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How to Deal With Cannabis-Induced Panic Attacks

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Photo Ulisse Albiati

Medical

How to Deal With Cannabis-Induced Panic Attacks

High doses of THC can induce panic. Here’s how to deal with the after-effects of consuming too much marijuana.

Although cannabis is often associated with relaxing, mellow effects full of smiles and laughter, in certain situations, depending on the intensity of the strain and the tolerance of the user, the herb can bring on some unwanted vibes in the form of a full-blown panic attack.

It is the kind of scenario that typically plays out in a social setting, where a group of bright-eyed cannabis enthusiasts brimming with curiosity have been experimenting with the current powers of pot. Everyone in the room is smoking popular, high-THC strains, like Blue Dream and GG #4, eating cannabis edibles without regard to the recommended dosage and maybe even sipping on cannabis cocktail — a real gang of go-getters.

It doesn’t take long before all of the life in the room is stoned to the bone. It feels good to be alive in a world where weed is legal. But then, all of sudden, one of the newbies in the group cries out in horror from over in the corner, behind the plastic fern, screaming, “Guys, I can’t breathe…I can’t $*%#%*& breathe,” followed by some incessant babble about how they are going to swallow their tongue if someone doesn’t get in the kitchen find them some Benadryl.

In a matter of seconds, the individual, driven by dread, goes frantically searching for a trapdoor to the outside world in an attempt to either grab some fresh air or hurl themselves into the arms of the sadistic gods that allowed them to get this high in the first place. They might even scrawl a makeshift Last Will and Testament on their forearm, as they have likely become more than convinced that the end is near. This type of outburst is straight out of the first chapter in the unwritten playbook of pot. It is what’s referred to as a canna-panic (cannabis induced panic attack), a frightening, non-life threatening side effect brought on by overzealous cannabis consumption.

What Are Cannabis-Induced Panic Attacks?

Cannabis-induced panic attacks are real, but they really only affect inexperienced users. But when the hammer comes down, it comes down big time, leading the distressed down a rabbit hole of fear, regret and countless negotiations with a higher power in exchange for never, ever smoking weed again. These attacks are often accompanied with a variety of symptoms, including rapid heartbeat, extreme paranoia and tunnel vision. Someone on this wild ride might grip their chest and proclaim, through a cornucopia of obscenity, an inability to breathe or even see straight. But they are not having a heart attack or suffering any other fatal bodily malfunction. All this amped-up anxiety really means is that the user got too high for their own good.

Although these panic attacks are uncomfortable, and in many cases even scary, there is absolutely no way that an individual will be dragged to the Gates of Hell from all of the horrific highness they might experience. We’re not going to lie and say that it isn’t possible for those folks plagued with a severe case of canna-panic to perceive the world as a very dark place, where they and they alone have been left to battle it out through several hours of mind-bending intensity and sheer hopelessness. But they will live to get high another day.

What Can I Do If This Happens To Me?

While it might be easier said than done, the best course of action in this situation is to just try and relax. Finding a quiet spot to chill out for a while, perhaps welcoming in the comfort of a friend is really about the best a person can do to deter focus from the gripping nightmare. If sleep is possible, they should do that for sure. Consuming CBD-only products is also a good move. But whatever no matter what don’t call 911. This will only complicate matters.

Calling in the cavalry is a common overreaction when an individual experiences a full-blown freak out from weed. But there is really nothing that the cops, EMT’s or hospital staff can do other than maybe dole out a knockout dose of a prescription sedative. What’s worse is if this panic attack erupts in a state where marijuana is still prohibited by law, that 911 call could end up getting someone arrested. It is better to deal with the unfortunate circumstances and do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

How Can I Prevent A Cannabis-Induced Panic Attack?

Moderating cannabis consumption is a solid start, especially if the individual is prone to anxiety attacks. For someone like this, a low-THC strain is probably the best option. Perhaps staying away from edibles is also for the best. The effects from these sneaky little devils can come on slow and get pretty intense. The microdosing of cannabis products is also advised.

