Citation: Ionia23. "Panic Attacks and Blood Pressure Drop: An Experience with Cannabis (exp41189)". Erowid.org. Jul 20, 2009. erowid.org/exp/41189
I, like a number of other people, have experienced severe panic attacks from cannabis use. I have talked with people I've known since my teens who have been heavy smokers all their lives who just recently started experiencing the same thing. Most of them fight the attacks by taking Xanax, but the idea of taking a depressant to smoke a depressant seems absolutely ridiculous to me. I have combed countless message boards and websites searching for a possible explanation for this and I may have come up with something. I hope this will help because it does not appear that anyone is doing any real research on the subject.
Typically, 1/2 of a bowl (approximately 4-5 hits) was enough to get me all nice and goofy for a decent high. I don't like to be so out of my head that I can't enjoy simply being 'stoned', if you will. The panic attacks for me began in 2003. My symptoms are the same as everyone else's, apparently:
- extreme fear
- elevated heart rate
- sense of feeling 'cold'
- thoughts of worthlessness
- racing thoughts combined with an inability to relax
One of the last times I smoked I inhaled barely 1/2 of a single hit. I knew this was nowhere near enough to get me high, just the slightest buzz. Sure enough, 10 minutes in I could feel the panic coming on. The only thing that kept it off was I got angry. I started bitching in my room, declaring war on the sensation. Not the best way to come down from a bad reaction to cannabis, but it was just enough to allow me to ride back down to being a little bit goofy. I don't recommend this tactic but it gave me an idea.
The last time I smoked I had a healthy hit and then walked over to a nearby Walgreens for a soda. I was just barely able to manage the extreme panic that was setting in. While I was there I hooked myself up to the machine where you can test your heart rate and blood pressure.
My blood pressure is roughly 130/80, which is normal for someone my age (32) with a resting pulse of 70 beats per minute. Not great, but not too shabby.
My blood pressure dropped to 90/60 with a resting pulse of 90 beats per minute. Extremely low for me, and that pulse rate is not high enough to be threatening, but certainly not comfortable. I tested it several times, astonished. The funny thing is that this relaxed me immediately. I still felt uncomfortable physically, but mentally I was able to accept that this was just a physical reaction to the drug. It doesn't change the unpleasantness from a physical standpoint, but at least my brain calmed down. My body gradually followed suit over the next hour.
Good thing there was a fast food joint on the way home, no pun intended :).
If I recall correctly, one of the side effects of THC is that it will 'thin' the blood (a blood hermocrit test would be required to confirm this). Not being a physician, mind you, I would assume that what we are experiencing from a physical standpoint is a 20-40 point drop in blood pressure which would cause a very, very alien sensation. We translate this sensation in our minds to mean that something has gone terribly wrong, which causes the 'panic' reaction, so on and so forth. Terrifying experiences can cause the brain to alter how it processes information. Users of LSD will tell you that an extremely bad trip can have side effects that last for years. It might be the same with this drug.
As for a direct cause? My theory: Cannabis has been bred over and over again to dramatically increase it's potency. Unless you are growing your own cannabis, you have no way of knowing what kinds of herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers were used to cultivate the stuff. We could be experiencing an adverse reaction to its potency, its composition, or a combination of both. As I said, I cannot prove what I've found here, but I hope the information may help out someone else.
Also, for dealing with the attacks themselves, I have found something that helps a lot. This might seem really silly, but it worked for me. Watching movies about pot-smoking ('Half Baked', 'Up In Smoke', 'Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle') helps remind me of what makes getting high so much goddamned FUN in the first place. Remembering that might be all it takes to tip me back over into goofy-happyland. Heck, even making jokes about it can help. As my roomate said to me when I was having a tear-strewn panic attack (stolen straight out of 'Half-Baked')
Him: 'Hey buddy, you ever have a panic attack?'
Me: (crying) 'yeah man....really bad ones'
Him: 'You ever have a panic attack (leans in)......ONNN WEEEEED???'
Me: (laughing hysterically) 'YES YOU BASTARD!'
I think you get the idea.
I trust in the fact that I am not going to die, I am not worthless, and above all else, I am not alone.
Soooo...who wants to go to White Castle?
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