Some people who use weed may experience panic attacks. This is because the side effects of marijuana use may include an elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, and anxiety.
People who are already in an anxious mental state are more likely to experience a panic attack while on weed.
If you are experiencing a panic attack, breathe slowly and deeply. Move to a quiet, dark place. Sometimes, walking can help to expel the excess energy. If you have a friend nearby, have them sit with you until the panic attack passes.
The Link Between Weed & Panic Attacks
A 2010 study published on Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology looked at panic behaviors in adults in the United States who use marijuana. It accounted for various factors, such as age, income, race, education, and socioeconomic status.
After accounting for these factors, the study concluded that marijuana use is indeed correlated to an increased likelihood of experiencing a panic attack.
In fact, the study found that people who smoke weed over a long time were likely to have been diagnosed with panic disorders. Some people even resort to marijuana to treat their generalized anxiety disorder.
What are Panic Attacks?
The National Health Service says that panic attacks are not life-threatening, but they are difficult experiences for people who go through them. They involve suddenly feeling intense levels of anxiety, and they can manifest physical symptoms.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
- Irregular or fast heart rate
- Dry mouth
- A feeling that you will collapse or die
Panic attacks can last as little as 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes. It is crucial to deal with the feelings of anxiety firsthand if you have a panic attack. Breathing exercises can help.
Strategies that help to prevent panic attacks include the following:
- Get regular exercise. This improves confidence and can release stress.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Abstain from alcohol, caffeine, or smoking, which could worsen panic attacks that occur.
Practice breathing exercises daily.
Risk Factors for Panic Attacks While Taking Cannabis
Medical News Today states that research on cannabis use currently focuses on adolescents who are more likely to use marijuana for the first time. Adults who are regular users offer us a better picture of who may get a panic attack as a result of regular use.
Up to 25 percent of people who use marijuana may become problematic users. Of this group, another quarter of users may have an anxiety disorder. People who have anxiety as children are more likely to use cannabis in problematic ways.
There are a few things problematic users have in common.
- Many have experienced maltreatment or bullying as children.
- Some people who begin using marijuana as adults may simply have had fewer friends who use marijuana as teenagers, causing delayed problem use of marijuana.
- Persistent users normally had problems with marijuana as early as age 9.
Preventing Marijuana-Induced Panic Attacks
In an April 2018 article for Tonic, writer Madison Margolin described strategies that may help you prevent a panic attack while smoking cannabis. A few things Margolin says will help are:
Lower doses. Those who have gotten panic attacks or felt anxiety after ingesting cannabis in the past should proceed with caution.
Citicoline supplements. Marijuana temporarily decreases the levels of this supplement in the body. Citicoline is known for its role in regulating anxiety and mood.
Sedative strains of the drug. Some strains of marijuana may produce a more relaxing high as opposed to “buzzed” feelings.
The Cleveland Clinic says there is no way to prevent panic disorder. Instead, you can only employ strategies that help to mitigate symptoms when they occur. Up to 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with panic disorder can live rich lives if they get treatment.
Unfortunately, most people do not seek help for panic disorder. The disorder is different from the occasional panic attack in the following ways:
- You regularly feel anxious or stressed.
- You wonder when you may get another panic attack.
- You may also have agoraphobia or fear of public open spaces.
- You avoid things that might set off a panic attack.
Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology says that consistently using marijuana is associated with an increased risk of having a panic attack or panic disorder.
How to Handle a Panic Attack Safely
In a May 2018 article for Forbes, comedian Chris Allport was frank about what happened after he called 911 while having a panic attack caused by cannabis use. The dispatcher advised him to remember that it will pass and to drink water and breathe. Allport said the panic attack passed eventually.
Most people who call 911 because of an adverse reaction to cannabis report feelings of panic. The NHS says it is important to confront your fears head-on during a panic attack because it is the only way to learn that you will not be harmed.
It can help to have a friend support you through a panic attack. If you see someone else going through a panic attack, reassure them that they will be OK.
Medical News Today outlines a few additional tips:
- Visit a doctor if this is the first panic attack.
- Breathe from the stomach while slowly allowing the lungs to fill.
- Use a medication if it has been prescribed.
- Breathe lavender scents unless you have taken a benzodiazepine recently.
- Go to a calm place or corner. This can reduce the stress that causes a panic attack.
- Identify the things that set off panic attacks and aim to avoid them.
Generally, 911 will not classify a panic attack as an emergency, but if you call them, they will oblige your request for an ambulance if you feel you need it. Though panic attacks are not dangerous, they are unpleasant. Having them frequently may also signify that you have panic disorder and need additional help.
Inevitably, people with panic disorders may still choose to smoke cannabis. Talk to a health specialist to diagnose a panic attack or panic disorder. You can then make more informed decisions about your drug use.