Drake Baer

Dude, look around. Everyone in the room can totally tell you’re
high right now. And they’re judging you for it. Don’t hold your
hands in your lap like that, you look bonkers.
Quick, do something normal! Put them on your head. Both hands, on
your head. Ahhhhh. Much better.

Weed, in case you haven’t heard, often makes users super
paranoid. The cliche of the freaked-out stoner makes a kind of
intuitive sense. Marijuana is a widely banned substance with
a strong smell and other tell-tale signs. And it’s often smoked
by teenagers who’d prefer stray adults, the police, and their
parents not notice.

But pot can make you freak out even if you’re an adult, consuming
it in a state where it’s totally legal.

Atlantic reporter Olga Khazan
traveled to Colorado
, which has a full-fledged legal weed
economy, to see how legalization affects paranoia. She spoke to
officials and locals who offered, at best, tepid notes on how
paranoia impacts people who get high in a place where it’s fairly

“The Aspen police said they’ve seen a slight increase in
ambulance calls from people who eat too many edibles and start
hyperventilating. But the rise is negligible: One call every two
or three months these days, compared to none before legalization

Khazan intercepts a 44-year-old at a restaurant who said “he
only sometimes gets paranoid [when smoking weed], but considers
it part of the rush.” Another said edibles in particular “make me
think my head’s going to fall off,” legality aside. And a third
said she “would sometimes get paranoid, back when she was
underaged and pot was illegal … ‘Now that I’m 24 and it’s
legal,'” she
told Khazan
, “‘I don’t feel as scared about it.'”

So, at least in broad strokes — before the data comes in —
legalization hasn’t seemed to impact paranoia much one way or
another. That’s because, as Khazan
, that paranoid feeling is likely less a product of the
specific legality of marijuana than its chemical contents:

“Indeed, it likely has more to do with the relative
proportions of cannabidiol to THC, two psychoactive compounds, in
any given strain. The two chemicals work in opposite ways, with
high concentrations of THC prompting delusional thoughts and CBD
dampening them. Sagnik Bhattacharyya, a neuroscientist at King’s
College in London, found that THC seems to ramp up the brain’s
response to unremarkable stimuli.”

So THC, in addition to passing along a giddy sensation,
makes you more likely to interpret totally normal things — like a
person glancing at you as you walk past — as having deeper,
sinister meaning. Your sense that everyone knows I’m
likely emerges more from that delusion than reality.
Though the more you freak out about it, the more reason you’ll
likely give them to make some assumptions. 

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