depersonalization weed

Teens, Marijuana, and Depersonalization

The search for self in the time of cannabis parlors.

Posted Jul 17, 2018

A teen smokes weed and ends up with a disturbing experience of an alarmingly strange shift of existence. They lose reality and the old familiar self, and find themselves in a changed, removed world of frightening unreality.

No, it is not just another exciting turn of an altered state of consciousness. It is a mental disorder called depersonalization and derealization. Visit a teen social network, open a marijuana users’ chat or go to a depersonalization forum—this story will come up again and again.

Depersonalization can occur after the first joint or months of using marijuana. A mild beginning feels like “weird vertigo that just needs to be slept through.” Acute onset with the “annihilation of self” and a “dark abyss” can lead to the emergency room. Sometimes, depersonalization resolves itself in a few days or weeks. But, unfortunately, it often turns into months or years of torment.

The relationship between depersonalization and marijuana is not clear. The specific cause of depersonalization is unknown. Marijuana does not directly cause depersonalization. The majority of people who use marijuana never experience depersonalization. However, many people with depersonalization develop it for the first time after using marijuana. This happens most frequently during adolescence and young adulthood, between 12 and 28 years of age.

This ambiguous kinship between adolescent age, marijuana use, and the development of depersonalization links to the process of personalization: Awakening of awareness of “I” and searching for identity. Adolescence includes a youth identity crisis with questioning, “Who am ‘I’?” and overwhelming self-analysis. This intense development makes adolescence’s personalization unstable and susceptible to de-personalization. Some scholars distinguish a youth transient depersonalization–fleeting elements of mini-depersonalization that is normal for adolescence.

Marijuana is traditionally seen as a medium to explore personalization by gaining access to hidden parts of the self or world. Many marijuana-induced experiences balance on the edge of depersonalization. Cannabis might provoke the dissociation of “I” into “I”–acting, and “I”–observing these actions “as if from outside.” Marijuana blurs the boundaries between “I” and the world, and unpredictably toys with the senses, including depersonalization-related senses of reality, time, and space. Marijuana also powerfully affects anxiety, sometimes increasing anxiety to a psychotic level.

Depersonalization is the negative form of personalization: Unreality of self in a removed and foggy world intensifies self-analysis that, in turn, increases the frightening experiences of detachment. When teens with fragile personalization use marijuana that targets this personalization, depersonalization might emerge.

The exact motivation that drives teens to cannabis remains a rhetorical question. Interpersonal conflicts, yearning to be accepted by peers, loneliness, anxiety, academic problems, concerns about appearance, depression, failure to find a meaning of life, shame, envy, guilt, or just boredom and craving for some excitement.

And here comes marijuana–an easy and promising refuge from the adolescent trap between the shame to be “nobody as everyone” and the shame to “be different.” Marijuana seems like a ticket to a club where, if dreams don’t come true, then at least pain flies away. However, for some teens, this ticket might turn into a ticket to marijuana-induced depersonalization.

Frightening and stressed by depersonalization, many teens blame themselves for “sin” or the “transgression” of taking marijuana. Suffering from depersonalization is aggravated by humiliating self-accusation, shame, and guilt. Sometimes family and friends contribute their bitter measure of reproaching.

The teens who are in this difficult situation need understanding, trust, and help to re-build self-respect. Self-respect–a healthy opposite to shame–forms a foundation of solid, stable, and authentic personalization. Self-respect creates powerful responsibility, not destructive guilt. Self-respect gives power to accept true responsibility for one’s own actions, based not on fear of punishment but on care for oneself and others. Self-respect gives freedom to understand one’s own actions and their consequences. This helps teens make free choices and take full responsibility for the results.

The motivation to use cannabis is framed by the social-cultural context. Illegal marijuana had the appeal of “forbidden fruit,” so attuned to adolescence’s zeal of opposition. The current legalization of marijuana with the growing business of cannabis parlors attracts young adults by convenience and safety, but also turns them into consumers influenced by advertisements.

Teens’ interest in marijuana is easy to understand. This is a puzzling substance with a puzzling effect on the human psyche. There have been many attempts to solve this puzzle. In the middle of the 19th century, the eminent French psychiatrist Moreau de Tours founded the notorious Paris Club of Hashish-Eaters. De Tours believed that studies of Hashish-induced experiences would help to reveal the mystery of mental pathology. The greatest names of French culture frequented the Club. They described their experiences, including hashish-induced depersonalization, in their works. T. Gautier’s The Hashish-Eaters Club and C. Baudelaire’s The Poem of Hashish depicted “disconnection with reality,” “foreign body,” “fog in the head,” and other depersonalization signs. Both poets felt disappointed, concluding that hashish-induced experiences led to a loss of self rather than to self-actualization.

More than a century later, during the golden hippie era, American psychiatrists researched the potentials of marijuana, strongly supporting its medical benefits. On the West Coast, an iconic name was Oscar Janiger, who was especially interested in depersonalization. On the East Coast–the eminent Lester Grinspoon. His “marijuana sessions” were frequented by the legendary poet Alan Ginsberg and the legendary astronomer Carl Sagan. The investigations of De Tours, Janiger, Grinspoon, and many other researchers did not find answers but raised new questions about the marijuana enigma.

A teen smokes weed and ends up with a strange shift of existence, not just another turn of an altered consciousness; It is the disorder of depersonalization and derealization.

