Pot Paranoia
December 15, 2007 2:56 PM   Subscribe

What is it about marijuana that can make the user feel paranoid?
posted by cookie googleman to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
According to this link, THC interferes "with activity in the inferior frontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with paranoia."
posted by dhammond at 3:06 PM on December 15, 2007

dhammond scores with the hard science! I'll step in with the more casual answer.
Umm, because it's illegal? Take one controlled substance that makes you a little more susceptible to ideas, makes you doubt your senses in a small way, and then mix that with concerns about illegality, furtive purchases and watching out for "the man". Great combination. :-)
posted by browse at 3:14 PM on December 15, 2007

I think it depends on how neurotic you are to begin with. When I was a psychological wreck, I would always get the 'noids, and would rarely partake. After much therapy and self-examination, not to mention 25 years of living with myself, I can really enjoy it. Just a FWIW.
posted by wafaa at 3:15 PM on December 15, 2007

My personal theory is, like most psychedelics, it overactivates the pattern-recognition part of your brain. If your mood to begin with is relaxed and trusting, this means you might notice more coincidences or visual patterns in things around you, more likely to have your "mind blown" by patterns. The classic example of this is the Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz thing.

However, if you are prone to anxiety or have reason to be anxious (illegality, someone you want to impress, etc) you are still looking for patterns but this time it's "he said something about so and so, that must mean he secretly hates me" or "the noises from the neighboring dorm room is their hint that they know and might do something about it", etc., fitting into the "big picture" pattern idea you already have about what might happen if you get caught or judged by others, etc.

IANACNSOP (I am not a cognitive neuroscientist, or a psychologist, but I am an undergrad molecular neuro major)

Just my 2 cents.
posted by mayfly wake at 3:22 PM on December 15, 2007 [6 favorites]

Oh and as an addition, my theory is that this pattern of activation has a role to play in the over-the-top pattern recognition in paranoid schizophrenia.
posted by mayfly wake at 3:25 PM on December 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

However, if you are prone to anxiety or have reason to be anxious ...

In other words, what mayfly said.
posted by wafaa at 3:27 PM on December 15, 2007

I have definitely seen that this phenomenon can manifest itself in some more than others. I have a friend who has documented anxiety issues, and he usually gets a fair bit paranoid when he smokes. In my own opinion, marijuana tends to amplify feelings/thoughts/anxieties already occurring in your unaltered mind. If I've been worried about something, and then I smoke, ideas and feelings associated with that particular part of my life will make themselves more prominent while high. This can be both productive and destructive. Sometimes I'll find peace with whatever it is because I reflected on it in a more in-depth way, or I'll freak out about it and have to try to focus on something else. I'm a very sedate person 99% of the time, but I've had more than one pot-induced panic attack.

Also, in as much as it can be explained with scientific facts about what THC does in the brain, each brain is a little different.
posted by ninjew at 3:35 PM on December 15, 2007

I had a rather long post typed out, then I realized I got too technical. This is a rather large debate in medical marijuana research. The question revolves around if paranoia is an inherent property, like constipation is to opiates, or if it could bred out (or manufactured into the final product). The research is rather poor due to legal problems, the fact that marijuana makes a bad research candidate (it is not a whole substance, but a herb and to top it all off, not really suited for double blind placebo studies), and a host of other issues. Qualitative experience among users seems to indicate that paranoia can at least be reduced to some degree, but not eliminated, by selective breeding.

Also the anecdotes about anxiety making marijuana worse, that you need to be good with yourself, etc. are frankly bullshit. We don't know how marijuana works like it does and some people with major depression and anxiety problems are heavy marijuana users and some with the exact profile get paranoid and cannot tolerate use. So there is obviously something else going on, and it is interesting on how marijuana plays on this, but we just don't know now and probably won't know until neural imaging gets better.
posted by geoff. at 4:22 PM on December 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

you're right, geoff, I retract the "prone to anxiety" part of my comment without evidence. that is too wrapped up in cause vs. correlation to state with authority. you sound like you know much more about all this than me, but you're right about us not knowing how it works. the amount of research going on in cannabinoids right now is overwhelming.

just thought i'd state my pet theory.
posted by mayfly wake at 4:39 PM on December 15, 2007

Anecdotally, I once got myself pretty wound up one night after hearing sirens. I was paranoid about that for a minute, but then pot logic (hey! The name of my new band!) kicked in and I decided that if they were coming after me, they wouldn't be using sirens. So, I spent a good two hours being paranoid that they were silently coming after me.

I think it is pot's tendency to make you examine any number of things in ways you may not have thought about them before and in minute detail. Now days, I am not such a big smoker, mainly because I get the existential heebie-jeebies more now. Not so much fear of the cops, or that others are watching me, but more the "Oh, shit, what am I doing with my life?" thought process. That is even less fun. But, perhaps therapeutic when used correctly.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:01 PM on December 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

I've always wondered this: What exactly is this sense of "paranoia" referred to in connection with THC? Is it paranoia that those around you can tell you're high? That you're going to get caught? Paranoid about everything?
posted by Brian James at 7:16 PM on December 15, 2007

What exactly is this sense of "paranoia" referred to in connection with THC? Is it paranoia that those around you can tell you're high? That you're going to get caught? Paranoid about everything?

