Like it or not, one of the potential negative side effects of cannabis can be paranoia and in some cases, panic. The latter is typically set off by the former, but throughout my years of smoking cannabis and engaging with the user base — I have personally witnessed a few people who “lost their bananas” on weed. The stress of holiday season can bring some strange reactions to your normal weed enjoyment, too.
A few times, I also found myself tip toeing the fine line of sanity as a direct result of weed. Once, because I over consumed on edibles which sparked a deep 18 hour trip I’ll never forget. Another time I smoked some dank weed in Santa Monica from a stranger who claimed to be a dispensary owner. It was certainly some of the more potent stuff I’ve smoked in my life and made “the way back” a lot more difficult than I had imagined. The public nature of the expedition was what added a level of difficulty. Some cannabis strains may induce the “paranoia” feeling more than other marijuana strains.
Panic, anxiety, paranoia can happen if you’re in the wrong place, or with the wrong people. When you don’t feel safe or in an environment that you can relax in, one of two things can happen. Either you run down a rabbit hole of paranoia and fear, or you sober up and get the heck out of there.
In most cases, when my gut tells me to get out of a place, I listen! However, sometimes you can be smoking alone when panic sets in. I once had a friend of mine freak out at the realization that we’re on a rock floating in space. His mind was able to perceive the smallness of his being compared to the infinite expanse of the universe and as a result, he started to hyperventilate.
What this did was quickly expel all of the CO2 from his blood that induces hypocapnia, which in turn can begin to produce symptoms that exacerbate the narrative in your head.
According to Science Direct: “Hyperventilation causes acute hypocapnia resulting in cerebral vasoconstriction, hypocalcemia, a shift in the oxygen–hemoglobin dissociation curve, and reduced oxygen delivery. Symptoms include lightheadedness, dizziness, faintness, paresthesias, and altered consciousness. Hypocalcemia with alkalosis may cause seizures and tetany.”
This is in relation to hyperventilation, which is surprisingly much easier to do than you’d expect. Couple this with some highly potent cannabis, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for potential havoc. Of course, the vast majority of people who smoke cannabis don’t experience these symptoms, but for those who have walked this line before, you know that it doesn’t take much to get you to the edge.
What do you do when you feel the “Grim Reefer” revealing yourself to yourself? The first thing you should do is isolate yourself from whatever is going on in your immediate environment. Whether you’re at a party or alone, a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air should already help alleviate a lot of your symptoms. The simple act of “getting away from the scene” can be enough to shift you back to a more resourceful state.
However, if you still find that you are not feeling optimal, anxiety clawing at your throat and a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach, the next step is to breathe slowly with controlled breath retentions. What you’re doing here is forcing your autonomic nervous system to switch form sympathetic (fight/flight/fear/fold) to parasympathetic (rest/digest/reproduce). You can do this by simply inhaling for a count of four seconds, holding it for a count of seven-seconds and then exhaling for eight seconds. Do this at least ten times and then simply release your breath and observe if you feel any better.
Odds are by now you’d have a bit more control over your panic. If you want to elevate the feeling of detoxing yourself from stress and anxiety, simply visualize yourself breathing in peace and calmness and exhaling everything that is plaguing you.
If you need to breathe like this for a while, do so. If you follow this pattern of breathing you can even induce sleep. It’s a very powerful technique that has saved me from many “troubled trips”.
However, even when you do deep breathing it might not be enough for your level of anxiety or stress. In this case, all you have to do is close your eyes and simply exhale longer than you inhale. For example, inhale for a count of four, and exhale for the count of five or six. This is all you need to do, nothing too complicated.
Then, as you sit there with the paranoia and darkness covering you – begin to observe it as opposed to be affected by it. It’s a strange thing, however – typically when you stop reacting to these adverse side effects and simply become attentive to them, they quickly begin to change in intensity.
The way you observe them is simple. Just take a moment and focus on the breath — and only on the breath. This allows for a small disruption in the way you are reacting to the situation. Once you have focused on the breath for a few rounds return to whatever feeling is ailing you in the moment. Take a moment to see how it feels, describe it but don’t engage with it. Simply say things like “it feels like X or Y”. Then see where it sits in your body. Is it in your neck, chest or stomach. Do you have pain in your back or is your muscles having spasms? What’s the intensity — is there a rhythm to it?
This exercise helps in several ways. Firstly, it keeps your mind busy “observing” and not “participating in the madness”. Secondly, it allows you to focus your attention to the specific areas. If you want to go deep, you can ask questions like, “When last did I feel something like this?” and then wait in silence for an answer to appear.
In all likeliness, a flash of a memory or a specific event will come to mind. Then ask yourself, when was the first time I ever felt like this…and wait again. You’ll be surprised at what you can uncover during moments like these.
However, if you’re not in the mood for internal discovery, you’ll simply observe these areas, and then, as you inhale deeply, imagine how you are filling those areas with calm light, and as you exhale, just release everything.
It might take a few tries to disrupt the mental chatter, but once you grab hold of some peace, it will guide you to safe waters.
In the vast majority of the cases that people end up in the ER for weed is because they don’t know how to calm themselves down when they are spiraling out of control. It’s not always easy, our internal illusions are strong. But with enough practice, you can walk on psychological razor blades unscathed.