Paranoia is a common side effect of smoking marijuana. THC is the chemical responsible for making you feel paranoid.
If you smoke marijuana socially, you’ve probably encountered someone who says that weed makes them paranoid. Perhaps you’ve even experienced this yourself.
“Did that cashier know I was high?”
“Are those sirens coming to arrest me?”
“I think everybody at this party secretly hates me.”
Thoughts like these can easily pop up when we’re stoned in an uncomfortable situation.
Paranoid thinking is related to fear and anxiety. Studies have shown that strong doses of THC can significantly increase paranoid thinking.
Marijuana can also increase negative feelings and unusual sensory experiences. People may interpret the sensations of being high as threatening or dangerous, leading to paranoid thoughts.
Ultimately, many factors influence whether someone gets paranoid from smoking weed. These include dosage, strain content, mindset, environment and personal disposition.
What is Paranoid Thinking?
Paranoid thinking is when someone thinks they are being threatened, targeted, or harmed without any real evidence. Because there is no real threat, paranoia is considered a kind of delusion.
Paranoid people assume others’ motives are suspicious, while others would not. Others see the behavior as normal or coincidental.
Paranoia is not the same thing as psychosis. Psychosis is a loss of touch with reality associated with mental conditions like schizophrenia. However, paranoia is often seen in those with psychosis.
Studies have shown that some people are more likely to suffer from paranoid thinking. Paranoid thinking is more common in those with:
- Younger age
- Lower intellectual functioning
- A single relationship status
- Poor physical health
- Poor social functioning
- Lower happiness
- Cannabis use
- Alcohol use
Paranoid thinking is a normal human experience to have from time to time. In fact, half of the population experiences some paranoid thoughts in a given month.
However, a small portion of the population experiences a higher level of paranoid thoughts.
Dr. Daniel Freeman, whose research team authored the first study to examine the link between marijuana and paranoia, explained in an interview:
“Many people have a few paranoid thoughts, and a few people have many paranoid thoughts.”
The people with many paranoid thoughts tend to have mental health problems. But those with just a few generally don’t run into any trouble.
What Does Paranoia Feel Like?
When someone says that marijuana makes them paranoid they usually mean that it makes them anxious and obsessive, especially in social situations.
Paranoia makes you overanalyze things you would normally not even notice. Studies suggest paranoia may result from misinterpreting neutral experiences as negative or frightening.
Paranoia usually feels unpleasant, and people may stop using marijuana if they find they are becoming paranoid often.
Signs of paranoid thinking include:
- Feelings of anxiety, suspicion, or mistrust
- Preoccupation with motives
- Feeling like people want to harm you, upset you, or are against you
- Feeling persecuted or targeted
Examples of paranoid thoughts include:
- Thinking people are talking about you
- Thinking someone is following you
- Thinking people are judging you
- Thinking people are laughing at you
- Thinking someone is plotting against you
- Thinking someone is trying to harm or kill you
If you feel like you may be experiencing paranoid thoughts, it can be helpful to tell someone about it. If others don’t see things the way you do, this is a clue that you are experiencing paranoid thinking.
What is The Link Between Marijuana and Paranoia?
Marijuana activates areas of the brain related to emotion and fear. This can cause you to interpret normal experiences as threatening or dangerous.
A study published in 2014 found cannabinoid receptors in the part of the brain that regulates anxiety and fear — the amygdala.
Paranoia is driven by anxiety and fear, and this brain area plays an important role in why weed makes you paranoid.
Yet marijuana users often say they smoke to “chill out” and reduce their anxiety.
The relationship between marijuana and anxiety is complicated. Some people feel more anxious and paranoid after smoking marijuana while others feel less anxious.
This may have something to do with strain content. Generally, high-CBD strains are used for anxiety reduction, while high-THC strains run the risk of making you paranoid.
A 2011 study showed that THC causes the emotional areas of the brain to go on high alert. These areas were more sensitive, and more likely to process neutral experiences as threatening or dangerous. A feeling of threat could contribute to the fear that drives paranoia.
