Neil Young swears by this common kitchen ingredient to combat weed-induced paranoia. Science says it works.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

It’s a life hack that will surely spark doubt in paranoid smokers.

But, according to science and Neil Young, this calming trick actually works — chewing black peppercorns to reduce weed-induced paranoia.

It’s a dubious claim, but consequent reports from Leafly and more recently, the Growth-Op, confirm that it really does work. Actually, it’s kind of like using smelling salts to arouse consciousness.

The unusual ailment came to light when Howard Stern interviewed Young in 2014. In what has become somewhat of an iconic conversation, the two discussed Young’s strained relationship with David Crosby, his annoyance with the onstage cameras at Woodstock, his newfound love of paddleboarding and — perhaps most interestingly — his trick to smoking weed without getting the jitters.


Stern confessed that he avoids smoking marijuana because it makes him paranoid. He gave it up years ago. We don’t blame him — being uncomfortably high with a racing pulse and paralyzed limbs isn’t exactly our idea of a good time. But Young had an interesting solution.

“Try black pepper balls if you get paranoid. Just chew two or three pieces,” he said. “I just found this out myself. Try it.”

But how does this seemingly magical effect occur?

Shortly after the interview was held, Leafly had to find out if Neil Young was telling the truth, or just blowing smoke. They looked into a 2011 scientific review published by Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology for answers.

It found that terpenes, or the aromatic components of marijuana, can have an impact on the type of high you might get when smoking. The study also pointed out that cannabis and pepper have very similar chemical traits. Specifically, pepper has a “phytocannabinoid-terpenoid effect,” which is known to help with pain, depression, addiction, and anxiety. By combining the terpenoids in pepper with the THC in cannabis, the compounds “bind to the same receptors in the brain,” generating a chemical reaction that yields calming results.

In other words, ingesting black pepper tells your high brain to calm down.

TRYING CANNABIS FOR ANXIETY? Here’s why less is more

But if CBD is known to reduce anxiety, why does THC make you paranoid? A recent video from the Growth-Op reveals that THC can “over-excite neural pathways and trigger anxiety and paranoia.” And while scientists are uncertain that THC directly causes anxiety, it’s more likely that the compound triggers anxiety symptoms in genetically predisposed individuals. To combat unwanted effects, they recommend CBD oil, or a high CBD/low THC strain of flower.

If you don’t have either on hand, a trip to your kitchen pantry just might be a worthwhile one.

Have comments on this article or questions about cannabis? Ask GreenState or send inquiries and tips to amanda.bartlett@sfchronicle.com