Why Does Smoking Weed Cause Panic Attacks?

Everyone knows that marijuana has a reputation for causing relaxation, but it’s also no secret that it can cause paranoia and anxiety, sometimes resulting in full-blown panic attacks and other alarming results. So, why does smoking weed sometimes cause panic attacks?

The answers are somewhat scientific and somewhat speculative.

Why Smoking Weed Can Cause Panic Attacks

Research has shown that the active ingredients in cannabis (called “cannabinoids – THC being the most widely known) bind with receptors throughout the brain, and for our purposes, we’re interested in the fact that a large number of them end up in the amygdala. This segment of the brain governs a range of emotional responses such as stress, fear, and paranoia, so the theory is that when THC enters the picture it alters the neural transmissions for good or bad.

Weed-induced panic attacks are more common in newer smokers, and there are some speculative theories on this.

First of all, we already know that cannabis causes the brain to change how it communicates emotional responses. Suddenly emotions feel a lot stronger, and they’re brought on by unusual stimuli. Why is looking that tree making one high person laugh and another cry? Neither response seems appropriate. It could be that experienced users simply become more accustomed to the altered brain communication, and therefore have more control.

Another theory involves THC-like compounds in our brains called endocannabinoids. We know that people who have experienced high levels of trauma or stress possess shortages of these endocannabinoids. Some researchers have proposed that cannabinoids from marijuana will replace and replenish these stores over time, leading to increasing anti-anxiety responses.

Translation – if smoking weed drives you to have panic attacks, it could be a sign that it’s helping you recover from past trauma. Because of this, researchers are studying if this effect is useful to PTSD treatment.

So if you have a bad experience when you’re new to smoking, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid it. In fact, it could mean that in the long run, it’s helping you heal. We suggest talking to your doctor to find out. 

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