As you may already know, weed is famous for its relaxing effects, helping people to wind down after a long day or simply enjoy a friendly social gathering. However, even though weed is known as a chill substance, not everyone remains chill when using it. Some people can get some very unpleasant side effects which include anxiety and paranoia (and even panic attacks) – and these can really ruin the whole experience.
On the flip side, many use weed to manage their anxiety symptoms and get relief, so what gives? Mental health is a very important part of your well-being and anything that affects it needs to be addressed, including marijuana use.
Therefore, in this article, we’ll talk about why weed gives some people anxiety, as well as how you can avoid getting anxious when consuming weed.
Anxiety and Its Symptoms
Everyone has anxiety occasionally as it’s the body’s natural response to stress. When you have an upcoming important event, it’s normal to feel anxious about the outcome. However, sometimes the anxious feelings don’t just stop there.
Anxiety is often described as constant worrying, but it’s so much more than that. Having an anxiety disorder involves not only feeling fearful and uneasy, but it’s also being hyper-aware of everything around you and being constantly on edge. Besides, there are physical symptoms too – such as muscle tension, fatigue, frequent headaches, and stomach issues. Needless to say, anxiety can make your daily life much more difficult and unpleasant.
Anxiety is highly treatable with the right approach, but what happens when instead of relaxing, you start getting terrible anxiety when smoking weed? Sometimes you may find yourself catastrophizing everything, while other times it may feel like the world’s ending. These unpleasant sensations definitely make it harder to relax.
Cannabis, the Human Brain, and Anxiety
Cannabis contains many cannabinoids, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) being primarily responsible for producing the recreational and medicinal effects. They interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the body, most notably those found in the central nervous system, especially the brain.
The receptors are a part of the endocannabinoid system which is a biological system that regulates a lot of primary processes in the body (and is responsible for maintaining balance). The body produces its own endocannabinoids that bind to these receptors whenever there is a disturbance in the body. The cannabinoids in weed are very similar to the body’s endocannabinoids, which allows them to bind to the receptors so easily.
The cannabinoid receptors are found in large concentrations in the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotional processing as well as the body’s response to stress, or the “fight-or-flight” instinct. When the cannabinoids interact with the receptors in the amygdala, they modify its function (which can result in positive or negative feelings), depending on a variety of factors (more on that below).
The Side Effects of Cannabis Use
There are over a hundred different cannabinoids found in weed, but from what scientists know so far, the side effects are thought to be caused by THC, the cannabinoid that produces the psychoactive effects. THC fully binds to the receptors which allows it to have full governance over their function. On the other hand, CBD is nonintoxicating and has calming and anti-inflammatory effects because it doesn’t bind to the receptors fully, and it works to counter the intensity of THC.
Some of the side effects of weed are unpleasant, but they’re temporary and will go away once its effects start subsiding. Apart from heightened anxiety and paranoia, users often get cottonmouth (dry mouth) and an increased heart rate. Dizziness and motor function impairment are also common, especially with higher doses.
Why Does Weed Give Some Cannabis Users Anxiety?
While it’s known that cannabis can both induce and reduce anxiety, science hasn’t found a concrete explanation for this phenomenon. However, we have plenty of anecdotal evidence and some scientific evidence.
What we can confirm, though, is that weed affects everyone differently. The reason for this is because each person has their own individual body biology that reacts in its own unique way. The cannabis plant also has its own individual chemical profile that varies across the many strains. Therefore, when you put the two together, it’s natural that there will be some incompatibility. That’s why it’s very important to learn what works for you and what doesn’t.
So far, we can identify the following elements that can influence a person’s reaction to THC.
- Individual THC tolerance – some users are more sensitive than others;
- The strain – high THC strains seem to cause more anxiety;
- Dosage – unlike low doses, high doses are more likely to cause any kind of side effects;
- Personality – some people are more prone to getting anxiety than others;
- Basal anxiety levels – it seems that for some users, weed consumption during stressful periods can only exacerbate it.
