Marijuana can cause side effects like elevated heart rate, anxiety, and unusual thoughts which can contribute to panic attacks.
Anxiety, paranoia, and depersonalization are some of the known side effects of THC. When anxiety is severe, it can snowball into a panic attack, especially if the person is already prone to them.
Let’s take a look at the link between marijuana and panic attacks, and what to do if it happens to you.
What Are Panic Attacks?
A panic attack is a sensation of intense fear that causes many unpleasant symptoms. Panic attacks occur when the brain believes it’s in life-threatening danger, even if it’s not true.
Panic attacks have to do with the fight-or-flight system, which exists to protect you from danger.
You have probably experienced at least a mild flutter of this system before. That moment when you think you’ve lost your wallet, hearing a scary noise in the dark, or a close call while driving can all cause the fight-or-flight system to engage.
Unfortunately, this system can be triggered by many experiences, including situations that are not a true threat, leaving some people vulnerable to panic attacks.
A panic attack often begins with a sensation in the body, such as noticing an increased heart rate. If the fight-or-flight system interprets this as a sign of danger, it pumps adrenaline into the blood to try and help you escape the threat.
In some people, the system goes into overdrive, pumping more and more adrenaline into the blood to try and escape the threat. This is what causes the symptoms of a panic attack.
- Feelings of intense fear
- Elevated heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Shallow breathing
How Does Marijuana Cause Panic Attacks?
The unusual sensations and disorientation caused by marijuana can cause a panic attack in some people.
When you smoke marijuana, your body experiences many unusual sensations and experiences. If you’re feeling on edge, or if the experience is particularly overwhelming due to a high dose, it’s possible your brain can start to believe it is in danger.
Many of these side effects, including dizziness, increased heart rate, and motor impairment can often signal that something is wrong in the body. Even though they are caused by marijuana, and don’t actually signal harm, it may engage the fight-or-flight system.
If the experience is intense enough, it can cause feelings of anxiety. In some people, these feelings can become overwhelming, and can snowball into a panic attack.
For example, if you notice your heart is pounding, you’re dizzy, and your thoughts are disordered, it would be really easy to have an alarming response. This has to do with individual sensitivity levels and experience with marijuana.
How To Treat A Marijuana-Induced Panic Attack
Most panic attacks subside relatively quickly, though they can be quite distressing. They can last from 5-30 minutes. The duration can be reduced if the person calms down.
When a person is high, they may be confused or overwhelmed. It’s important to remind them that these feelings are caused by the drug, and that they will go away.
People may also believe the marijuana is harming them or causing these symptoms. Remind the person that marijuana cannot cause a lethal overdose, and that the feelings will pass.
If someone is having a panic attack, it’s important to take these steps:
- Find a calm, quiet place to rest and recover
- Remind them this is only a panic attack, and it will pass
- Encourage them to take deeper, slower breaths
- Some people may benefit from redirecting the energy into an activity, such as walking
- Reassure them that they are not in danger
- When it passes, allow them to rest, as panic attacks can be exhausting
- You may wish to seek medical attention if you feel that is necessary
How To Prevent A Panic Attack While High
While panic attacks are not dangerous, they are extremely unpleasant. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce your risk of experiencing one.
It’s important to get the dose right in order to reduce side effects. Marijuana-induced panic attacks are often related to taking too high of a dose, especially for a new user.
You can also try using high-CBD strains. CBD reduces many of the negative side effects of THC, and has anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic properties. CBD does not cause panic attacks.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, or panic attacks, it’s recommended that you tread carefully when using marijuana. Start low and go slow to find a dose that works for you without becoming overwhelming. Some people with these disorders find they can’t tolerate products with THC.
Finally, your attitude plays a huge role in the development of panic attacks. If you have a calm, open, and accepting attitude toward the experience, marijuana is much less likely to give you a panic attack.