Taking medical cannabis for the first time can seem daunting for many people. Adverse reactions can usually be avoided by using the “start low, go slow” approach to dosing. If you do experience psychoactive effects that feel uncomfortable, however, here are some handy pieces of advice.
Recreational cannabis users consume the plant because they want to enjoy its psychotropic effects. As such, they usually search out strains that are high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and don’t pay much attention to the hundreds of other cannabinoids found in cannabis.
Medical marijuana is a different animal completely. While some conditions such as neuropathic pain benefit from high THC content, other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) will also be present, which may take the edge off the intoxicating effect.
What Does Being Too High Feel Like?
It may seem like an obvious question to those that have been there, but in basic terms, getting too high feels a bit like this:
- Increased feelings of anxiety
- Confusion and an inability to think clearly
- Lack of motor coordination
- Blood sugar levels may drop leading causing a white, sweaty pallor, dizziness and nausea (known as a ‘whitey’)
Why does this happen?
Everyone reacts differently to compounds in the cannabis plant. Famed cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam discovered this when he gave guests at a party slices of cake injected with THC. Some were overcome with the giggles, others couldn’t stop talking, while the unlucky few became more introverted and anxious.
Most of marijuana’s main effects, such as the feeling of being stoned, getting the munchies, impaired short term memory and dodgy motor control, are caused by THC binding with endocannabinoid receptors in our brain and central nervous system.
These receptors are also activated in a much subtler way by natural cannabis-like chemicals in the body called endocannabinoids. However, when we hit them with high doses of THC, it can be a bit like smashing our endocannabinoid receptors with a sledgehammer.
THC is also known to have a biphasic effect. At low doses it is generally relaxing, while at higher doses it can increase anxiety. That said, it’s not unusual to develop some kind of tolerance over time. Those with high tolerance tend to have fewer unwanted side effects.
How To Avoid Getting Too High
So, you’ve got your medical marijuana prescription from you doctor, plan to adhere to the gradual, up-titration approach to dosing, but you’re new to cannabis and unsure of your tolerance to its psychoactive effects. Here are some general rules to follow:
- Choose a safe and comfortable environment, ideally at home. Familiar surroundings will minimize the likelihood of feeling anxious.
- If it’s your first time, don’t be alone. Have an understanding loved one or friend nearby who can come to your assistance if the psychoactive effect feels uncomfortable.
- If you have a history of severe anxiety or depression, use caution. If you have a history of psychotic episodes, it’s recommended not to use marijuana at all.
What to Do if You’re Feeling Too High
Even the most seasoned medical marijuana patient has had an experience of feeling more intoxicated than they’d like. The main thing to remember is that no one has ever fatally overdosed from cannabis, and any feelings that you’re about to leave this mortal coil is your mind playing tricks on you.
However, if you’re new to medical cannabis and have some concerns, here are some steps for how to come down from a high that’s too intense.
1. Don’t Panic!
While getting too high is no one’s idea of a picnic, panicking about it certainly won’t help. Just remember that like everything in life, this too will pass, although with cannabis that could take about six hours.
2. Remember Your CBD
If you’re feeling really high, it can feel like taking a few drops of CBD is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. But if you choose a CBD product with quick absorption such as a water soluble CBD oil or tincture, its effects can be fairly immediate. Just make sure your CBD oil doesn’t contain any THC or you’ll be adding more fuel to the fire.
3. Distract Yourself
Our senses generally tend to become heightened after consuming cannabis. So, things like listening to music or watching a funny movie become much more of an immersive experience and provide the perfect distraction if you’re feeling too high.
Deep breathing is an amazing tool to calm anxiety. Deep abdominal breathing — focusing your attention on the in and out breath — might be all you need to cut the anxious, circular thinking.
5. Sleep It Off
Once you’ve managed to relax a little, it’s quite possible that you’ll start to feel sleepy. Allow yourself to drift off to sleep knowing that when you wake up, you’ll feel much, much better.
6. Have A Sugary Drink On Hand
One way to quickly combat the unpleasant symptoms experienced during a “whitey” is to get some kind of sugar into you. So why not have some kind of sugary drink close by in order to bring you back from the sweaty-browed brink. Keeping hydrated is generally a good idea and combats the “mouth full of cotton balls” sensation that often accompanies cannabis consumption.
7. Call A Friend
Speaking to a trusted friend may be just the reassurance you need to take the panic out of feeling too high. So make sure you have a number of someone who has some experience of cannabis side effects (i.e. isn’t going to judge or slip into blind panic).
When Medical Attention May be Required
In most instances, following the above advice will safely bring you back down to planet earth. The passage of time, whether it’s minutes or hours, is likely all you will need. But in a small number of cases, psychotic episodes can occur and that certainly requires medical attention.
Therefore, if you are having suicidal thoughts or trouble breathing, it would be time to get to an urgent care medical facility. If you’re with someone else, you can ask them to assess the situation (and to accompany you if you do go to hospital). In all likelihood, a visit to the ER will mean being put in a safe space until the intoxicating effects wears off and you feel better, and possibly being given a sedative.
Make sure to let your prescribing doctor know about the side effects you have experienced, as they will be able to adjust the dosage, strain or cannabinoid ratio you are receiving.
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