Why Some People Feel Possessed by ‘Weed Demons’

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We all have that one friend who completely loses it when they get stoned. While you ride a wave of mind-melting relaxation and analyze the plot of “Mulholland Drive,” your buddy curls up in the fetal position, his mind reeling with self-sabotaging thoughts, and reminds you through chattering teeth that this is the reason why he or she doesn’t smoke.

How can smoking weed make you feel like a million bucks, yet leave someone else riddled with anxiety and paranoia?

If it’s any consolation to your friend, let him or her know he’s not alone. According to a paper published by Harvard Medical School, intense anxiety and panic attacks are the most commonly reported side effects of smoking marijuana.

Studies show that about 20 to 30 percent of recreational users experience these “weed demons” after smoking. There isn’t much research on whether marijuana increases the chances of developing anxiety. However, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Mental Health Survey does show that the two countries with the highest estimated cannabis use also have the highest rates of anxiety disorders: the United States and New Zealand.

While the evidence is interesting, the reason some people can’t handle weed is more likely based on individual chemistry. When a person smokes, eats, or otherwise consumes marijuana, it stimulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates our response to rewards, stress, and emotions, and introducing THC can interfere with its normal functioning. Even the slightest variation in ECS chemistry can have a huge impact on how minds and bodies respond to THC. If a person is unable to regulate his or her response to stress, it can lead to anxiety.

The amount a person smokes can also trigger a panic attack. At low doses, THC can have a sedative effect. Those who suffer from anxiety may even smoke to relieve their symptoms. The cannabinoid and terpene makeup of particular cannabis plant plays an important role in the overall effects someone will feel. Too much THC can bring on paranoia or anxious thoughts. The strain being consumed and how big of a dose a person takes can have an impact on whether he or she feels anxious and paranoid.

Alas, the way THC interacts with the brain is extremely complex, and more research is needed to draw any solid conclusions about the link between marijuana and anxiety. For now, tell your pal to put down the bong and read our tips for what to do when you’re stoned and need to come down fast.

About Author

Kate Kasbee is a health and wellness writer based in Chicago. She is the content creator, recipe developer and content strategist for the site Well Vegan and co-authored her first book "Frugal Vegan: Affordable, Easy and Delicious Vegan Cooking." Beyond health and wellness, Kate is an experienced travel and real estate writer, serving as a contributor to publications such as "Travel in Style" and "The Los Angeles Times Las Vegas Guide."

25 Comments

  1. When people access the medicinal and recreational benefits of Cannabis – in a place where doing so is forbidden by law – I would expect anxious reactions from some of those honest citizens.

    • Excellent point. I have been using medical cannabis for about five years and I have to say for the first three years I was consumed with guilt. I know that sounds foolish but I’m 70 years old and I’ve had 70 years of anti-cannabis brainwashing. I felt this way even though I smoked when I was young. I think the reason was that I was living in a rural area; a very conservative area and I felt I had to hide it from my neighbors for fear of repercussions. I thought this way even though smoking cannabis is legal .
      to avoid anxiety I make it a point to lie down and be quiet after smoking or ingesting and I use guided meditations on mindfulness to calm my mind and easie any anxiety.
      Yes Canabis can sometimes cause anxiety but it is one of the best medicines for PTSD which is an anxiety disorder. All medications have side effects so the patient needs to learn how to manage Them. It is also important to choose the proper strain to avoid unpleasant side effects .

    • The demonic aspect dwells in the midst of lawmakers who will induce society wide anxiety and paranoia in order to keep the people from an effective and entirely natural herbal medicine. Cannabis is a magical and flowering plant that will grow like a weed in the yard. A few narcs here and there can keep everyone from trusting one another and then a culture of deceit and suspicion is the result. What business would want to comete with a cure anyone can grow in the yard for free? Money is certainly the root of the evil that is causing Cannabis prohibition. Even the American Medical Association tried to keep Cannabis legal back in the 1930s when the prohibition started.

  2. I use to smoke 3 blunts a day. Now I can’t even smoke 1 hit without getting a panic attack 🙁

    I drink wine now. & enjoy having much significant memory & productivity. But that’s just me & my experiences

  3. Conflating the incident anxiety rate and cannabis use rate as causal is very dangerous
    This writer has got some inherent bias or some agenda against medicinal cannabis.
    As a physician and advocate of Medicinal cannabis, I must attest that this article may benefit few and may unduly harm many.

