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Why Does Weed Make You Paranoid?
Feelings of paranoia are common to both casual cannabis users and patients with schizophrenia, which has led many health experts to wonder of a possible link between the use of cannabis and psychotic disorders.
However, while evidence of marijuana causing schizophrenia remains controversial, recent research has revealed how marijuana use can cause paranoia by acting on a specific part of the brain known as the amygdala.
What is Paranoia?
Paranoia by itself is not considered a mental disorder. Rather, paranoia happens to be a natural thought process that all humans will experience at one time or another.
Paranoia can range from feelings of anxiety and fear to more extreme thoughts of delusion and irrationality. The latter may be a cause for concern, since they represent symptoms of a condition called psychosis.
Common paranoid delusions include negative beliefs that friends or family are conspiring against an individual as well as feeling spied on or followed by greater forces that wish harm.
Paranoia and Your Brain
Feeling anxious or paranoid are basic emotional responses that are wired into the human brain, specifically in a region known as the amygdala. These feelings are part of the body’s overall process of responding to factors of threat or stress.
While environmental threats or stresses can cause a variety of adaptive responses within the human body, the amygdala is what influences your emotions. Specifically, the amygdala is responsible for fear conditioning – the process of learning what to fear and how to respond to those fears.
Marijuana’s Effect on the Amygdala
Based on anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s ability to induce paranoia, a team of researchers at the University of Western Ontario decided to investigate the role of the endocannabinoid system in paranoid feelings. The study was published in 2011 in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Using rats that were trained to fear certain smells, the researchers tested the effect of blocking CB1 receptors – cannabinoid receptors found primarily in the brain – in the amygdala region of the brain.
What they found seemed to explain why cannabis users have a tendency to feel paranoid. By blocking CB1 receptors, the rats failed to respond to the scents that they were trained to fear. On the other hand, when researchers gave the rats a synthetic version of THC and unblocked their CB1 receptors, the rats exhibited enhanced fear responses, demonstrating that marijuana could increase fear conditioning in the rats that were studied.
What This Means For Your Health
The results of this study might not come as much as a surprise to anyone who has used marijuana before, as paranoia seems to be an all-too-common side effect of the drug. However, what the results do tell us is that cannabis seems to enhance fear-based learning, explaining why users tend to overreact in stressful events while high.
Still, the greatest fear of many marijuana users comes from studies which suggest that marijuana use may lead to permanent psychosis and schizophrenia.
But for those who remain paranoid of developing a psychotic disorder, it may be a relief to know that evidence of a link is highly controversial. Experts have firmly stated that there are many other factors involved with developing schizophrenia, most of which are based on genetics.