to slight environmental changes. As such, any unpredictable (and potentially uncomfortable) change to the environment may further trigger the cautious amygdala to respond adversely. To ward against environment-induced THC paranoia, only consume in situations in which you are already comfortable.
As mentioned, synapses develop as a means of efficiency. Those who experienced trauma have a heightened sense of caution (of which they may or may not be aware). Consequently, this increase in amygdala activity may trigger trauma-induced paranoia. Interestingly, it may also lessen trauma responses in some users, as well. As this Psychology Today article explains, “plant-derived cannabinoids [psychoactive chemicals] such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.” The crux, however, seems to depend on how much THC is in a person’s system. Unfortunately, conclusive research on cannabis and PTSD is still lacking.
Some people are just more sensitive to THC. Women, in particular, and those who rarely consume cannabis are more likely to suffer from cannabis-induced paranoia and anxiety. As such, women and novice consumers should exercise caution when consuming marijuana to ward against cannabis paranoia.
Final Thoughts on Why Does Cannabis Cause Paranoia
Our customers often ask us: “Why does cannabis cause paranoia?” Though the answer is extremely complex, it all boils down to the body’s endocannabinoid system and the way it affects flight-or-flight responses triggered by the amygdala. Use caution when consuming cannabis until you understand exactly how THC affects your anxiety levels.
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