We all have that one friend who completely loses it when they get stoned. While you ride a wave of mind-melting relaxation and analyze the plot of “Mulholland Drive,” your buddy curls up in the fetal position, his mind reeling with self-sabotaging thoughts, and reminds you through chattering teeth that this is the reason why he or she doesn’t smoke.
How can smoking weed make you feel like a million bucks, yet leave someone else riddled with anxiety and paranoia?
If it’s any consolation to your friend, let him or her know he’s not alone. According to a paper published by Harvard Medical School, intense anxiety and panic attacks are the most commonly reported side effects of smoking marijuana.
Studies show that about 20 to 30 percent of recreational users experience these “weed demons” after smoking. There isn’t much research on whether marijuana increases the chances of developing anxiety. However, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Mental Health Survey does show that the two countries with the highest estimated cannabis use also have the highest rates of anxiety disorders: the United States and New Zealand.
While the evidence is interesting, the reason some people can’t handle weed is more likely based on individual chemistry. When a person smokes, eats, or otherwise consumes marijuana, it stimulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates our response to rewards, stress, and emotions, and introducing THC can interfere with its normal functioning. Even the slightest variation in ECS chemistry can have a huge impact on how minds and bodies respond to THC. If a person is unable to regulate his or her response to stress, it can lead to anxiety.
The amount a person smokes can also trigger a panic attack. At low doses, THC can have a sedative effect. Those who suffer from anxiety may even smoke to relieve their symptoms. The cannabinoid and terpene makeup of particular cannabis plant plays an important role in the overall effects someone will feel. Too much THC can bring on paranoia or anxious thoughts. The strain being consumed and how big of a dose a person takes can have an impact on whether he or she feels anxious and paranoid.
Alas, the way THC interacts with the brain is extremely complex, and more research is needed to draw any solid conclusions about the link between marijuana and anxiety. For now, tell your pal to put down the bong and read our tips for what to do when you’re stoned and need to come down fast.