There is one primary reason why a person may become anxious after consuming cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the primary psychoactive in the herb. You can thank THC for the euphoric “high” that cannabis produces – as well as a slew of other medical properties.
THC has both positive and negative impacts on anxiety. Several factors contribute to how a person might respond to THC, including genetics and how much cannabis you consume.
But, what causes cannabis-induced anxiety? And why does it only happen sometimes and in some people?
Here are three reasons why you might get anxious when you consume cannabis
Dosage is one of the primary factors that can transform a happy-go-lucky cannabis experience into a challenging one. In low doses, cannabis may help you calm down. High doses, however, can have the opposite effect.
A study published in June of 2017 tested the effects of low and moderate dose THC on human participants during a mock job interview.
42 healthy volunteers participated in the study and all of them had prior experience with the herb, but they were not daily cannabis consumers.
In the study, 7.5 milligrams of psychoactive THC was considered a low dose. 12.5 milligrams of the psychoactive was considered a high dose. Emma Childs, an author on the study and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explains:
“The doses used in the study produce effects that are equivalent to only a few puffs of a cannabis cigarette [...] We didn't want to include a much larger dose, because we wanted to avoid potential adverse effects or cardiovascular effects that can result from higher doses of THC.”
Participants receiving the low dose reported feeling less stressed during the mock interview.
In higher doses, participants reported worse mood prior to and during the interview. They were also more likely to view the event as “challenging” and “threatening,” according to the study.
Novice consumers are perhaps the most likely to experience cannabis-induced anxiety.
2. Fight or flight
THC is thought to cause anxiety because of its ability to engage a brain region responsible for the fight or flight stress response. This brain region is called the amygdala.
Research has found that the amygdala contains cannabinoid receptors, which allow THC to have an effect on the body. Simply put, cannabinoid receptors are like locks and THC is a key that just so happens to fit into these unique types of receptors.
In low doses, THC has been found to be anxiolytic in preclinical models. Yet, in high doses, THC can worsen the fight-or-flight anxiety response.
Interestingly, cannabidiol (CBD), another cannabis compound, has been found to reduce the fear-provoking effects of THC. Unlike the popular psychoactive, CBD does not produce a psychotropic euphoria or “high.”
A review of scientific literature published in January of 2017 found that cannabis consumption is only a minor risk factor for elevated anxiety symptoms in the general population. This suggests that simply consuming cannabis is not likely to trigger anxiety in everyone.
However, research published in 2016 discovered that some people may be genetically predisposed to experiencing anxiety after consuming cannabis.
Researchers at the University of Exeter and University College London found that those with alterations in the AKT1 gene were more likely to experience paranoia, anxiety, and visual distortions after consuming cannabis.
The study involved 442 young cannabis consumers who were otherwise healthy.
What does cannabis-induced anxiety feel like?
Wondering what cannabis-induced anxiety feels like? Anxiety caused or made worse by cannabis highly subjective and can present itself in a variety of different ways.
While under the influence of THC-induced anxiety, you may find yourself preoccupied with whether or not you look intoxicated or whether or not you’re passing as a non-cannabis consumer.
It’s also possible to simply feel a strong and general sense of fear for what seems like absolutely no apparent reason.
If you find yourself fearful, here are a few tell-tale symptoms that you may be experiencing THC-induced anxiety:
A tell-tale sign that you have consumed too much THC is tremor or shakiness.
While cannabis is expected to be beneficial for easing tremors in degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease, shakiness and tremor are two possible side effects of cannabis consumption.
Unfortunately, there have been no substantial studies on THC-induced shaking or tremor. Yet, anecdotal reports, research on cannabis withdrawal, and research on prenatal cannabis consumption have highlighted tremor as a possible side effect of THC.
Tremor has also been identified as a possible side effect of nabilone, a synthetic version of THC sold as a prescription drug.
Loosely explained, paranoia is the projection of suspicious beliefs onto others or onto situations. It’s the sensation that someone or something is “out to get you.” Paranoia is a notorious side effect of THC.
It occurs most often after consuming high-THC cultivars or taking high doses of the cannabinoid.
If you are feeling comfortable after cannabis, taking a moment of mindfulness to question whether or not you are unnecessarily projecting your anxiety or fear onto a situation can be helpful.
3. Racing heart
Cannabis can cause the heart to beat faster. According to a 2000 study conducted by researchers at Harvard, THC can cause the heart to pump an additional 40 beats per minute.
However, some people may be more susceptible to this heart rate increase than others. This heart rate increase may also only happen with high doses of THC. However, the racing heart sensation can be uncomfortable for some people.
For those prone to anxiety, a racing heart can inspire similar feelings to a panic attack and may feel generally uncomfortable.
If a racing heartbeat is concerning to you, always contact a medical professional for advice. However, this increase in heart rate is only temporary. By the end of one hour after consuming THC, the heart rate slows down again.
Within two hours after consuming, heart rate returns to average.
While this may be momentarily uncomfortable, staying calm and recognizing that THC may have caused a temporary heart rate boost can help ease the situation.
Sitting down in a comfortable spot and taking some long and deep breaths may ease the accompanying sensations of anxiety.
How do you ease cannabis-induced anxiety?
While cannabis-induced anxiety can be very unpleasant, a few simple tricks can ease your mind and help you return to a state of calmness. Some of these tricks include:
- Start with low doses of THC and work up.
- Wait until you are in a safe and comfortable environment to try cannabis.
- Opt for cannabis strains high in CBD.
- Take a few moments for yourself by heading to the bathroom or a quiet space.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Put on some calming music.
- Move to an environment where you feel more comfortable.
- Smell some sharp scents like black pepper or citrus.
- Focus on the present by stretching, walking, or eating food.
Still feeling uncomfortable? If all else fails, take a nap.
Knowledge of Cannabis Fundamentals Is Important for Everybody
The online Cannabis Fundamentals Certificate Program covers everything you need to know about the essentials of cannabis. Cannabis history, science, botany, products, effects, dosing, and much more.