What Do Studies Say?
THC Increases Paranoia
Studies suggest that marijuana can increase paranoia. In particular, they point to THC as the main culprit.
In a large study published in 2015, researchers gave injections of THC (equal to a strong joint) to participants. They measured their paranoid thinking using a social situation, a virtual reality task, surveys, and an interview.
Subjects were asked for their agreement with statements like “right now I feel like people are against me” and “right now I feel suspicious of other people”. Those who were given THC showed significantly more paranoid thoughts while high than those given a placebo.
Paranoia Linked to Strange Feelings
These researchers also wanted to determine how marijuana increases paranoia. Marijuana use has many effects on the mind, but two stood out as causes of paranoid thinking.
The first is increased negative feelings, like anxiety, worry, and sadness. The second is “anomalous” or strange sensory experiences. Essentially, marijuana makes us feel different and changes our experience of the world.
Even small changes in perception caused by marijuana can lead us to feel out of sorts. The researchers describe different types of unusual sensory experience as follows: “distorted sensory experience, sensory flooding, … thought echo, and hallucinations.”
When the mind experiences unusual sensations, it wants to find an explanation. And if you’re also experiencing negative feelings, like worry or depression, you’re more likely to jump to conclusions and become paranoid.
Experienced Users Are Less Paranoid
The researchers think we can target these two effects of marijuana to decrease paranoia. For example, you could try to stop worrying, or learn to tolerate the strange sensations brought on by marijuana.
This may explain why marijuana users with a tolerance show less paranoia. Seasoned smokers may be more used to the changes in sensory awareness brought on by the high.
This study is limited in its application. It focused on THC alone, yet marijuana contains other significant compounds, like CBD.
Regardless, this research shows that THC really does increase paranoia. And it’s likely the reason that marijuana causes paranoia.
THC vs. CBD
THC and CBD are the two main cannabinoids found in marijuana. THC is psychoactive, causing marijuana’s mind-altering effects and the feeling of being high. Research has shown that THC is a major cause of marijuana-induced paranoia.
CBD, on the other hand, does not cause a high. It has more subtle effects on the mind and body, including anti-anxiety, pain relief, and anti-inflammatory effects. CBD is also known for its antipsychotic effects, meaning it could counteract paranoid thinking.
CBD improves outcomes of patients with schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder. It has also been used to prevent psychosis. People who use cannabis with a higher CBD content have fewer psychotic experiences than those who use strains with less CBD and more THC.
CBD works in a complementary manner to THC, counteracting its contribution to paranoia.
Factors Related to Marijuana and Paranoia
Paranoia is related to worry. So it’s important to be in a calm state of mind and in a safe and comfortable environment when consuming marijuana.
And as with any drug, the effects of marijuana are stronger with dose. If you’re concerned about paranoia, it’s a good idea to stick with a smaller dose.
THC and CBD
Strain content is important, too. THC is thought to be responsible for the paranoia-inducing effect of marijuana, while CBD has established anti-psychotic effects. So a strain with a higher THC to CBD ratio will run more of a risk of inducing paranoia.
People who suffer from anxiety, or who are prone to worry, are more likely to have paranoid thoughts while high on marijuana. So it’s important to consider if this applies to you, and to be more cautious if so.
It’s no secret that weed-induced paranoia often involves a fear of law enforcement and getting caught. Many people believe that if marijuana were legal, they would feel less paranoid while high.
Paranoia is a delusional belief that people are trying to harm you or target you. It’s a common side effect of smoking marijuana, and a small amount of paranoid thinking is common in the general population, too.
Studies show that THC significantly increases paranoid thinking. But CBD has antipsychotic effects that may reduce the paranoia that THC causes.
The bottom line is that many factors contribute to why weed makes you paranoid, including strain content, dosage, environment, and personal traits such as a tendency to worry. If paranoia is ruining your buzz, consider these factors and experiment to find what works best for you.