Getting Through a High Panic Attack

I smoke weed to avoid panic attacks, so why the fuck am I panicking right now?

Weed affects everybody differently. Some people get anxious every time they smoke. Others smoke because it’s the only time they’re not anxious.

I think it’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently and every reaction is valid. You’re most likely not alone in your reaction as well, whether you love weed or hate it.

So, I think it’s important to approach this question of: What do I do when I’m feeling anxious when I’m high? from three different angles, as this looks different for three different types of people.

(1) What do you do when you’re panicking when high, as an avid stoner?

(2) What do you do when you’re panicking when high, as someone who rarely smokes, yet gets anxious practically every time you do?

(3) What do you do when you’re panicking when high, as someone who has never really experienced panic or anxiety before?

I spoke to close friends of mine, friends who love weed and friends who hate weed, to gather an understanding of what anxiety typically looks like for each of these three categories.

What do you when you’re panicking when high, as someone who has never really experienced panic or anxiety before and is new to weed?

Experiencing panic or anxiety for the first time can honestly make you feel like you’re dying. It’s very common for people who have anxiety (let alone adding the component of paranoia stemming from weed) to feel like they’re having a heart attack or are close to death. These thoughts are typical of panic attacks, sober or high.

Weed makes you hyper-aware of yourself and your surroundings so it can even intensify these thoughts, especially for those who have never experienced them before. And, weed can also provide that anxiety with a reason behind feeling like one is “dying.” Though it is not really possible to die from ingesting too much THC at one time, those experiencing panic when high can really feel like they are the sole exception to the “nobody dies from marijuana” shit their friends say to get them to calm down. But it is true. You’re not dying, and you won’t feel like this forever.

“Sometimes when I smoke alone, I get anxious. Like this one time, I got high in my room alone and I started thinking about dying and what happens after you die and then I just kept thinking about all of the unknowns and I got really bad anxiety. I just didn’t want to be high anymore.

A friend of mine, who never really experienced intense anxiety on an ordinary basis, had a panic attack the first time she ever smoked. It didn’t help that she was around friends who regularly smoked and didn’t know how to approach anxiety stemming from weed.

“It kinda just felt like my skin was crawling, my throat was burning, and everything I did was extremely manual if that makes sense. Like I was hyper-aware of every little thing my body was doing. I couldn’t even breathe without having to think about it. And if someone was talking to me, I literally had to focus so hard because everything going on around me seemed like it needed attention too.”

Being so aware of your body movements, your breathing, any kind of physical touch can be very overwhelming. You can be aware of the way your thigh touches the chair when you’re sitting, the length of time it takes to bring your hand to your face, the awareness of each feature of your face which you don’t normally feel. It’s very sensory. You’re never typically that aware of your body and your movements.

Another friend described a similar awareness of her body when cooked,

I am almost hyper-aware of all the sensations required for functioning. I get worked up about how I’m swallowing and think that I’m swallowing loud bubbles of gas. When I go to speak, my brain feels disconnected from my mouth and I don’t know if I said the right thing or if I even said anything at all. When I sit down on a couch, my legs shake uncontrollably. I become aware of this and they bounce even more; I never know how to stop that.

It’s normal. I promise.

What do you do when you’re panicking when high, as someone who gets anxious every time they smoke?

Some people just get anxious when they smoke, and that’s fine. Some people just don’t do well with weed, and that’s fine too. I know a lot of people in my life who hate that they get anxious every time they smoke. And they’re right, because that fucking sucks. But it’s just something to accept and move on from.

If you know that weed makes you anxious practically every time and you hate the feeling of being high, stop pushing it. It’s cool. Weed affects everyone differently and there’s nothing wrong with not liking it. Don’t try to get yourself to like it when you don’t.

There's nothing wrong with not liking weed in the same way there's nothing wrong with liking it. If you want to try weed, learn how it makes you feel and then move on from there.

"Weed causes me to be anxious. I am someone who is very controlling of myself and I feel that I lose that control when I am high, which is what freaks me out the most. I feel like the people around me are annoyed with me when I am high and it’s more of a paranoia feeling. Also, I feel my muscles twitch sometimes which I do not like. I really wish I didn’t have this reaction to it though. It really does suck, but weed is such a wonderful thing in the way that it helps people cope with so many things like needs to be legalized..."

What do you do when you’re panicking when high, as an avid stoner?

Weed can do a lot of amazing things for a lot of people, many anxious people included. I developed a theory about weed (when high) that aligns with my own feelings towards weed as well as many of the people in my life. My theory is that the people who experience anxiety and panic attacks on a regular, or even daily basis, benefit the most from weed. Those who rarely or never experience anxiety tend to experience it very intensely when they smoke.

*this is just a personal theory that aligns with my experiences, don’t take anything my high ass says to be true.

Being an anxious person, as well as an avid stoner, I had fun reading some of my friends alternate responses. The hyper-awareness of yourself physically, the extreme self-consciousness, the fear that everything you say is going to sound weird and everyone will judge you – these are things that I experience on a regular basis when sober that most of my friends experience for the first time when high. It’s funny.

Weed can be a great thing for people with anxiety when used responsibly. It shouldn’t be used as the solution to anxiety and should not be depended on as such. But, weed can be really, really great.

And despite my theory, even avid stoners can experience anxiety when they smoke, or lingering anxiety following smoking.

“I used to smoke because I was alone and felt anxiety and at the time I thought it helped. While being high it seemed that everything was ok and there was no anxiety. I used it as an escape but in the end it caused me more anxiety. During the times I wasn’t high, my anxiety seemed worse and I would immediately just want to smoke to get rid of my anxiety. Eventually, I learned that getting high wasn’t the answer and the only thing that helped was to surround myself with good people that care about me.”

Some advice from the biggest stoner I know, who is also the most anxious person I know:

"Cognitive behavioral techniques help guide you in shifting your thought process from extreme thinking to validation and rationalization.
Grounding exercises, challenging assumptions, mindfulness...if I was around people or noticed I was spiraling after I had smoked and spooked myself, I would immediately try a breathing exercise to get myself under control, move to a grounding or mindfulness to center myself in my environment, then I’d try to pinpoint what thoughts were making me anxious and rationalize with them.
Doing it high almost gives you a bigger boost of serotonin. It’s like the way you’re talking to yourself is so much more pleasant than if you weren’t high and were being extremely harsh. And when you do it high, it becomes easier to do it sober too."

Remember to smoke responsibly and only smoke if you want to. And in the event of a panic attack, remind yourself it's normal and do your best to ground yourself.

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