In the end, it is always wise to exercise a little common sense when experimenting with marijuana. There is absolutely no shame in starting out with a conservative dose and finding out what works best. After all, you don’t want to learn that you are susceptible to panic attacks after going all Bob Marley in the middle of a 420 event.

TELL US, have you ever had a canna-panic?

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Ally

    May 10, 2020 at 1:49 am

    I had a panic attack just one day ago. This was my first time smoking weed, but I’ve taken edibles two times before, both had low thc and had no panic attacks. My sister bought me the weed, without telling me the type, so it was most likely sativa. I took it at 3 am, in my garage which was a very bad idea because as soon as I got high, my vision was getting blurry. I ran upstairs to my room, went into the bathroom to get a glass of water and saw myself in the mirror. It was like I was seeing someone that I knew, but I also didn’t know. After that I laid on my bed for like 20 seconds then realized what was happening. My heart was beating really fast and it was so loud, my surroundings were becoming really unfamiliar, and I was panicking so bad. I ran to wake up my sister cause I thought I was having a heart attack. My parents called an ambulance while I was panicking on the floor. My mom helped a lot though, she tried to make me take deep breathes. The ambulance came and they did their thing. The paramedics told my family my heart rate was around 200. They knew what was happening, not entirely because I never mentioned the weed, so they thought I was having an anxiety attack. When I got into the ambulance and in the hospital, that’s when I was starting to shiver. I wasn’t cold at all, but my legs were just shivering. My vision was like a dream or I was very tired after I got help. I’m really scared to smoke again, but I know what to do now.

  2. John

    November 10, 2019 at 7:23 am

    THC panic attacks can be Neutralized or prevented with water.

    simple fix every time, Just slam some water!! same cure for leg cramps!!

  3. Amanda Dobarro

    November 6, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    I split an edible with my man. We microwaved it. Bad. My son warned us it was strong. I was stubborn and ate mine in one go. Worse. It hit me like a brick. I could not breathe and it felt like my tongue was too big for my mouth. I kept tugging at it. My husband noticed my panic and made me go to sleep. Now I smoke a little bit spaced out over the day. I will do the same with my next edible. No microwave this time!

  4. Adrian_E

    November 6, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    I have had so many times panic attacks. Last time, I was so on panic, I thought I had inhaled a fake cart filled with poison, luckily, it was nothing and I didn’t call an ambulance.

  5. Surfside 6

    September 23, 2019 at 9:03 am

    Panic is certainly a proper description for it. I think it is most likely to happen when smoking alone. But it may also be attributed to the extraordinary potency connected with today’s product compared to the low grade brick weed common before.

  6. DB

    September 20, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    I have been using it for pain about 3 years now. Last night, I felt like I was dying. I couldn’t breathe. My heart ached. I shivered violently. There’s got to be a better herb for pain.

    • James W Gillespie

      November 6, 2019 at 7:24 am

      yes….oxycontin.

  7. Blake

    August 18, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    This just happened to me last night. I was an everyday smoker for over 18 years and then one day I smoked some really good shit and my body said it was time to put the bong down. The worst part was the hyper fast heart rate which made the anxiety exponentially worse. That coupled with a skipping heat beat and I was convinced cardiac arrest was in my immediate future. As much as I love to smoke, I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy.

    • KY

      September 5, 2019 at 2:04 pm

      Dude I’m in the hospital thinking the same thing. Thought I was having an attack.
      Happened right after a hit.
      Anxiety hit and heart rate took off like no other. It wa insane. I’m still here airing on test results.

    • Maxime

      September 11, 2019 at 5:49 am

      I have been smoking weed for about 11 years and never had a negative experience with it. I would always get a high, euphoric feeling and just be happily stoned. Now I have been struggling for about 6 months with severe panic attacks and anxiety, a pure feeling of dread and have almost called an ambulance on numerous occasions. It is the most horrible feeling I could ever imagine experiencing and also happens if I smoke small amounts. Why would such a beautiful happy little plant have such an effect at this time after not having any negative side effects in the past?

