Home Culture Why Does Cannabis Help Anxiety if it Increases Paranoia?

Why Does Cannabis Help Anxiety if it Increases Paranoia?

Flickr @ Alex B

In the United States alone, 40 million people every year suffer from some sort of anxiety-related disorder – whether it be Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – and all of them have the potential to be a debilitating illness. As it stands, there are more people suffering from anxiety related mental illnesses than there are people suffering from arthritis, which is the most common cause of chronic pain. Unfortunately, anxiety is one of those conditions that can be hard to get under control.

The pharmaceutical industry profits every year by prescribing anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs – but each year more and more people are turning to safer and more effective alternatives, especially medical marijuana. It may seem ironic – using a plant that is said to induce paranoia to reduce the feelings of paranoia – but it really does work for a large number of patients. This comes down to the fact that patients aren’t using cannabis to get stoned, they are using it to feel normal again – something some medications simply can’t do for many people.

For many, the motivation to give medical marijuana a try stems from the fact that they simply cannot stand to be on the medications they have already been prescribed. Many physicians will prescribe anti-depressant drugs as a treatment for anxiety disorders – even if depression isn’t necessarily the cause of the anxiety. These medications may work for some, but in many the side effects are worse than the original symptoms of anxiety; some common side effects including fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness and some as scary as numbness and tingling in the extremities, hallucinations and even thoughts of suicide (this last one is most common in teens).

The fact that it is impossible to overdose on cannabis and the side effects are so few (dry mouth and dry eyes being the most common and paranoia, fatigue, increased appetite and more will vary by strain) that it has become an attractive option for patients who are tired of feeling worse on their medication than they do off of it. The biggest issue becomes: what kind of medical marijuana should be used when treating anxiety disorders? There are definitely some that are more likely to produce a paranoid feeling after consumption and clearly those are strains that someone with anxiety will want to avoid. So why, if cannabis can make some people paranoid, can it also be an excellent treatment option for a condition like anxiety?

Turning to Medical Marijuana for Anxiety Disorders

When choosing medical marijuana as a treatment option for anxiety disorders, you should take into consideration the fact that what works best for one person, may not be exactly what you need. Someone who has been using cannabis to manage their anxiety for years may have built up a tolerance and may benefit from slightly higher THC strains – however, new patients, especially those who are not accustomed to cannabis, should start off with lower THC strains until they know how their body and mind will react to the medicine.

Smoking and vaporizing is an excellent remedy when you need something fast-acting. If you find that you only need medication when things are becoming too much or you can feel a panic attack coming on, then you may want to stick to these forms of consumption. With smoking and vaping you will find the effects are almost immediate – so there will not be a long wait for your overwhelming feelings to subside; however, if you were to choose edibles instead than you may find that the effects take a couple of hours for onset (making them best for using prior to putting yourself in a stressful situation that could trigger your anxiety).

You should also take into consideration the fact that there are other forms of medical cannabis rather than just raw cannabis flowers – you can choose to medicate with oils as well as choosing to use the isolated compound cannabidiol (CBD), which is proven to be effective for both anxiety disorders and depression. There are many people who find that CBD alone is enough to treat their anxiety and help them to once again lead a productive life.

A study back in 2011 was conducted on a small group (only 10 people) who were diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). In the first half of the study, one group of 5 received 400 mg of CBD, while the other group received a placebo. During the second half of the study they reversed and the 5 who previously received CBD now got the placebo and vice versa – and the results of that study were extremely promising. It showed that there was a significant decrease in subjective anxiety – determined by the cerebral blood flow after being administered the CBD.

The fact that CBD has many of the same healing properties as THC without the high is the main reason it has become a highly regarded cannabinoid in the world of medical marijuana. In fact, even some states who refuse to legalize medical marijuana have created laws that allow the use of CBD-only products for seizure conditions; with more studies, depression and anxiety might not be far behind.

Choosing Your Strains Wisely

While CBD may be helpful on it’s own for a number of people, the most convenient (and least expensive) form of medicating with cannabis is generally to utilize cannabis flowers in the form of smoking or vaping, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still get all the benefits of a CBD-based medication – you just have to be careful when you pick the strains you choose to medicate with. Strains that are higher in CBD and lower in THC are optimal for people suffering from anxiety disorders.

If a strain that is higher in CBD than THC is not readily available to you, then you will want to do your best to stick to indica and indica dominant hybrids as they generally have a higher CBD content than sativa strains do. It is actually the sativa strains that are most likely to induce paranoia – though this seems to be a reaction more in occasional and new users, rather than people who use cannabis frequently. Reducing the possibility of these feelings can be done in most cases by choosing an indica strain instead, which is know for relaxing sedation, rather than being euphoric and energizing.

Cannabis may be a complicated plant, but the growing understanding of our endocannabinoid system helps us to understand how to better utilize medical marijuana for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. While CBD may be a perfectly effective treatment, it often works best in conjunction with small amounts of THC (as it occurs naturally in high CBD strains like Charlotte’s Web and Harlequin). As it turns out, people suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses may actually be lacking in naturally occurring endocannabinoids, which seems to be balanced out with the introduction of moderate doses of cannabis.

The biggest problem, aside from deciding which strains work best, is always going to be dosage. It is difficult to determine exactly what a proper dose of cannabis is – especially since everyone will react slightly differently. Some people may be more likely to be predisposed to paranoia as a cannabis side effect, while others may never experience this feeling; and it only takes a couple extra puffs or a slightly too-strong edible to send your experience down the drain. Moderation is key when it comes to cannabis treatments – in many cases, less really is more.

In the end, the bottom line is, too much cannabis, especially strains that are particularly high in THC, are more likely to cause you a bout of paranoia. New and infrequent users are also more likely to see this effect when compared to people who use cannabis more regularly. If you are intending to use cannabis as an alternative treatment for anxiety disorders then you should know going in that the best strains are those high in CBD and low in THC (the kind that generally won’t get you high) and that CBD on it’s own (if made from medical cannabis, not the hemp version) can also be an effective and non-psychoactive treatment option to consider.

It takes experimentation for everyone to find exactly what works right for them – while one person may find that 2-3 puffs of Blue Dream is exactly what they need to get through the day, others may find that to be too much and prefer a CBD only medication (or at least one with only trace amounts of THC). Until the day comes when we are able to do massive scale trials with medical marijuana, experimentation will be the only way for patients to determine exactly what works for them – but then again, even with pharmaceuticals there is trial and error involved just to get the right prescription and dosage; at least with medical marijuana switching dosages and strains cannot cause you the type of health problems prescription drugs changes could.


  1. It is confusing to me. Recently have been getting anxiety and panic and tried charlottes web cbd, but my anxiety seemed worse, I felt more relaxed, but also felt more anxiety or fear, panic. . I don’t like being high, I smoked marijuana many years ago and couldn’t stand the effects. It just made me laugh and then get very panicky.

    Which one is best for high blood pressure and sleep and anxiety? I don’t want to take pharmaceutical drugs. They are poison, I am totally confused about which is best. Thanks, and which company sells the best. We have dispensaries here but this is the first time I have ever tried cbd. A friend sent it to me.