Scientists Finally Figured Out Why Weed Makes You Paranoid

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marijuana_1Illustrated by Gabriela Alford
It used to be that possession of marijuana was, in itself, cause for anxiety. Now, thanks to the widespread decriminalization of the drug, cannabis enthusiasts are free to focus on dealing with a different sort of pot-induced paranoia — what many have deemed “the fear.” You know, that feeling of near-hysteria that makes you want to immediately extricate your altered self from all social interaction? (Feel free to plead the fifth.) If you're unfamiliar with this phenomenon, please allow Louis C.K. to enlighten you (and, if you are familiar, do yourself a favor and watch the video on the next page anyway).

Yep, you wouldn’t think it, but even much beloved, wildly successful comedians can take a few hits and totally lose it. And, researchers at the University of Oxford have been investigating how, exactly, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol — a.k.a. THC — is to blame for this universal inability to get it together when one’s taken too many tokes.

In what was either the most hilarious or the most patience-trying study to date, scientists injected 121 participants (ages 21-50) with either a dosage of THC (equivalent to that of a strong joint) or a placebo. The researchers' aim was to determine whether this compound triggers paranoid feelings and, if so, how exactly it works. All the participants had already used marijuana at some point in their lives, and none had a history of mental illness. Among the two-thirds of participants who received intravenous THC, the effects lasted for 90 minutes. Kids, do not try this at home.
As it turns out, the main active ingredient in marijuana is, in fact, responsible for the majority of the drug’s effects — go figure. The results of the experiment revealed that approximately half of the participants who got a dose of the “strong joint” reported paranoid thoughts, compared with 30% of the control group. Predictably, as the THC left the participants’ bloodstreams, their feelings of paranoia dissipated.

The researchers also found that THC, in addition to causing paranoia, also induces anxiety and worry, dampens your mood, causes you to think negative thoughts about yourself, and alters your perception of time, sounds, and colors. Granted, most people who've attended college could tell you that, too.

According to Professor Daniel Freeman, head of the Oxford research team, these findings demonstrate how our mind encourages feelings of paranoia: "Worry skews our view of the world and makes us focus on perceived threat. Thinking we are inferior means we feel vulnerable to harm. Just small differences in our perception can make us feel that something strange and even frightening is going on."

The solution, according to Freeman, is to stay out of your head, be more self-confident, and don’t read too much into “unusual perceptual disturbances” — something most interested parties figure out sans funding from UK’s Medical Research Council. Hypothetically speaking, this writer would say the answer is something more along the lines of a hot shower, pizza, and Adult Swim. Or you could just, you know, not smoke.