Cannabis has become almost as widely accepted as it is being widely consumed.
For many, it relieves stress and enhances joie de vivre among friends or even alone. But what if the enjoyment, the exultation of spirit, suddenly becomes unexpectedly burdensome or uncomfortable? One of the most noted downsides of being stoned, or too stoned, is an edgy sense of anxiety or even paranoia.
Studies have shown that cannabis consumption helps our bodies release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, sometimes referred to as a chemical messenger that plays a role in how we feel pleasure - a big part of our uniquely human ability to think and plan.
However, being the complex plant that it is, cannabis affects different people in different ways. While cannabis can help decrease feelings of stress and anxiety in some, it can have the opposite effect in others.
Why And What To Do About It?
James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center noted that while anxious reactions are not typical, they’re also not uncommon, especially for people who are new to cannabis consumption.
“The disorientation can be very anxiety-provoking,” Giordano told Vice.
There are, fortunately, scientific reasons why one might feel anxious while stoned. THC binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, releasing dopamine, serotonin and GABA, the latter being a neurotransmitter that stops neurons from firing, Giordano explained. While researchers suspect that GABA may boost mood or have a calming effect on the nervous system, increased GABA and serotonin activity inhibits norepinephrine —a neurotransmitter involved in alertness and anxiety, which calms most, but not all, people down.
Herein lies the anxiety issue, which has everything to do with individuals' metabolism and response, and not the plant itself.
Giordano cautioned that, for some people, reduced norepinephrine has a rebound effect, sending the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive, leading to a rise in heart rate and release of cortisol, which we tend to perceive as anxiety.
What's To Be Done?
If someone around you is having an unpleasant experience on weed, Giordano suggests comforting them and letting them know they’re in a supportive environment -- and of course not joking about their situation.
He added that if you're alone and find yourself in a state of weed-induced anxiety, getting fresh air and moving around could help metabolize the cannabis. Some also find that relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation may help.
Those who become anxious when they're stoned “should be very forthright about what they’re experiencing, particularly if it’s not pleasant,” Giordano told Vice. “You don’t want to suffer through this by yourself. It can be a scary experience.”
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