  4. curt thrasher on

    Sounds like you just lost your welfare benefits. Lighten up or maybe try working. Then you could support your kids and your neighbors wouldn’t have to. Did I hit home?

  5. Happy Apistevist on

    I have social anxiety, general anxiety and the AC/DC strain works well BUT, for me personally, I had to “Get baked” to brake through the A N X I E T Y wall. Smooth sailing after that.. 50/50 CBD/THC. Great for my L5-SI Sciatica pain..

    • Back in 2004/05 I was having much difficulty with my lower back. I had great discomfort with the L-5/S-1 area. I had no strain to use . Instead I was on strong opioids. Ended up having back surgery. I’d like to say the surgery did the trick, but it didn’t. The nerve pain down my right leg is gone. However I still have a lot of lower back pain/major discomfort. No more surgeries for me! After 4 neck ops, 3 shoulder ops, 2 left, 1 right, and lower back surgery I’m finished!

  6. First of all make sure you are in an environment where you feel secure. Meeting new people is not recommended.
    When i use Cannabis i prefer close friends or to be alone.
    \
    Cannabis is a tool to use to unravel the why’s of your mind. Self analysis and Cannabis walk hand and hand.

    There are many people who can override the effect and don’t show any symptoms of use.
    And there are different stages of Marijuana development.
    When i first started using we would laugh our asses off and get the munchies.
    Now for me food gets in the way of the high.

    The best high is the first of the day. I would like to smoke at first light and float away for a couple of hours before i went to work. At work i would be refreshed and relaxed.

    Close your eyes, and with some good music sail away. Introspect and correct, wonder who you are.
    I think each person self trains and whatever their bent the mind will adjust. I new a master carpenter who would toke now and then while working, he was able to measure and cut wood without flaw.

    I love to ride my bicycle when high, my focus is laser beam and i believe i am a better rider.
    One other thing try and design your life where you don’t need a car.
    The police state is unrelenting in their pursuit of drug use. They now want to be able to detain a person for an hour to bring him somewhere to conduct all kinds of tests of sobriety. The insurance industry, lawyers and prisons are salivating at this prospect. This is the ultimate buzz kill and loss of liberty for the common toker.

    Society is becoming so bizarre that an escape into drug use is like water going downhill.

  7. Interesting theory. My feelings are this…
    On any given day, without medication, I do suffer from anxiety and nervousness on a fairly mind-numbing scale, yet when I take my daily dose of cannabis in edible form in the morning I find that I then am able to experience life on a far more “normal” keel than if I try to cope without a boost to my own personal endocannabinoid system. Cannabis brings me into the moment and allows me to feel lighter about “stuff” that would otherwise upset my emotional apple cart.
    Am I high? Probably… I am certainly more creative and have a more delightful sense of humor when medicated… and my appetite is also more acute as my blood sugar drops back to its normal leval… But do I feel like tuning out and dropping off? Or am I paranoid that the world is going to end any minute now and the humin race is a doomed and failed experiment? Not really… I just feel better about not worrying so much about all the superfluous crap out there that makes life so depressing and frustrating. My paranoia is more prevalent when I don’t eat my cookies! That’s when I feel like tuning out and dropping off!
    And this is why overly prescribed, old fashioned chemically created pharmaceuticals don’t work either…. Individual chemistry cannot be addressed by a middle-of-the-spectrum formula. There will always be a side effect somewhere. Fortunately for me, when dealing with biomedication as opposed to otherwise big pharma prescribed chemically altered and laboratory concocted treatments, my side effects appear to be far more positive in nature.
    So I will continue to take my medication from what nature has provided on this planet, and whenever available, in its natural and unaltered form.
    May not work for everyone… but it sure does work for me.

  8. I agree Tina , I smoke all day and night and that’s what keeps me going, not going crazy with this world we live in, I work ,do chores and enjoy life to the fullest!!!!

  9. I don’t get as anxious or paranoid when smoking Indica.. Stativa is another story. I just want to be alone and have anxiety until it wears off. I stay away from stateva

  10. My alcoholic buddies swear pot makes them paranoid to the point where they have a hard time functioning, yet I am witness to alcohol making them fall asleep all the time; it makes them wreck their car, beat theirs wives, and kick the dog, but don’t ask them to quit and smoke instead. Ain’t going to happen. It may take a very long while, but I think eople will eventually go for safety vs alcohol and it’s dangerous effects.

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