Anecdotally, your 3 guesses are all correct.

It was 1970, and I saw the movie "Joe" while high. I don't want to spoil it, but the theme of the movie was ... vigorous ... conflict between the generations. For days after that, I was terrified of anyone over 30.

(Rent it if you haven't seen it; it was Susan Sarandon's film debut.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:31 PM on December 15, 2007

The illegality theory is spurious (and US-centric) since people in countries where pot laws are liberal or nonexistent can still get paranoid. It's never occurred to me to think about "getting caught" when smoking -- seriously, ever -- but I still get socially itchy depending on the context and company.
posted by loiseau at 10:25 PM on December 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

My pet theory (that I've posted about before) is that it results from artificially induced objectivity. I can think of nothing more paranoia inducing, or devasting to your self-esteem than to truly see yourself as others see you.
posted by Manjusri at 11:31 PM on December 15, 2007

I used to call my experience with that feeling "paranoia" and for me, it came from trying to "maintain" (a word we old-timers used back in the day) the illusion of straightness when being around others who were straight (i.e.: "they can't tell if I'm high, can they?") since we were afraid (to the point of being paranoid?) of the possibility of being busted. There was also the self-examination process that I'd go through, where I would go back over days and minutes of interaction with people and pick apart my responses and actions in excruciating detail. That was the worst part and made me give up the use of pot for years. I've often wondered what part of the THC experience caused that intense self-scrutiny and if anyone else felt it as strongly as I did.
posted by Lynsey at 12:04 AM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I believe that pot is a feeling enhancer (I have absolutely nothing to back this up but anecdotal evidence so please disregard at will). As mentioned above, if you're feeling a particular way or you have something on your mind, pot will undoubtedly bring that out and make you think about it. If yer in the mood for fun, it will be enhanced. If, underneath, you're a bit shit scared about something, pot will undoubtedly bring that out too.
posted by h00py at 5:48 AM on December 16, 2007

The pattern recognition answer connects with my experience. I have *never* felt paranoid but have definitely seen it in other users. Either someone has that reaction or not, in my experience. But I do have a tendency to see abstract relationships and patterns between things, a kind of dawning recognition that A and B might be connected by C, if you will.

The neurochemistry of THC intoxication/inebriation is poorly understood, even after a fair bit of research. We barely know why it makes people feel euphoric or "high" at all, and for some people there is a thin line between high and paranoid. I also wonder whether it isn't an issue for some people of simply being "out of control" of their emotional responses to the world at all.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:59 PM on December 16, 2007

So, I’m scrolling through this thread, minutes after smoking. I get to JimN2TAW’s comment and say to myself, “hmm, I’ve never heard of this movie Joe, but it sounds interesting.”

I open up a new Firefox window, log into Netflix, and prepare to search for Joe. What is the second recommended movie (out of 5 visible movies) on the screen? Guess. Yeah.

(And my cat is named Joe. How about that?)
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 4:13 PM on December 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wait, what was this thread about?
posted by TG_Plackenfatz at 4:16 PM on December 16, 2007

It's been decades since I had any personal experience (in some part because I just didn't enjoy it) but my utterly subjective take on it was that the gears of my mind were disengaged by marijuana (but less so hashish, oddly), that my thinking no longer had any traction, so to speak, and that self-absorbed paranoid ideation was just one of the unpleasant outcomes of that ever-faster mental spin cycle. But that's probably as much about the way I perceive my mind to work than anything else. The self-absorption that the chemical inspired was a big factor, too, for me -- focusing excessively on myself rather than other people (and the feeling that others are focusing on me too) was an unpleasant experience. I don't know if other people have the same experience. People called it 'paranoia' and that was an easy way to give the sensation a name, but it wasn't exactly that, I don't think.

Never thought about the pattern recognition aspect, but that's where I'm a viking when sober, so there may well be a connection there, for me at least.

I also think there may be some connection between the feeling we're talking about and the concepts of internal and external locus of control. But it's been a long time since I did any reading in that area, so I'm really just hand-waving at this point.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:37 PM on December 16, 2007

Slightly tangential, but one thing I've found is that, as I get a bit older (I'm 29), I'm more likely to experience paranoia. In my teens and early twenties, I never ever experienced paranoia when smoking (ah, halycon days...), but in the past three years, I've had several significant, and frightening, paranoid experiences, to the point where I just don't smoke anymore at all.

I've talked with several people about this, and, anecdotally, it seems like this "getting more paranoid as one gets older" thing is not uncommon.
posted by lunasol at 5:18 AM on December 17, 2007

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