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.
This Is Why Weed Makes Some People Anxious
As a type A person—a generous understatement—I used to have high hopes that weed could give me that elusive experience known as chilling out. But each of the five times that I tried it in high school and college, it did nothing. Then, when I was 24, a friend and I took a walk through San Francisco and saw a huge cloud of smoke rising from Golden Gate Park. That’s when we realized we’d arrived at around 4:20 on 4/20. Eager to take advantage of the coincidence, I bought a weed-laced Rice Krispies Treat from a guy in the park and downed a third of it. What followed was one of the most stressful afternoons of my life.
As my brain seemed to become progressively slower and more ineffective over the course of the next hour, I worried I wouldn’t remember how to get home. What if I walked in front of a car and died? Then, I got a text from a colleague who needed me to share a Google doc with her. I panicked as I realized that simple task eluded me. I spent ten minutes trying to figure it out, convinced she’d somehow know why I was taking so long and think less of my adulting abilities.
Reeling from that ordeal, I had my friend walk me home. Two ice cream cones later, I lay down in my bed, where I realized my eyes rolled back when I closed them. I opened them in panic, convinced they’d get stuck in the back of my head. Thankfully, after several minutes of debating whether it was safe to close my eyes, the drug’s sedative effects seemed to override the anxiety and paranoia, and I fell asleep. Needless to say, I gave away the other two-thirds of that Rice Krispies Treat.
It seemed unfair that the substance many swore by for anxiety reduction had only made me more anxious. But it turns out my reaction wasn’t that unusual. “[Weed] made me feel overly aware of everything that was going on around me and paranoid that anyone in the same room was watching and judging me,” says Kim, a 26-year-old teacher in New Orleans who declined to share her last name for her career’s sake. “I would eventually just freeze wherever I was so that I wouldn’t do anything ‘wrong’ but still be anxiously spiraling inside my head.”
Weed similarly has given Alaina Leary, a 24-year-old editor in Boston, a flood of worries like: “Does my girlfriend actually love me? Is what I just said really stupid and are my friends going to abandon me now? What if we split up while walking and I get lost forever?”
These reactions aren’t typical, but they’re not uncommon either, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. They’re especially common for people who are new to weed and unfamiliar with the feeling of being high. “The disorientation can be very anxiety provoking,” he explains, as can the loss of control that comes with compromised mental capacities.
However, there’s another reason why people might feel anxious while stoned, even long after their first time. THC binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, releasing the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, a neurotransmitter that stops neurons from firing, Giordano explains. Increased GABA and serotonin activity inhibits norepinephrine—a neurotransmitter involved in alertness and anxiety—which calms most people down.
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But for some people, reduced norepinephrine has a rebound effect, stimulating activity in the brainstem’s locus ceruleus and limbic forebrain, which are involved in arousal and excitation, Giordano says. This activity in turn sends the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive, leading to a rise in heart rate and release of cortisol, which we tend to perceive as anxiety.
Paranoia is a separate but often co-occurring side effect of weed, typically caused by an increase in dopamine primarily in the limbic forebrain, Giordano says. This change in dopamine activity can make some people feel anxious and think others are out to get them or judging them.
It’s a cruel irony that the very people who could benefit from weed’s relaxing effects are often the ones who don’t feel them. While some neurotic or hypervigilant people get relief while they’re stoned, others’ fears are exacerbated. “What pot tends to do is augment aspects of one’s personality,” Giordano tells me. “If you tend to be a jovial person, if you’re smoking weed, those personality traits tend to be disinhibited and you become more of that. Individuals who have anxious traits or those with paranoid traits might need a bit of caution.”
People’s reactions to weed tend to be fairly consistent, so if it’s made you anxious once, it might be first-time anxiety, but anything more than that probably means that’s just how your brain responds to the drug, Giordano says. People who have paranoid or anxious reactions to weed should be especially careful about edibles, since those highs tend to last longer. So, maybe stay away from the special Rice Krispies Treats.
If someone around you is having an unpleasant experience on weed, Giordano suggests comforting them and letting them know they’re in a supportive environment. Make sure not to joke about it because that could add to their social anxiety. He adds that if you find yourself in the middle of weed-induced anxiety, getting fresh air and moving around might help you metabolize the drug. Some also find that relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation help.
Most importantly, let someone know you’re having a hard time, even if it feels like you’re killing the mood because everyone else is blissed out. People who get anxious when they’re stoned “should be very forthright about what they’re experiencing, particularly if it’s not pleasant,” Giordano says. “You don’t want to suffer through this by yourself. It can be a scary experience.”
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It’s a cruel irony that the very people who could benefit from weed’s relaxing effects are often the ones who don’t feel them.