Five Ways to Prevent an Anxious High
Alone in my bedroom well past midnight, I began to wonder if that pot brownie I devoured earlier was laced with shrooms. With every twist and turn of the kaleidoscopic patterns forming before my eyes, my heart pounded even harder. “Wait, is the weed giving me a heart attack?” I worried. (I called my medical marijuana doctor the next day to ask if such a thing were possible. It’s not.)
Surely there couldn’t have been shrooms in the brownie—it came from a medical marijuana dispensary. But nonetheless, I was freaking out, and even worse, I was ashamed of the way I was feeling—why couldn’t I just get high and be chill?
I’ve had my ups and downs with weed for the now ten years it’s been part of my life, though I’ve always been a moderate consumer. Still, the journey through and past my weed anxiety has been a pursuit in self-knowledge and a rewarding path to becoming more grounded.
“As a society, there’s this stigma that anxiety is negative. Before we normalize cannabis, we have to normalize anxiety,” says Jessica Assaf, founder of Cannabis Feminist, a community that empowers women who use both recreational and medical marijuana. “Often, we are ashamed of the anxiety, and that is more dangerous than the anxiety itself.”
She also asserts that getting high is also about relinquishing control. “It’s ultimately recognizing that you have to let go and let the plant do the healing,” Assaf says. “If you go back to the facts and the science, it can be very reassuring: We all have an endocannabinoid system with receptors that exist to bind perfectly to the compounds in the plant.” Here’s some advice from a few experts on how to get your body and mind on the same page when trying to kick back and enjoy a high that actually feels like one.
Cannabis has a biphasic effect, meaning that a low dose can have the opposite effect of a high dose. Half a brownie could have you feeling euphoric, while the whole brownie will have you freaking out. The professionals I spoke with all recommended “start low and go slow.” Wait about ten minutes between hits, or—as Julie Holland, New York-based psychiatrist and author of The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis recommends—wait about two hours between edible doses to know a product’s effect before having more.
As I learned the hard way, THC—the main psychoactive compound in cannabis—is likely to feel more psychedelic when you digest it. That’s because your liver turns it into 11-Hydroxy-THC, an active metabolite, which is more psychedelic and lasts longer than regular THC, explains Holland.
Mind your surroundings.
Remember “set and setting,” cautions California-based psychotherapist Ron Alexander, a clinical trainer in the field of mindfulness meditation. “Most people who have a predisposition to social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and/or panic attack should use cannabis at home where they can create a quiet and relaxing atmosphere,” he says. “As the cannabis effect is coming on—for example after ingesting an edible—do some yoga and stretching, meditate, write in a journal, or look at beautiful art books and magazines.”
Advice from someone who's had her share of anxiety from smoking weed.
How To Combat Cannabis-Caused Anxiety
Cannabis is usually used to treat anxiety. However, it can cause exactly the same effect in some people. What does a cannabis anxiety feel like? And how do you deal with the symptoms?
Cannabis is one of the most powerful alternative medications on the planet. Many turn to it for relief for a range of physical and mental symptoms – including anxiety. Unfortunately, many people sometimes experience the exact opposite. Cannabis can cause panic and anxiety attacks in some individuals.
There are a couple of things you can do about this phenomenon. Other than just stop ingesting cannabis of course. The first most important thing is to realize what is happening to you. Recognition of the symptoms is the first step; dealing them is the next. Research is also a very important tool. There are some strains that have been bred to combat these kinds of feelings.
Best of all? There is also a good source of relief in another cannabinoid. Keep reading to find out which one.
WHAT DOES CANNABIS ANXIETY FEEL LIKE?
Anxiety is anxiety. We have all felt it. Some people call it “paranoia.” Others describe this as a panic attack. Essentially it is the feeling that something bad is going to happen. Or could happen. In turn, it causes a physical reaction – the body tenses up. Some people sweat. Others experience a racing heartbeat. The mind can loop on potentialities for a long time.