10 Simple Ways to Relieve Depersonalization

Depersonalization Disorder is a persistent feeling of being disconnected from your body and thoughts. It can feel like you’re living in a dream, or looking at yourself from outside your body. The world may feel like it’s flat and unreal, as if it’s in 2D or behind a pane of glass.

Depersonalization Disorder can be an intensely frightening experience. It’s generally brought on by trauma (from violence, abuse, panic attacks) or, as is becoming more common, a bad drug experience. It’s also a surprisingly common condition: It’s estimated that 50% of all people will experience feelings of depersonalization at some point in their lives, and up to 2% of the population of the US and UK may have it as a chronic condition.

As frightening as the condition and its various symptoms are, it’s still based on anxiety and there are ways to alleviate it. The goal is to refocus your mind away from the intrusive thoughts so the brain can lower your anxiety down to normal levels and stop the feelings of depersonalization.

With that in mind, here’s a few practical tips you can use on a daily basis to relieve depersonalization.

  1. Read Aloud. Depersonalization (or DP) is notorious for the intrusive thoughts it causes. Reading aloud is a great way to focus the mind away from these. As this study shows, “Reading aloud (uses) several cognitive processes such as recognition of visually presented words… analysis of the meaning of words, and control of pronunciation.” Basically this means that it keeps your brain really busy! Your concentration becomes intensely focused, making this an excellent exercise for reducing thoughts of anxiety and depersonalization.
  2. Cut out Caffeine. Coffee and soft drinks contain a lot of caffeine, which can push up your anxiety levels and feelings of DP. And coffee consumed later in the day can take hours to wear off, affecting your sleep patterns. It also increases your blood pressure and heart rate and can leave you feeling fatigued once the caffeine leaves your system. If you’re a coffee lover, don’t worry — you can get back to it once you recover. But for the moment, you want your body and brain to be in as calm a state as possible — so cut caffeine out of your diet completely.
  3. Listen to Podcasts and Music. If you have a smartphone, you have access an infinite selection of podcasts. Pick out a few that interest you and keep them with you at all times. Put them on at any quiet moment. Feelings of anxiety and depersonalization tend to worsen when you’re idle and have time to focus on them. So be prepared for any spare time with your earphones and smartphone — while you’re waiting for the bus, walking the dog, wherever. Keep your mind occupied. The same goes for music, put on your favorite albums and sing along!
  4. Avoid Drugs. As the legalization of marijuana continues, more people are turning to it as a way to relax and unwind. But using it with anxiety disorders is not recommended. A bad drug experience can cause paranoia, increased heart rate, disorientation, frightening hallucinations and can actually worsen your depersonalization symptoms. In fact, weed is one of the most common triggers for depersonalization disorder, so using more to try to alleviate it is very risky.
  5. Get Up Early. One of the most important ways to alleviate depersonalization is to re-establish a healthy sleeping pattern, which is often disrupted by the condition. Sleep loss and bad dreams are commonly reported with DP. One very simple way to deal with this is to get up earlier in the morning. With anxiety and DP it can be difficult to get motivated, especially first thing in the morning. But don’t lie around in bed as that will promote negative thoughts. Get up, shower, exercise!
  6. Go to Bed Early When you rise early, your body will naturally start to get tired and slow down at an appropriate time in the evening. Follow your body’s rhythms and go to bed when you feel tired. Don’t stay up watching TV or looking through social media. This will help to re-establish a healthy sleeping pattern, which is crucial to anxiety reduction and your recovery from depersonalization.
  7. Practice Your Hobbies. With depersonalization, you can spend a lot of time worrying about and researching the condition. This can actually be counterproductive because as with any anxiety spectrum disorder, the more time you spend focusing on the condition, the worse it can get. It’s a lot more beneficial to fill your spare time with positive, constructive activities. Play an instrument, learn a language, go to the gym and exercise. These will all help to refocus your mind away from anxious thoughts and alleviate feelings of depersonalization.
  8. Don’t Overreact. With depersonalization, as with any anxiety condition, you‘ll have good days and bad days. The trick is not to overreact to either. If you’re feeling anxious and depersonalized, don’t be disappointed. And if the feelings are lessened or gone altogether, don’t get too excited. Just go about your day as if it didn’t bother you either way. That tells your brain that the anxious feelings are ultimately not important, which is the most effective way to turn off the feelings of anxiety and DP in the long term.
  9. Don’t Avoid Any Activities. Depersonalization can be very frightening, especially when it comes to getting outside the house, traveling etc. These situations can increase anxiety, which in turns aggravates the feelings of DP. It’s vital to remember though that you’re not in danger, and that it’s just a feeling. What’s more important is not to avoid any activity because you may feel anxiety or depersonalization. When you do the activity anyway, it registers in your brain that you were able to complete the task safely, despite the anxious feelings. This is much the same as Exposure Therapy, and is a vital step towards eliminating unwanted anxiety.
  10. Be Social! With DP, as with any anxiety spectrum condition, it can seem particularly tough to get out in the world and spend time with your friends. Depersonalization sufferers often report feeling particularly anxious when talking to others and may have trouble staying focused on conversations. This can seem scary but it only happens because your concentration is temporarily affected by anxious thoughts. It will pass in time. In the meantime it’s really important not to avoid social situations. Spending time with your friends, family and co-workers will help to keep your mind occupied with positive, constructive thoughts.

These simple tips will help to alleviate the day-to-day symptoms of depersonalization and give you a strong groundwork for complete recovery!

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