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Why Does a Single Hit of Weed Make Me Faint?

One night in 2005, at a party at my house, two things happened: I had a single toke from a joint, and a friend introduced me to her new boyfriend. For most people this confluence of events would be no problem, but my body was not having it. As my friend’s boyfriend dribbled on about his adventures in Peru, his fluffy hair began to morph and swirl. The more it swirled, the more I wanted to vomit. Then his voice started piping down through a tiny hole in the roof, then… nothing. It was lights out. That was the first time it happened, but soon enough it became apparent that this was my fate. I could not inhale marijuana—not even a little bit, not even sans alcohol—without blacking out. But why? Is my constitution so delicate, just a whiff of weed requires its total shut-down?

One of the only studies conducted on this phenomenon was published in 1992. Researchers from Duke University gave ten healthy men a strong joint to smoke while standing up, and reported that six participants felt “moderate” to “severe” dizziness. Those who experienced severe dizziness also showed marked decreases in blood pressure, which went as low as 60 mmHg.

The standing-up part is key because it indicates weed could bring on something called orthostatic hypertension, low pressure caused by the movement or position of the body.

“Marijuana can cause quite profound lowering of blood pressure, and cause users to faint as not enough blood gets to the brain,” confirms Dr. Andrew Mongomery, a general practitioner. “A lesser lowering of blood pressure may lead to a sense of dizziness without actually passing out, [although] the biological mechanisms underlying this are highly complex and incompletely understood.

“Marijuana can also lead to anxiety,” he adds, “with a secondary effect of dizziness—or act on the brain directly to create a sense of rotational dizziness.”

Blood vessels dilate, causing the brain to be deprived of oxygen and thus blacking out.

Dr. Harry McConnell, a Professor of neuropsychiatry at Griffith University’s Menzies Health Institute, says the reason behind a weed-related fainting spell depends on the situation and the individual. Aside from a possible drop in blood pressure, “it could also be seizures that cause blackouts, or the other chemicals mixed with it. After all, Marijuana is not pure, so it might have recreational chemicals mixed with it. People may not be aware of those ingredients.

“Marijuana might [also] cause vasodilation,” Dr. McConnell continues, “where blood vessels dilate, causing the brain to be deprived of oxygen and thus blacking out. Sometimes episodes of vertigo can also cause blackouts.”

Then there is the possible effect of other recreational substances, possible other drug interactions, personal medications, or medical conditions. A study from 2002 noted that while weed’s “cardiovascular effects” are not associated with serious health problems for most young, healthy users, people with cardiovascular disease could be putting their health at risk. This is “because of the consequences of the resulting increased cardiac work, increased catecholamine levels, carboxyhemoglobin, and postural hypotension.”

Whatever the reason behind your body’s hatred of the herb, accept that the weed life may not be for you, and get yourself seen to. “[Fainting from marijuana use] is not certainly uncommon,” confirms McConnell. “It’s recognized. But it’s always important to go to a doctor and get evaluated.”

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One toke and I'm out.

Why does marijuana make some people faint?

While most people can use marijuana without experiencing any issues whatsoever, fainting is a side effect that has been known to happen

Some medical experts say these blackout moments can occur since THC decreases blood pressure in the body. Photo by iStock / Getty Images Plus

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    It often comes on unexpectedly.

    One second you’re at a party, laughing it up with friends like you’ve done a thousand times before when a joint makes its way into your hands. Nothing out of the ordinary here, except for the fact that by smoking with others, you are about to contract the germs of everyone else in the room, but that’s another story for another time. In this particular scenario, however, you take a hit off the joint, pass it to the left and continue to bask in the conversation going on around you.

    Why does marijuana make some people faint? Back to video

    But then all of a sudden, things start to get weird.

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    You might feel at first as if you are going to vomit, and your senses might start going a bit haywire. You might even have some trouble catching your breath, saying something to the person next to you, like “Dang, what was in that weed.” You even consider excusing yourself for a minute to regain your faculties, but before you have any chance to make it to the bathroom, everything goes black. You are told later that you just dropped out completely after taking that hit of weed.

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    Unfortunately, while most people can use marijuana without experiencing any issues whatsoever, fainting is a side effect that has been known to happen. Some medical experts say these blackout moments can sometimes occur since tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid that produces the herb’s stoned effects, expands the blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure in the body. When this happens, the heart rate increases, and it can cause people to lose consciousness.

    Sometimes it’s just the consumption method that was used that is the culprit in these fainting cases. A person might not develop this side effect by smoking a joint or taking a hit off a vaporizer, but then he or she takes a pull from a bong, and they go down. Smoking marijuana allows the user to feel the effects quicker and the size of the hit can sometimes be a factor. But most of the time fainting happens when a person stands up to smoke weed. So if you have experienced this side effect, it might be a good idea to stay closer to the ground the next time you fire one up.

    Although fainting from a hit of weed is not necessarily dangerous, falling and hitting your head is never good.

    “Marijuana can cause quite a profound lowering of blood pressure, and cause users to faint as not enough blood gets to the brain,” Dr. Andrew Mongomery, a general practitioner, told Vice. “A lesser lowering of blood pressure may lead to a sense of dizziness without actually passing out, [although] the biological mechanisms underlying this are highly complex and incompletely understood.”

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    There are a few telltale signs that it’s about to be lights out that are important for a marijuana user to recognize. If after a hit, you start to feel dizzy, experience shortness of breath, break out in a sweat, feel nauseous, get a headache or experience blurred vision, it’s time to find a place to sit down and chill for a minute.

    But try not to get too spooked about what is happening, as the bad times will pass as your body adjusts to the THC.

    There is always a chance that a fainting spell from smoking weed could happen once and never come around again. It is also possible that a person who is prone to this reaction could have trouble with it each time they partake. That’s when it might be time to take a trip to the doctor since passing out from blood pressure changes, weed-related or not, could be an indication of a cardiovascular issue.

    It is important to point out, though, that preventing yourself from fainting is really just as simple as sitting down when you smoke marijuana.

    TheFreshToast.com, a U.S. lifestyle site, that contributes lifestyle content and, with their partnership with 600,000 physicians via Skipta, medical marijuana information to The GrowthOp.

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    While most people can use marijuana without experiencing any issues whatsoever, fainting is a side effect that has been known to happen ]]>