One of the strangest quirks about cannabis is that it can relieve anxiety for some people while others finds that smoking up can make their anxieties much worse. So why is that the case for so many consumers? The answer can be found by looking into how cannabis affects the brain. One key factor is the interaction between THC (the main intoxicating compound in cannabis) and the brain's salience network, according to Michael Backes, author of 'Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana'
"THC breaks that salience network," Backes told Leafly.
You see, the salience network helps you make sense of the different things going on around you. So when that network becomes impaired, you can jump to drastic and often unrealistic conclusions, said Backers.
"So what happens is the knock at the door becomes the narc at the door."
Impairing the salience network doesn't make everyone anxious, but for some people it can cause "full-blown paranoia and even mild hallucinations."
"It actually resembles an acute psychotic episode," said Backes. "They lose the ability to order their thoughts."
Why does weed make some people paranoid, but not others?
This is a little less clear. There is at least some indication that people with latent mental health conditions like schizophrenia or depression may be most susceptible to cannabis-induced anxiety attacks, said Thomas Deuel, assistant professor of Neurology at the University of Washington.
"If you're smoking a lot of pot, you're lowering the threshold" for things like schizophrenia, Deuel said.
But while consuming cannabis might help "set it off," cannabis "doesn't cause schizophrenia," he added.
Still, there are plenty of people with no risk of schizophrenia who also get a little anxious when they smoke up.
"Some people get paranoid and some people don't," Deule said. "We don't know why."
How can I avoid a marijuana meltdown?
If you are one of those people who find that smoking weed gives you anxiety, there are a few things you can try. Backes recommends taking CBD - a non-intoxicating cannabis compound known for its medicinal properties - before smoking up. He says taking somewhere between 40 and 60 milligrams of CBD oil should help temper the anxiety-inducing effects of THC.
"There's some evidence to back it up from some good scientists in several countries that CBD basically works like the seatbelt for THC," Backes said.
However, Backes also warns that taking CBD after you're already anxious probably won't do much for you, so it's always better to take it beforehand.
You can also choose strains more carefully, according to Dr. Ethan Russo - Director of Research and Development for the International Cannabinoids Institute based in Prague. Strains with higher CBD and less THC should work better for people prone to cannabis anxiety. He also said the presences of different terpenes can also have an effect. You should specifically be on the look out for strains with linalool terpenes, as it "can produce an anti-anxiety effect."
Strains with "some THC, some CBD, some linalool, is probably going to be much more tolerable for...people that tend to get anxious."
The biggest take away here is that if you do get anxious after consuming cannabis, you might have to do a little bit more experimenting with different strains than other people. But, if you follow the suggestions above and consult your local budtender, you should be able to find something that works for you.