Why marijuana triggers paranoid feelings
Smoking pot is known to cause paranoid feelings, and according to a new in-depth study, researchers have pinpointed specific psychological factors that can induce feelings of paranoia.
The study, recently published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin, suggests that marijuana’s primary ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active agent that evokes negative feelings among cannabis users, changing their perceptions and inducing feelings of paranoia.
Indeed, THC is the main ingredient in marijuana that triggers most of its psychological side effects, including delusions and hallucinations.
The research team’s study leader, Prof. Daniel Freeman of the University of Oxford in the UK, defined marijuana-induced paranoia as a state of mind that causes the drug user to excessively think that others are out to harm them.
He added that, in our daily lives, whether to trust or mistrust people is very common, but when we end up wrong about our suspicions, it’s called paranoia. According to Prof. Freeman, many people have a few paranoid thoughts, but only a few have many of them.
The study involved 121 mentally healthy participants between the ages of 21 and 50. All of them had used marijuana at least one time in the past. To find out how THC affected them, Prof. Freemon and his research team injected the participants with the compound, testing them in an effort to see if it induced feelings of paranoia – and, if so, why.
The participants were divided into a couple of groups, with two thirds of them receiving an amount of THC similar to that of a strong joint. The other third received a placebo, which like the THC, was injected into the participants to guarantee that those receiving the compound had similar amounts in their blood.
Among those injected with THC, the team reported that its effects lasted for an hour and a half, with approximately half of the participants saying that they experienced feelings of paranoia or paranoid thoughts. Interestingly, 30 percent of the participants receiving the placebo also reported having paranoid thoughts even though the injections they received did not contain THC or any other mood-altering ingredient.
The results also showed that feelings of paranoia began to diminish once the effects of THC wore off and left the body.
The team noted that THC also triggered other negative effects, such as feelings of anxiousness, lowered mood and a negative perception of self, not to mention changes in perception (e.g. noises being louder, colors appearing brighter, losing track of time, etc.).
After the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of the study’s results, they found that the cause of such altered perceptions and negative effects may, in fact, be due to these changed perceptions and negative feelings themselves, which induce feelings of paranoia in marijuana users.
Indeed, the researchers said that the results of the study convincingly prove that marijuana can trigger brief periods of paranoia, which they also believe could explain how the mind incites feelings of paranoia, especially when the user is feeling worried and having negative thoughts or otherwise having altered perceptions that leave them unsettled.
The researchers findings identify several very likely explanations for why the mind encourages paranoid thinking, according to Prof. Freeman. For example, when people are worried, it tends to color their perception of everything around them, causing them to focus on real or imagined threats.
In the same manner, Prof. Freeman notes that just thinking less of ourselves can make us feel more vulnerable to harm – and that even slight changes in our perception can lead us to feel more afraid and suspicious that something bad is going to happen.
He pointed out that spending less time worrying and more time being confident about ourselves will go a long way toward helping us feel less paranoid when we experience altered perceptions that feel unusual to us. In other words, it’s important to not make mountains out of molehills.
SOURCE: How cannabis causes paranoia: Using the intravenous administration of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to identify key cognitive mechanisms leading to paranoia, Daniel Freeman et al., published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, 16 July 2014.