Why It Feels Like Everyone Knows When You’re Stoned

photographed by Rachel Cabitt.
Let’s pretend you made the bold decision to smoke weed before going to see A Quiet Place, because it’s 4/20 and you thought it would “enhance” the experience and the movie theater snacks. Now you’re sitting as still as a corpse in the theater, petrified that you’re going to make noise and get killed by a monster, and convinced that everyone around you knows you’re high out of your mind.
Is this all in your head, or is everyone actually out to get you because you’re stoned? The truth is, this feeling most likely is all in your head, but the fact that you’re stoned definitely has a lot to do with it.
It’s common for people to experience a tinge of paranoia after smoking marijuana, and there’s a scientific reason why. Back in 2014, researchers at the University of Oxford conducted a study to determine how delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol — aka “THC,” the chemical compound in weed that gets you high — can specifically contribute to feelings of paranoia.
For the study, researchers injected 121 adults who had smoked weed before with a joint’s worth of THC (FYI, that’s a lot for one person). About half the people reported that the THC significantly increased not just paranoia, but anxiety, worry, depression, and “negative thoughts about the self.” They also said that sounds seemed louder, colors seemed brighter, time was distorted, and thoughts “seemed to echo” in their minds, Daniel Freeman, PhD, professor at the University of Oxford and lead study author, wrote in The Guardian shortly after the study was published.
If you’ve ever gotten way too high, these descriptions probably sound pretty accurate. But, this study suggests that being high can enhance worries and negative thoughts about yourself, and about your high. In other words, smoking weed can create a loop of negativity: You feel weird, then you feel weird about feeling weird, and then your weirdness makes you jump to the worst-case scenario that everyone is out to get you. “When we try to make sense of the anomalous experiences — when we try, in other words, to understand what’s happening to us — the world can appear a weird, frightening, and hostile place,” Dr. Freeman wrote in The Guardian. “Hence the paranoia.”
The thing is, this is just one very small study, so it doesn’t show the full picture about how people respond to weed. Plenty of people do turn to marijuana to relax (and it can work really well for that), and don’t have any issues with paranoia, while some find that weed really doesn’t agree with them. When it comes to weed, everyone has different preferences and tolerances, and that’s totally normal.
Luckily, the people in the study stopped feeling paranoid once the THC left their system. So, the next time you’re stoned and bugging out, it may help to remember that feeling weird is just one part of being high — and eventually, all highs come to an end. But, if you are a frequent marijuana user and you find that you’re feeling paranoid more often than not, then it could also be related to the strain of weed that you’re smoking.
Some strains of weed are high in THC and low in cannabidiol (CBD) — like sativas — while others have about equal parts CBD and THC — like indicas. Additionally, some types of both strains can “enhance THC’s psychoactivity,” which in theory would also make the paranoia more intense, according to Leafly, a website for learning about cannabis. So, if you are prone to paranoia, then it’s worthwhile to avoid strains that are high in THC if you can, or consider using a product that’s just straight-up CBD and doesn’t come with any of the effects of THC.
Of course, the best way to avoid a paranoid high altogether is probably to just not smoke weed (or at least smoke less of it at a time). Because if you’re the type who gets overly suspicious when you’re high, freaking out about things like making noise during an already silent movie sounds pretty stressful, tbh.
This post, which was originally published July 16, 2014, has been updated with additional information to best reflect the current research about marijuana.
(Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity and would like to remind its readers that marijuana usage continues to be an offense under Federal Law, regardless of state marijuana laws. To learn more, click here.)

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