      • Tnerb Kuhcsem

        December 19, 2019 at 12:51 am

        I don’t have an answer for you, but the same thing happened to me. I used to smoke regularly, and could smoke a joint over the course of a night and be really stoned, but totally comfortable. Now, even cornering a bowl sometimes induces panic attacks. Racing, pounding heart beat and all the other symptoms. Ice cold hands and feet. Slamming water tends to help me calm down, but this might be the end of my cannabis consuming days if it continues.

  8. Jaime

    July 31, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    I haven’t ever had a smoking-induced panic attack, but I just tried CBD oil for the first time for anxiety and insomnia. I ended up having a nightmare-induced panic attack that jolted me straight out of sleep. Panic attacks are terrifying enough as it is, but being woken up by one and having to combat it without the knowledge you get from knowing it’s coming when you are awake, is so much worse. One drop of CBD oil. I could smoke a barrel and never have one, and ONE DROP? So much for that tx.

  9. Irene Dilley

    July 10, 2019 at 8:33 am

    I am a 64 year old grandma and had been taking cbd capsules (one) per day 10 mg cbd and 1.9 thc. After about one year of taking these, I took one that must have been 10 mg thc. I had an unbearable panic situation where I called 911 and went to ER. After many tests it was determined that I was “high”.. and had a reaction. I do have anxiety issues and was taking the cbd FOR anxiety and aches and pains. never again!

  10. alalla

    July 8, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    This has happened to me twice, once so bad that I had to go to the hospital and get an EKG on my heart. Took me about three days to fully calm my body and mind, that’s how intense the panic attacks were. I have learned to grab objects around you and name them in order to calm down your thoughts. I miss weed 🙁

    • Eball

      November 21, 2019 at 8:22 pm

      I had an attack while high when I was 17… it took me from having milder panic attacks to being completely stuck in my home for 10 years because I just couldn’t get through my own head that without weed, the same thing would not happen that way. I recall being on the phone with my “friends” in the next room, suddenly that panic hit me and I ran into the next room telling them “we gotta go right now!”. I ho outside and then close my eyes and wake up sitting on the front steps, I had blacked out… I stand up with everything blinking like a strobe light. I walked back toward the house, my friend and the mother of another friend standing in the doorway. I fell right into them, after all my strength was gone. They sat me down and the room felt round, I had to keep looking back and forth. It took about 30 minutes to pass. The mother was very helpful, luckily she understood and smoked herself. She swore she would tell my mom if I smoked anything again. I’m now 41 and remember that night like yesterday. If you have anxiety issues at all, let this be a reminder.

  11. Dj

    July 5, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Okay, I want to say it is bullshit that this “only affects newer users”, complete and utter bullshit. This has much more to do with someones mental health than how experienced they are. That’s not to say that it isn’t easier for a smoker with a lower tolerance to become panicked, but to say it’s all newbies is just complete disinformation.

