Dirty Dozen #10: Paranoia and Modern Marijuana

By Laura Stack

There’s a saying, famously quoted in a Nirvana song, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” That might be the case for some politicians, celebrities, and spies, but for most of us, it represents delusional thinking. And if you’ve been hitting the weed hard, there’s no wonder: modern, high-potency marijuana can make you too paranoid to go outside.

I saw my son fall prey to marijuana-based paranoia after years of use, and it’s heartbreaking. Today’s high-potency marijuana literally ruined his life, making it impossible for him to live a normal life. Paranoia is just one of the mental effects of high-THC marijuana use.

Paranoia is one of the chief symptoms of psychosis, including schizophrenic disorder, a powerful form of psychosis that causes sufferers to badly misinterpret reality. As the Mayo Clinic points out on its website, if treated with medication, sufferers can function more or less normally, though there are inevitably side-effects, since antipsychotics change the chemistry of the brain. But untreated, schizophrenia disorder can also lead to psychotic breaks, suicide attempts, erratic behavior, and more.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—the psychoactive chemical in marijuana—is a deadly poison. It may have originally evolved as a natural deterrent to herbivores and insects, or as a kind of antifreeze before humans got ahold of it and magnified it all out of proportion. The harmful effects it has on us are nothing more than an accident.

The relationship between marijuana and paranoia was observed early on. However, it took many years to establish the directionality of relationship. Did heavy marijuana use cause paranoia, or were nascent paranoiacs and schizophrenics simply more likely to use marijuana for some reason? Researchers did eventually establish that marijuana can lead to psychosis, not vice-versa.

As I’ve noted in other articles, in some people, marijuana use can activate one of several genes that can cause paranoia. You don’t have to have paranoia in your family to carry one of these genes. In fact, most people who do carry one never know, because nothing they do triggers ever its negative effects. One reason scientists learned that marijuana is one of the risk factors for those who carry these genes was simply by noting that heavy marijuana users are significantly more likely than normal to be paranoid in adulthood, especially if the heavy use began in adolescence, and backtracking to the cause in the genome after years of dedicated research.

That said, some heavy users who become psychotic have absolutely no known genetic markers connected with the disorder at all: none of the trigger genes, and no schizophrenia in the family. My son Johnny was one of those, since his genetic test showed his genome was clean of any known markers for schizophrenia. Take my advice and take Johnny’s experience to heart. If your teens or young adults start displaying significant paranoia, take them to the emergency room right away and get help. Many teens who develop Cannabis-Induced Psychosis are misdiagnosed with schizophrenia incorrectly, so make sure to tell the doctor about the marijuana use. Sobriety is essential to make sure the psychosis doesn’t return.

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