Cannabis has been exalted for its medicinal effects — and for good reason — but everyone responds to the plant differently. The herb’s beneficial properties are well documented: alleviating epileptic seizures, relieving chronic pain in patients who would otherwise use opiates, helping people bond, enhancing creativity, and so on. And while there have been zero documented deaths from marijuana — it’s literally impossible to take a lethal dose — even cannabis users can practice harm reduction techniques.
In other words, it’s not uncommon to freak out when you get too high — but with a few deep breaths and knowledge that it’s temporary, you can learn to deal.
A study called Can we make cannabis safer? was published this week in the Lancet Psychiatry. It looks at the rise of cannabis related problems around the world alongside weed’s increased potency on both legal and black markets. According to the study, over the past four decades, cannabis potency (the plant’s percentage of THC, its main psychoactive compound) has on average doubled worldwide, while extraction techniques for vape oil or dabs can produce concentrates containing up to 75 percent THC. High levels of THC have been associated with plant’s main “risks,” the study says, such as addiction, psychosis, and cognitive impairment.
“The biggest risk is to have something that’s very potent, very high in THC, you get too stoned, and you’re uncomfortable, which could mean you get anxious, panicky, or paranoid,” says psychiatrist Julie Holland, author of The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis. In rare cases of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, which could happen in chronic users, one might even vomit.
“There’s an inverted U-shaped curve with pot,” says Holland. “There’s a happy therapeutic window in the middle where the dose is fine, and if you go too far over the dose, you get the exact opposite effect.”
While the paper mentions too much THC could cause psychosis, Holland explains that most people having a “bad trip” with weed know it’s from the weed. “The official definition of psychosis is you’ve broken with reality, you have no insight into what’s going on. You think things are real when they’re not real,” she says. That’s not generally the case with cannabis, even if in high doses you do become forgetful, lose track of what you’re saying mid-sentence, or see mandala-like illusions if the bud has a particularly psychedelic effect. That said, if you have a personal or family history of psychosis, avoid high THC products altogether, she says.
THC is likely to feel more psychedelic especially if you digest it. When you eat THC, your liver turns it into 11-Hydroxy-THC, an active metabolite that is a little more psychedelic and lasts much longer than smoked or vaporized THC. To practice harm reduction with edibles, it’s best to only have a little and wait two hours before having anymore, Holland says, rather than re-dose before the effects have even set in.
“Start low and go slow,” recommends medical marijuana doctor Perry Solomon, chief medical officer at HelloMD. Beginning with a small dose of cannabis and increasing it very slowly over several hours may help combat an accidentally negative experience. If you’re already uncomfortably high, however, Solomon recommends CBD to mitigate the effects of the THC. CBD, or cannabidiol, is non-psychotropic compound in cannabis that tends to reduce anxiety. If the THC feels challenging for you, having a CBD vape pen handy may help you calm down, he says.
For those prone to freaking out on weed, Solomon recommends an indica dominant strain, which generally fosters more of a body high than a head high, or strain with a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 CBD to THC.
A couple old wives’ tails might also do the trick. Chewing black pepper could help when you’re paranoid, since both cannabis and pepper produce a “phytocannabinoid-terpenoid effect” known to combat anxiety, as well as depression, pain, and addiction. Holland also recommends taking citicoline, the levels of which become temporarily lower when you use cannabis. Some medical marijuana patients, who have cancer, for instance, take citicoline every day to fight cognitive deficits.
So whether you took a dab and feel like you’re orbiting the moon, or had way too many brownies and can’t leave the couch, always remember, you can’t overdose on weed. No matter how uncomfortable you are, whatever you’re feeling will go away… eventually.