    • Bhavika

      January 22, 2020 at 10:20 pm

      I have been smoking happy and laughing for years, especially during and right out of college, so no, I do not consider myself a “newbie.” But a couple of incidents I went through caused me to put a near-full-stop to my smoking. In these, I experienced full-blown panic attacks, which I had never, ever experienced before when not under the influence of marijuana. I didn’t even realize that they were panic attacks when they happened. I thought only this: That I had smoked too much, and was dying. Everything was fine at first; we were sitting around and talking, and suddenly, my body started shaking, and I broke out into a cold sweat. It started from my fingers, and spread, cold and clammy, through my entire body. I couldn’t stand. I was shivering. The first time this happened, it was coupled with social anxiety, and so I later decided to only smoke with people I absolutely trusted. However, the attack happened, again, this time when I was smoking with my brothers, and so I was convinced that it had less to do with company and more a state of mind. I immediately asked for water with salts and sugar, and a snack to eat, because I’d learnt that food was a cure. It happened a few times on other occasions, the experience always long-drawn-out and excruciating, a heightened terror and dread: My heart would begin pounding in my chest, and I had to count my heartbeats to make sure that I was not going to die. I felt my heart was skipping beats, and was convinced I was going to die. “It’s only a panic attack,” my brother said to me; “Try to sleep.” And I tried. But falling asleep is hard, and I lie awake in the darkness, positive that I’m not going to wake up, praying desperately to god to grant me this one pass, to allow me to make it alive till the next morning. I drift to sleep, and wake up the next morning thinking that perhaps I over-smoked. I’m tentative the next time I smoke, and I smoke very, very little. But it happens again, and I have to curl up and wait for the nightmare to pass. Alcohol and music help, so now I ONLY smoke after I’ve had a few drinks, and am listening to music / watching music videos with a loved one or boyfriend in the next room, and a food snack handy. Conclusion: These are three MYTHS that I hope will not be spread: That 1. it happens when you’re in bad social situations; that 2. it happens to newbies with low tolerance; and that 3. it happens when you over-smoke. In reality, it can happen any time, and I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemies, because the attacks are implacable, frightfully harrowing, and unpredictable! You have to make it through the paranoia somehow, which is extremely distressing and hellish! Unfortunately, the human brain is so incredibly complex, so under-explored and under-understood, and furthermore, even a particular human can have so many different moods, depending on mental state, environment, and context. @Mike Adams (Author): You cannot pretend as though you have cookie-cutter answers to why and what triggers these episodes, so please, again, do not spread misinformation! The connections between marijuana and mental health are hardly understood by us, and articles simplifying, trivializing, laughing at, or brushing aside panic attacks as out of the ordinary, as something that you can cope with by being a more experienced smoker, by being chill or relaxed, are all problematic narratives to be perpetuating! Tread carefully with advice, because marijuana affects different people differently, and even the same person differently when he/she may least expect it!

    • JC

      May 14, 2020 at 6:41 am

      I agree with you %100!!

  12. N. Owl

    July 3, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Happened to me hard, hyperventilating but I didn’t realise it, felt weird for a second and then it was like electricity through my whole body. I couldn’t feel my face or my chest, and I couldn’t even move my fingers they were stuck in kind of a claw shape and it felt wrong to try to move my legs. I was shaking and crying and my chest hurt, it felt like my heart was skipping beats and it was pounding harder and faster every second. I begged my buddy to call an ambulance, and he went into the kitchen and made himself a burrito, then came back and asked if I felt better, and I did. I’d have the same symptoms every other time I smoked after that, so now I only really dab CBD slabs now, especially considering I don’t live in CO anymore. Kinda makes me sad, cause I had a lot of fun times with THC, eating whole Little Caesar’s pizzas just me and my mate, stoned out of our minds, but those days kinda feel like they’re over, which is a melancholy thing.

  13. Tiffany Gallagher

    June 10, 2019 at 9:39 pm

    Yes. The panic attacks happened to me twice. My heart rate goes up, I start feeling numb in all parts of my body, I cant see, it’s hard to breathe, dry mouth, my throat feels like its closing, my muscle start twitching, I start shaking, paranoia. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and tried it because, I heard it helps with anxiety but now I dont ever want to smoke again.. scariest thing ever. I went to hospital once and my heart rate was at 170 and they had to give me something to slow my heart rate down.

  14. John Wilson

    May 15, 2019 at 5:49 am

    I hadn’t used pot since I was 17, and then I only smoked it. Went to Nevada, now age 61, and thought I”d give it a try. This time I had an edible in the form of gummy squares. Thank God I only took one, on their advice. Within about an hour and a half I was in hell. Panic, not able to control my thoughts, feeling very drunk but in a mental torture that would’t go away. Every minute was an effort, and I was afraid I’d do something crazy. I was at a casino hotel and just about called the emergency room of a hospital. Glad I didn’t but I sure don’t understand how people could say that is a good experience. Probably won’t smoke it in the future either.

