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Your High Is Probably Going to Change As You Get Older

Over the eight years he spent smoking “nearly all day,” Greg Papania, a 35-year-old music producer in LA, would access “fascinating thoughts that were beyond this world.” Then, as his life became more stressful, weed began to make him paranoid and even gave him panic attacks.

Similarly, weed used to serve as a creativity enhancer and sleep aid for Allison Moon, a 36-year-old writer in Oregon. “Nowadays, weed is more likely to tip me into a high-anxiety mode,” she says. “I can feel my heartbeat in that ‘pre-anxiety attack’ way.”

On the flip side, Valeria Costa-Kostritsky, a 36-year-old journalist in London, used to get “super paranoid” when she smoked as a teenager. Now, she just gets “a bit silly or shy.”

Weed affects different people differently, but it also can affect the same people differently at different points in their lives. It’s not very common but also not unusual for your high to change over time, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center.

THC, the substance in cannabis that’s responsible for its anxiety-inducing effects as well as its euphoric ones, activates your CB1 cannabinoid receptors, Giordano explains. After repeated exposure to THC, your CB1 receptors can change their affinity for THC. If this happens, weed may make you more anxious over time. Some people experience the opposite, though, and their CB1 receptors may become desensitized, leading them to feel less anxious and more relaxed. Repeated exposure to THC can also change your chemical reactions downstream from the CB1 receptors in unpredictable ways that may make you either more nervous or more calm. In contrast to THC, cannabidiol (CBD) partially blocks CB1 receptors, which can produce a calming, anti-anxiety effect, Giordano adds.

“Tolerance, habituation to certain drug effects, and sensitization, amplification of certain drug effects, are principles at play across many different drugs,” says Matthew Johnson, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “There can be brain receptor up regulation or down regulation, there can be alterations in metabolic pathways, and there can be behavioral tolerance, where one becomes skilled at behaving under the influence of the drug.”

But if it seems like your reaction to weed has changed, it could also just be that you’re smoking a different strain (or “breed”) than you used to, Giordano adds. The ratio of THC to cannabidiol (CBD) has a particularly significant impact on your high.

“THC is what we usually associate with the ‘high’ feeling,” explains Sal Raichbach, an addiction psychiatrist at a Ambrosia Treatment Center location in Florida. “That includes euphoria, increased appetite, and introspection. On the other hand, cannabinol or CBD has almost the opposite effect, giving people a relaxed and calm feeling. Different strains of marijuana have different concentrations and ratios of these chemicals, so the effects vary widely.”

Strains that have a CBD:THC ratio of 1:1 or greater (like indicas and high-CBD hybrids) tend to produce more calming, anti-anxiety effects, Giordano says. But some sativas (like Jack Herer), while generally high in THC, can also be more calming.

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Your susceptibility to certain side effects of weed might also change as you get older. “Side effects like increased heart rate and even the minor cognitive impairments like memory loss can have a much bigger impact on older individuals,” Raichbach says. “We see the same thing with other drugs and medications as well. Side effects can develop after taking a medication for years, seemingly out of nowhere.”

Sometimes, though, your reaction to weed has nothing to do with the drug and everything to do with your own mindset. If you’re already wound up when you start smoking, for example, your high may feel more anxious. “One of the main reasons that we see such a variation in the way marijuana affects people over time is simply context, or the mental state of the individual before taking the substance,” Raichbach adds. “We tend to think of our brain as static when it comes to the effects of drugs and medications, but that simply isn’t true. The way we process emotions changes over the short-term as well as the long-term.”

For Grace Alexander, a 43-year-old copywriter in Uruguay, her feelings about the weed itself may have changed her reaction to it. “The one time I tried it [growing up] I felt like I was having a panic attack—everything felt ‘wooshy’ and my heart was racing,” she remembers. “It could have just been anxiety over not ‘being a good girl.’ Now, it just makes me sleepy.”

It could also be that you’re actually having the same reaction, but you feel differently about the reaction itself. “Some folks in their laters years don’t value the same effects they valued in earlier years,” Johnson explains.

That’s what happened to Sarah Taylor, a 45-year-old artist in Vancouver, Washington. “Smoking a bowl helps my brain and body relax a bit before bed, so I have an easier time getting to sleep,” she explains. “But I don’t enjoy that feeling anymore. I don’t like feeling stoned and stupid. It actually scares me a bit.”

If your reaction to weed has become more negative over time, Giordano suggests switching to a strain with a higher ratio of CBD to THC. If you smoke regularly and have noticed your anxiety increasing, Raichbach advises taking a break from weed and seeing if your anxiety gets better. If it does, that’s a sign that you can’t handle weed like you used to and should stop or switch to a different strain.

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This is why weed might affect you differently than it did five years ago.

How To Combat Cannabis-Caused Anxiety

Cannabis is usually used to treat anxiety. However, it can cause exactly the same effect in some people. What does a cannabis anxiety feel like? And how do you deal with the symptoms?