How to Avoid Getting Anxiety When You Consume Weed
Experiencing anxiety when consuming weed is definitely an unwanted side effect when all you want is to just unwind a little. You may think there is little you can do and it’s just the way your body reacts to THC, but there just may be a few tweaks that you can do regarding your weed consumption which will cause much less anxiety (and make your experience more pleasant).
Try Consuming High-CBD Strains
You may have already figured this out, but in order to avoid getting anxiety, switching to a strain that has higher CBD levels can make a lot of difference. Usually, Indicas naturally contain more CBD and less THC than Sativas, but don’t abide by this “rule.” It’s best to focus on the THC and CBD ratio as your primary source of information. After all, cannabis contains many other compounds that work together.
Additionally, there are some amazing hybrid strains like ACDC or Cannatonic which contain high levels of CBD. For more info, check out our list of the best weed strains for anxiety.
Look for Specific Terpenes
Terpenes are aromatic compounds responsible for the many different flavors and aromas of plants, including the cannabis plant. But they’re much more than that as they also produce certain effects and work in synergy with the cannabinoids. There are numerous terpenes, but some of them actually have anti-anxiety effects and can balance out the intensity of THC.
For example, limonene is the same terpene found in citrus fruit peels and it stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin (resulting in a euphoric feeling). Limonene gives cannabis a piney and citrusy aroma and is found in high concentrations in weed strains that smell lemony.
Linalool is another terpene known for its relaxing and sedative effects because it’s also found in lavender. Strains that have a floral and woody aroma usually contain high concentrations of this terpene.
Finally, beta-caryophyllene is another one whose effects fall somewhere between limonene and linalool, and it’s found in black pepper and cinnamon. Weed strains that smell musky and spicy will contain this terpene.
Mind Your Dosage
The anxiety that comes with THC is often dose-dependent, especially for new users who haven’t built up enough tolerance to THC yet. Needless to say, the same applies to users who know they are sensitive to the effects of THC. That being said, it’s best to start with the lowest dose possible, even if the effects are not as intensely felt. It’s better to give yourself a mild buzz than suffer from a panic attack.
Edibles can be great, but given that their effects are longer lasting than vaping or smoking weed, they can be a little too much for inexperienced users and those who are sensitive to THC. On top of that, edibles are easy to go overboard with as they take a while to kick in. You may think the edible you had 30 minutes ago hasn’t worked and decide to have another one, but after an hour or so, both will kick in at once, and it could be too much for you to handle.
What To Do When You Feel Anxiety Creeping In When You’re High?
The feeling is very unpleasant, but please remember that it’s temporary. You may think that you’re in danger while you’re experiencing anxiety, but in reality, you aren’t. The best thing to do is to find a comfortable spot and try to calm yourself down.
Staying hydrated is always a good idea, especially if you add some freshly squeezed lemon juice to the water. Lemon will help with the dry mouth and the act of touching the glass and drinking something will help to ground you. Having a snack is also okay, especially if you have the munchies.
Finally, having pure CBD oil on hand can be immensely helpful. CBD helps to counter the effects of THC and can really calm you down. Put a few drops of CBD oil under your tongue and calm yourself until it starts working. You’ll start feeling better little by little.
Conclusion – Body Chemistry Is a Major Deciding Factor
Experiencing anxiety instead of full-on relaxation can dampen your cannabis experience and may discourage you from trying weed again. However, you should know that many people experience this side effect from weed. While the reasons behind why some users get anxiety and others don’t aren’t fully clear, individual body chemistry is by far the best explanation we have.
However, there are some things you can do to help avoid getting anxiety attacks, like smoking high-CBD strains and consuming weed in lower doses. Of course, if you ever feel like despite these measures weed doesn’t agree with you, you can always choose to stick with CBD products or skip using weed altogether.