  15. K. Moore

    May 5, 2019 at 7:44 am

    I just recently experienced this. After eating an edible I was just about to fall asleep when it finally kicked in. I have never been in such a state of fear. I couldn’t breath, I felt that if I fell asleep I would not likely die, and it felt as if my skin was crawling. I kept telling myself that my situation was temporary and that I would be okay. I found that it I kept moving around it seemed to help. Even after going to bed and getting some sleep, I still felt like I had been hit by a bus the next morning. I think I’ll stick to my usual dosage next time.

  16. Jo harvelle

    April 12, 2019 at 12:52 am

    When consuming cannabis at higher doses, it might induce more panic attacks and stress. However, if taken effectively and in lower quantities, it can significantly reduce anxiety, stress and panic attacks.

  17. Matt

    March 17, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    I’ve freaked out a couple times when smoking pot but I smoked dabs ( some sort of concentrated THC) and my heart raced through my chest. I actually thought I did and was in a coma, begged for someone to call an ambulance. After 3 hours it died down and the next day I had crying spells, I’m a 35 year old
    Guy

  18. Liz

    December 10, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Yes indeed. Thought i was dying from a heart attack. My man called a doctor who gave me sedatives. Still my heart rate wasnt going down ( 190 pm lying down) , so the doctor herself called an ambulance because she wasnt sure. And this was all because off medical reasons, never smoked, only the oil..

  19. Jen

    October 24, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Nonsense. I was smoking upwards of a dozen times a day for several years when I began having panic attacks. That’s not an “inexperienced user.” I also still have panic attacks if I smoke these days, and I’m certainly not smoking much at all, sometimes barely 1/4 gram. This article needs more research.

    • Nichoals

      December 26, 2018 at 8:23 pm

      I believe we are the few “experienced” users this hasn’t happened too, although I can’t find much literature on what happened to us…. peculiar indeed. I’m excited to see what the future holds with this sort of research on the drug.

  20. R

    October 9, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    This happened to me the only time I’ve ever smoked marijuana. I called 911 when I was absolutely sure I was going to die. I went outside to sit in my car without a jacket on. The police were the first to find me sitting in my car having a panic attack. They called an ambulance for me, the paramedics were very kind and took me to the hospital. They put me on a ringer’s lactate drip and kept me overnight. Because it was actually very cold outside they said if I would have sat in my car another 30 minutes they probably would have been coming to pick up a corpse. It took me about 4 hours to be normal again. I had to claim the ambulance ride on my health insurance ($450) and I had to go see my doctor the next day so she could question me about what happened. That was the one and only time I will ever try dope.

  21. Tony

    September 13, 2018 at 12:46 am

    Yup been there a few times actually I also suffer from panic attacks because I have Generalized anxiety disorder but weed has triggered them aswell as treated them I live in a state were we have no medical program so trying different strains to find the one that doesn’t bother me is almost impossible when the high is good it’s amazing bit when it’s bad boy is it ever bad I pray someday it’s legal were I’m at so I could have options to try and treat my panic attacks naturally

  22. Tracey cook

    April 24, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    I only panic when I run out xx

  23. kevin

    April 24, 2018 at 7:17 am

    You put your coat over your head, Attempt to sit up, concentrate on breathing, put your coat over your head, think happy thoughts , tell yourself that nobody has died from cannabis and tell people that want to question you to leave you alone !

  24. Melissa Burgess

    April 24, 2018 at 4:55 am

    This exact situation happened to me in college. I was ready to call 911 but my boyfriend calmed down for half the night. I never smoked again. We have been married for 23 years now. Thanks for this article i thought that this only happened to me.

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