Cannabis is one of the most powerful alternative medications on the planet. Many turn to it for relief for a range of physical and mental symptoms – including anxiety. Unfortunately, many people sometimes experience the exact opposite. Cannabis can cause panic and anxiety attacks in some individuals.

There are a couple of things you can do about this phenomenon. Other than just stop ingesting cannabis of course. The first most important thing is to realize what is happening to you. Recognition of the symptoms is the first step; dealing them is the next. Research is also a very important tool. There are some strains that have been bred to combat these kinds of feelings.

Best of all? There is also a good source of relief in another cannabinoid. Keep reading to find out which one.

WHAT DOES CANNABIS ANXIETY FEEL LIKE?

Anxiety is anxiety. We have all felt it. Some people call it “paranoia.” Others describe this as a panic attack. Essentially it is the feeling that something bad is going to happen. Or could happen. In turn, it causes a physical reaction – the body tenses up. Some people sweat. Others experience a racing heartbeat. The mind can loop on potentialities for a long time.

It is an absolutely horrible experience. It can occur on its own or as part of other symptomology.

Cannabis – more specifically certain cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, work in many cases to quell these feelings. Again it is not entirely understood why, but in some individuals, cannabis ingestion can cause the same, prickly, uncomfortable feelings.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE A CANNABIS CAUSED PANIC ATTACK

The first problem, of course, is that these feelings are hard to pinpoint. This can also cause anxiety too. On top of that, many people turn to cannabis for relief of such symptoms – even if they do not recognize it. Many people who describe themselves as “recreational users” are actually people self-medicating, trying to relieve the tension of the day and the stress and anxiety that go with it.

If however, you begin to feel worse rather than better after lighting up, that is one sign.

Another sign is the desire to check outside the window for the cops. Unless you have recently robbed a bank, this “reality” you might be worried about is not about to happen.

You have to be observant of yourself in such situations, which is also never easy.

However, if you feel like this condition is happening to you after you have toked up, don’t panic. In fact, that is the worst thing you can do. You can bring yourself down fairly quickly, and after it is over, don’t worry. You can always go shopping for another strain that does not tend to cause these kinds of effects.

HOW TO RELIEVE A PANIC ATTACK IN PROGRESS

If you realize you are in the middle of a panic attack or feel rising anxiety caused by cannabis, good. That is the first step.

Second, take deep breaths. Try to ground yourself in the “now.” This will allow you to take immediate, concrete steps to make this feeling go away. Stepping outside for a few minutes might also do the trick. So does taking a quick shower. Or even sticking your head under the tap while running cold water over the nape of the neck.

Third, try to eat or drink something. It will have an instant impact on the chemicals in your bloodstream. What you eat or drink is also very important. Try a glass of lemonade, or a piece of fresh mango. These are laden in terpenes – just like cannabis in fact. And terpenes like pinene, myrcene, and caryophyllene all calm anxiety. They are also found in other foods too, like citrus fruit.

Now you have your feet and brain more or less back on track, continue to stay physically and or mentally “busy.” You could listen to music. You could go to the mall (although driving is a bad idea). You could clean the basement. The point is, the more you move, the better you will feel. The more you distract yourself in real time, the more you focus on your immediate surroundings, and the less your brain will wrap itself around disturbing distractions.

Remember, this will not last forever.

SWITCH YOUR CANNABINOIDS

Are you sweating bullets every time you take a toke of THC? If so, it is time to have a hard discussion with yourself. You might be one of those people for whom cannabis is not such a great thing. It is not the end of the world.

However before you come to this conclusion, there are other alternatives.

The first is to do your research – if you can – on what kinds of cannabis is bred specifically for “low anxiety” responses. Look for user guides. In general, the more “fruity” the aura of the cannabis, the less anxiety it will cause. Why? The same chemicals in citrus fruit are found in the plant.

Cannabis with lower THC also seems to cause fewer anxiety attacks in users. CBD, for example, does not cause panic attacks at all. If it is the psychoactive ingredient that causes you to have heebie jeebies, you may have to do without it.

CBD AS THE GO-TO PANIC ATTACK RELIEVER

CBD is in fact also a cannabinoid in its own right. Further, people who have panic attacks caused by THC may find this is their first and best line of defense. CBD occurs naturally in cannabis plants. It can, just like THC, be bred into higher percentages in strains. Some cannabis, in fact, has only trace elements of THC.

CBD also has a direct impact on how THC acts in the bloodstream. It is still not known exactly how this happens. However, one of the noted impacts already of CBD? It helps counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.

If you have had such reactions in the past, now is the time to take control. And even better news? This does not necessarily have to be as drastic as giving up on all THC. Do some strain research. Many high THC strains are also bred for high CBD. This might do the trick alone. A few drops of CBD oil under the tongue before you toke might be just the ticket.

While cannabis is frequently used to treat anxiety, it can also cause it. Here is how to recognize, treat, and avoid the symptoms. ]]>