It is an absolutely horrible experience. It can occur on its own or as part of other symptomology.
Cannabis – more specifically certain cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, work in many cases to quell these feelings. Again it is not entirely understood why, but in some individuals, cannabis ingestion can cause the same, prickly, uncomfortable feelings.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A CANNABIS CAUSED PANIC ATTACK
The first problem, of course, is that these feelings are hard to pinpoint. This can also cause anxiety too. On top of that, many people turn to cannabis for relief of such symptoms – even if they do not recognize it. Many people who describe themselves as “recreational users” are actually people self-medicating, trying to relieve the tension of the day and the stress and anxiety that go with it.
If however, you begin to feel worse rather than better after lighting up, that is one sign.
Another sign is the desire to check outside the window for the cops. Unless you have recently robbed a bank, this “reality” you might be worried about is not about to happen.
You have to be observant of yourself in such situations, which is also never easy.
However, if you feel like this condition is happening to you after you have toked up, don’t panic. In fact, that is the worst thing you can do. You can bring yourself down fairly quickly, and after it is over, don’t worry. You can always go shopping for another strain that does not tend to cause these kinds of effects.
HOW TO RELIEVE A PANIC ATTACK IN PROGRESS
If you realize you are in the middle of a panic attack or feel rising anxiety caused by cannabis, good. That is the first step.
Second, take deep breaths. Try to ground yourself in the “now.” This will allow you to take immediate, concrete steps to make this feeling go away. Stepping outside for a few minutes might also do the trick. So does taking a quick shower. Or even sticking your head under the tap while running cold water over the nape of the neck.
Third, try to eat or drink something. It will have an instant impact on the chemicals in your bloodstream. What you eat or drink is also very important. Try a glass of lemonade, or a piece of fresh mango. These are laden in terpenes – just like cannabis in fact. And terpenes like pinene, myrcene, and caryophyllene all calm anxiety. They are also found in other foods too, like citrus fruit.
Now you have your feet and brain more or less back on track, continue to stay physically and or mentally “busy.” You could listen to music. You could go to the mall (although driving is a bad idea). You could clean the basement. The point is, the more you move, the better you will feel. The more you distract yourself in real time, the more you focus on your immediate surroundings, and the less your brain will wrap itself around disturbing distractions.
Remember, this will not last forever.
SWITCH YOUR CANNABINOIDS
Are you sweating bullets every time you take a toke of THC? If so, it is time to have a hard discussion with yourself. You might be one of those people for whom cannabis is not such a great thing. It is not the end of the world.
However before you come to this conclusion, there are other alternatives.
The first is to do your research – if you can – on what kinds of cannabis is bred specifically for “low anxiety” responses. Look for user guides. In general, the more “fruity” the aura of the cannabis, the less anxiety it will cause. Why? The same chemicals in citrus fruit are found in the plant.
Cannabis with lower THC also seems to cause fewer anxiety attacks in users. CBD, for example, does not cause panic attacks at all. If it is the psychoactive ingredient that causes you to have heebie jeebies, you may have to do without it.
CBD AS THE GO-TO PANIC ATTACK RELIEVER
CBD is in fact also a cannabinoid in its own right. Further, people who have panic attacks caused by THC may find this is their first and best line of defense. CBD occurs naturally in cannabis plants. It can, just like THC, be bred into higher percentages in strains. Some cannabis, in fact, has only trace elements of THC.
CBD also has a direct impact on how THC acts in the bloodstream. It is still not known exactly how this happens. However, one of the noted impacts already of CBD? It helps counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.
If you have had such reactions in the past, now is the time to take control. And even better news? This does not necessarily have to be as drastic as giving up on all THC. Do some strain research. Many high THC strains are also bred for high CBD. This might do the trick alone. A few drops of CBD oil under the tongue before you toke might be just the ticket.
While cannabis is frequently used to treat anxiety, it can also cause it. Here is how to recognize, treat, and avoid the symptoms.