Woman with anxiety
Nobody wants to feel anxious or paranoid when they consume cannabis. If this happens to you, we’ve got a few solutions that might help you avoid those unpleasant feelings.

Anxiety and paranoia can be extremely unpleasant side effects of cannabis. Some people even experience full-blown panic attacks.

Not fun.

This can be a tremendous obstacle for people looking to medicate with cannabis, and many avoid the herb altogether because of it.

I should know because I was one of these people for the longest time.

After all, how could it be that some people use this plant to treat anxiety and for others it causes anxiety?

Equally important:

Is there some kind of final verdict on indica vs sativa for anxiety when selecting cannabis strains?

The confusion and the repeated frustration was enough to get me digging into some serious research.

I wanted to know what caused the anxiety and how or even if I could avoid those unpleasant feelings.

Here’s what I found.

How Cannabis Treats Anxiety

brain scan showing amygdala
Cannabinoid receptors can be found throughout the body and in several parts of the brain – including the amygdala.

Near the center of our brains we have a twin set of neuron bundles called the amygdalae, responsible for importing cognitive processes, including fear and our fight or flight response.

The discovery that these amygdalae contain cannabinoid receptors – as verified by researchers at Vanderbilt University in 2014 – is a major step in understanding how cannabis can actually treat anxiety.

The idea is that these receptors depend on our body's own endocannabinoids to do their job, to regulate all of those important emotional processes – as well as a ton of other processes in the body.

But sometimes the body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids.

In the case of anxiety, for example, research indicates that traumatic experiences can actually hinder the production of these endocannabinoids.

This would explain how people have reported success in treating various anxiety disorders, such as anorexia or PTSD, with cannabis.

But this still doesn’t answer why cannabis causes anxiety and paranoia for certain people. And although more research is needed, there are a few key factors we can examine now.

The Chemical Composition of Cannabis

CBD chemical structure
Cannabinoids work best together. For example, CBD can actually help mitigate the effects of THC thus reducing the odds of a panic attack.

As most of you already know, cannabis comes in a variety of chemical makeups.

Most people tend to distinguish cannabis varieties between sativas and indicas, each with their own differing levels of CBD and THC.

Not that THC is a bad thing, but it has been linked to feelings of paranoia and anxiety.

And while individual strains can vary wildly in their cannabinoid profiles, you also want to consider terpene profiles in your cannabis.

Terpenes are the aroma molecules in cannabis which can have physiological effects of their own when inhaled. A given cannabis variety's terpene profile will also help set the mood or tone of the effects you experience.

Terpene profiles can also explain why some strains make you feel sleepy, energized, or ... anxious.

So if anxiety is an issue, you might want to look for lower levels of THC or simply a different strain.

And whether it's indica or sativa you're using, try to get the terpene profile info from your dispensary and keep track of how different profiles affect you.

Your Physical Make-Up

Everyone is affected by chemicals differently. This is why you may eat just a few bites of a medicated brownie and find yourself on another planet, yet your buddy can eat the whole brownie and not feel a thing.

You’re both handling the chemicals differently, and there are seemingly a million factors that play into that, including built-up tolerance to cannabis and even the enzymes in your body.

Also, the method in which cannabis is consumed plays a part.

If you’re smoking or vaping dry flower, you may notice that you get a faster, or more impactful result. Try taking one or two puffs and wait ten minutes before deciding whether or not you want more.

This will play a huge factor in helping you avoid cannabis anxiety.

Edibles, on the other hand, can take up to two hours before you notice anything, which means it can be easy for beginners to overdo it. This can also create anxiety, but not if you get the dosage right.

So, How Can You Actually Avoid Anxiety?

You can try a number of things to alleviate yourself of cannabis-induced anxiety.
  • Consume smaller doses of cannabis
  • Experiment with different strains
  • Try alternative delivery methods
  • Mind your set and setting

These are extremely valuable tips, so let’s dive a little deeper into each one.

#1) Smaller doses

Whether you’re new to cannabis or not, taking in smaller doses can help you steer clear of anxiety and other unwanted side effects while achieving greater medical benefits over a longer period of time.

A lot of people – including myself – swear by micro-dosing, which involves medicating with such a small amount of cannabis that you notice minimum to zero side effects.

If you’re curious to learn more about micro-dosing, check out this comprehensive article about how less may indeed be more.

If you have a health condition that requires larger doses of cannabis, you can prevent anxiety by slowly increasing your dose over time as your body builds tolerance.

#2) Different strains

Some strains will make you more anxious than others, depending on your body.

It’s important that we are able to experiment and find the strains that we like best. All the more reason to fight for sensible marijuana regulation.

If you live in a state or country where cannabis is still prohibited, you’re not going to have a lot of options here.

But if you do have access to a dispensary, you might want to experiment with a variety of CBD-dominant strains.

CBD actually works to modulate the effects of THC, so even an equal 1:1 ratio might be more to your liking.

To make things super easy for you, here are Green Flower's cannabis strain suggestions for anxiety.

#3) Alternative methods

Harborside Health Center dispensary display case
If you live near a good dispensary, you’ll have access to all sorts of cannabis products and delivery systems.

Smoking, vaping, edibles – all of these methods lead to different effects and experiences with cannabis.

With smoking and vaping, it’s much easier to self-titrate (meaning to decrease or increase your dose as needed) because the effects are almost immediate.

With edibles, dosage can be much trickier, but if you can get it just right, this could be your ideal method of consumption because it's more of a body high rather than the cerebral buzz you get with inhalation.

If you are new to edibles, here is a detailed guide to get you started.

#4) Set and setting

Mindset and atmosphere are just as important as strains and dosage levels if you want to get the most out of cannabis.

Being mindful about set and setting, which refers to your mindset and your immediate environment, before consuming cannabis will also help with anxiety.

For example, I am much less likely to experience anxious thoughts if I have a few puffs while relaxing with some chill music or hanging with a close friend.

But if I toke up before or during an occasion where cannabis would not add as much value, then anxiety could be inevitable.

These are important points to consider before each and every cannabis session. Why am I using cannabis now? What value will it add? Might it be better to wait until later?

#5) One more trick

There is actually a scientific explanation as to why pepper can reduce anxiety among cannabis users.

If all else fails and you find yourself gripped in a miserable state of cannabis-induced anxiety, try chewing on a peppercorn or even just smelling fresh pepper.

I haven’t tried this myself yet, but apparently pepper has a phytocannabinoid-terpenoid effect that interacts in a synergistic way with cannabis to reduce anxiety and paranoia.

Worth a shot right?

What works best for you?

Establishing the perfect cannabis regimen is a very personal experience that takes a lot of trial and error, mindfulness, and a willingness to recognize what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re patient, you can find what works best for you and avoid those unwanted side effects of cannabis.

For me, it’s all about taking smaller doses and consuming when my set and setting are just right.

What has your experience been with anxiety and paranoia when consuming cannabis? Have any of these suggestions worked for you? Have you tried the peppercorn trick?

Please feel free to share this article if you want to help other people struggling with cannabis-induced anxiety.

You can also check out the online course below if you're confused about indica or sativa for anxiety...

Confused about Indica Versus Sativa for Anxiety?

Watch Green Flower's online course with Dr. Arno Hazekamp today...

The Indica-Sativa Dilemma: Discover the Truth

indica-sativa dilemma