On the face of it, it seems almost crazy that cannabis use can cause anxiety. After all, one of the reasons people consume medical cannabis is for its anxiolytic properties. Yet cannabis-induced anxiety is a side effect both medical and recreational users can experience. In this article, we look at the symptoms, causes, and preventative measures you can take to combat anxiety brought on by using cannabis.
Table of contents
- What is Weed-Induced Anxiety?
- Why Weed Makes You Anxious
- How to Identify Weed-Induced Anxiety
- How to Handle Cannabis-Induced Anxiety
- Reduce the Risk of Weed-Induced Anxiety
What is Weed-Induced Anxiety?
Just to be clear – it’s not the feeling you get when you realise your stash is dwindling. Instead, it’s the onset of negative symptoms of mental distress during or after marijuana use.
It’s relatively common knowledge that these symptoms can strike due to smoking and can leave a person in a state of fear and paranoia and even lead to physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, hyperventilating, nausea and vomiting.
Why Weed Makes You Anxious
The primary cannabinoid in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is a psychoactive compound that can have different results. The psychoactive effects of cannabis with THC can be too much for some people, especially initially. They can cause feelings of anxiety and paranoia. This is most likely because THC stimulates receptors in the brain which regulate these emotional responses. Cannabidiol (CBD), on the other hand, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that doesn’t bind directly to cannabinoid receptors and doesn’t cause paranoia.
A 2017 study led by Oxford University gave participants a series of tests of suspiciousness. Which included real-life social situations and virtual reality. It found that after THC, half the participants had paranoid thoughts as opposed to 30% of respondents who were given a placebo. Still, the paranoia declined as the drug left the user’s system. For this reason, doctors who prescribe medical marijuana must choose strains carefully. And, should recommend strains with lower THC levels for patients who show a tendency toward mental health issues.
How to Identify Weed-Induced Anxiety
The symptoms can strike at any time with or without an obvious trigger, and before you know it, you’ve hit a downward spiral of negative thoughts which can jar you out of a relaxed state. While the anxiety can come from out of nowhere, it may be caused by something entirely tangible like a knock at the door, a ringing phone, or a police siren. Any one of these can create a sudden sense of panic, which quickly shifts your anxiety response into high gear and leads to the rapid development of fear and paranoid feelings.
You may quickly find yourself trapped by these feelings and unable to regain control and relax again. These feelings appear especially common in first-time or fledgling smokers as they come to terms with their first ‘high’ and may have difficulty understanding the new feeling they’re experiencing. Sudden feelings of guilt, panic, fear, impending doom or imagining worst-case scenarios are common in cannabis-induced anxiety and, if not managed quickly, can in some cases lead to full-blown panic attacks. Whether you’re alone or with a group of people, it’s time to take action.
How to Handle Cannabis-Induced Anxiety
One of the most important things to do if you find yourself in this situation is to tell yourself that you’re high and accept it. It can be hard for beginners to compartmentalise that the altered state you are feeling is part of the experience. Being high for the first time feels fabulous to many people, but some may find the change of states to be overwhelming.
At this time, it’s especially good to have support from others, and if they’re experienced cannabis users, even better as they can guide you through what’s happening and help to calm you down. But what if you’re alone and you experience weed-induced anxiety?
Whether you’re alone or in company, if you feel yourself beginning to succumb to those anxious feelings, start by regulating your breathing – this is a must for any type of anxiety attack as panic typically leads to hyperventilating, which can lead to fainting. Take a series of slow, measured, deliberate deep breaths (making sure not to gulp air) through your nose and let each one out slowly through your mouth, gradually bringing your airflow under control.
Talk to Yourself
Use your inner monologue to reassure yourself that you’re okay and will be fine. A state of anxiety or paranoia is almost always accompanied by heavy thoughts of panic and worst-case scenarios. At this time, your imagination is especially fertile for creating these thoughts. Overpower them and silence them by using positive affirmations. It’s okay to speak out loud if you’re by yourself, but you might get some funny looks if you’re at a party and start chanting “I’m okay” repeatedly.
If you have access to water, run some cold water over your wrists, wash your face, and put a cold flannel on your forehead or the back of your neck – these tactics will lower your temperature and bring you back to a normal state all the quicker.
Eat and Drink
No matter the problem, water is always your friend. Sip, don’t gulp. Eating and drinking gives you a task to focus on, which can calm you down, and potentially take the edge off the effects. Stay away from mangoes at this point, though.
Walk it off
If possible, take a walk. Choose a safe route if you can, and if it’s nighttime, choose a well-lit route. If you can bring someone with you, even better. Having company or conversation can be a helpful distraction, as well as being beneficial from a safety point of view.
Resist the temptation to lie down in a darkened room and do nothing. This will be more likely to cause feelings to fester and lead to ‘the spins’ – the sensation where you feel like everything around you is spinning won’t help your thoughts stop spinning.
Reduce the Risk of Weed-Induced Anxiety
If you find you’re prone to occasional or frequent bouts of anxiety and paranoia when using cannabis, there are several things you can try that may help eliminate it or at least reduce your risk. When used responsibly, cannabis can be a wonderful way to relax and has many proven benefits. Still, if you find yourself having episodes of anxiety, you have to weigh up whether cannabis is right for you. Before you do that, try the following methods and see if it makes a difference:
Use a Smaller Amount
Admittedly this isn’t exactly Einstein-level problem-solving, but it’s not unlikely that higher doses are the main factor. Something as simple as lowering your dose could be the secret to avoiding anxiety. A study from 2017 found that a low dose of THC (7.5mg) reduced negative feelings associated with a stressful task, whereas high doses (12.5mg) increased negative feelings related to the same task. If your typical habits involve a serious of heavy, competitive bong rips with friends, maybe you’re just hitting it too hard.
Try lowering your intake or skipping your turn sometimes and see if it makes a difference. You may simply have a tolerance that can stand a little, but not a lot. Keep tabs on your use and see if there’s a sweet spot. If there is, don’t go beyond it.
Lower THC Strains
Given the psychoactive potency of some strains, it makes sense that not all weed is created equal, and some strains are simply far more potent than your system would like. In much the same way that you can enjoy a few beers but doing shots causes complete mayhem, the same can be true of cannabis. If you’re in control of the strain, pass on the high THC strains, get a lower THC strain and see how you go with that. And again, make a note of the effect.
Try a Different Route
Are edibles too strong? Try smoking weed or vaping instead. Responsible use requires awareness, so if you can identify any potential triggers that cause adverse reactions, try to eliminate them and switch to a different method. This may be the answer.
Watch your Mindset going in
This might seem heavy, maaan….but if you’re in a particularly bad place before using cannabis, chances are you could be signing up for a bad experience. A paranoid, anxious or worried mind may not be conducive to a pleasant marijuana experience, so if you’re having a bad time or already have an anxiety disorder and are tempted to blow the cobwebs away with a few joints, be aware, this could be the recipe for a bad episode.
Always use cannabis safely and responsibly, and try to note your habits and experiences. If you’re mindful of the dose, the route, and the strain, this can help you troubleshoot problems you may have when it comes to cannabis-induced anxiety and paranoia.