This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Alone in my bedroom well past midnight, I began to wonder if that pot brownie I devoured earlier was laced with shrooms. With every twist and turn of the kaleidoscopic patterns forming before my eyes, my heart pounded even harder. "Wait, is the weed giving me a heart attack?" I worried. (I called my medical marijuana doctor the next day to ask if such a thing were possible. It's not.)
Surely there couldn't have been shrooms in the brownie—it came from a medical marijuana dispensary. But nonetheless, I was freaking out, and even worse, I was ashamed of the way I was feeling—why couldn't I just get high and be chill?
I've had my ups and downs with weed for the now ten years it's been part of my life, though I've always been a moderate consumer. Still, the journey through and past my weed anxiety has been a pursuit in self-knowledge and a rewarding path to becoming more grounded.
"As a society, there's this stigma that anxiety is negative. Before we normalize cannabis, we have to normalize anxiety," says Jessica Assaf, founder of Cannabis Feminist, a community that empowers women who use both recreational and medical marijuana. "Often, we are ashamed of the anxiety, and that is more dangerous than the anxiety itself."
She also asserts that getting high is also about relinquishing control. "It's ultimately recognizing that you have to let go and let the plant do the healing," Assaf says. "If you go back to the facts and the science, it can be very reassuring: We all have an endocannabinoid system with receptors that exist to bind perfectly to the compounds in the plant." Here's some advice from a few experts on how to get your body and mind on the same page when trying to kick back and enjoy a high that actually feels like one.
Cannabis has a biphasic effect, meaning that a low dose can have the opposite effect of a high dose. Half a brownie could have you feeling euphoric, while the whole brownie will have you freaking out. The professionals I spoke with all recommended "start low and go slow." Wait about ten minutes between hits, or—as Julie Holland, New York-based psychiatrist and author of The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis recommends—wait about two hours between edible doses to know a product's effect before having more.
As I learned the hard way, THC—the main psychoactive compound in cannabis—is likely to feel more psychedelic when you digest it. That's because your liver turns it into 11-Hydroxy-THC, an active metabolite, which is more psychedelic and lasts longer than regular THC, explains Holland.
Mind your surroundings.
Remember "set and setting," cautions California-based psychotherapist Ron Alexander, a clinical trainer in the field of mindfulness meditation. "Most people who have a predisposition to social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and/or panic attack should use cannabis at home where they can create a quiet and relaxing atmosphere," he says. "As the cannabis effect is coming on—for example after ingesting an edible—do some yoga and stretching, meditate, write in a journal, or look at beautiful art books and magazines."
If you feel anxious once you're already high, remember to have CBD handy, such as in the form of a CBD-only vape or capsule. The non-psychotropic compound CBD may help counteract the effects of THC, Holland asserts. She also mentions the supplement citicoline, which helps regulate mood and anxiety, since cannabis temporarily lowers the body's own natural levels. Some terminally ill medical marijuana patients even take 250 to 1000 milligrams of citicoline every day to prevent cognitive deficits.
Try this breathing technique.
If your heartbeat seems to be racing like mine was that evening of the whole brownie, try this yogi trick called alternate nostril breathing: Plug the right nostril and breathe in and out through the left, five count in, five count out about ten times. And then do the same thing in the opposite side. This age-old breathing technique can be very soothing. Alternate side breathing is believed (and there are some small studies that back this) to infuse the body with oxygen, potentially calming the nervous system and even lowering heart rate.
Choose your weed wisely.
In fact, according to Jordan Tishler—a former ER physician who started Inhale MD, a medical cannabis practice in Massachusetts—a plant's terpene (fragrance) profile is as important as its strain, which is the specific variety or “breed” of cannabis plant that makes up your bud. (Tell your budtender or dealer you want more of a sedative than buzzed effect.)
With all this in mind, you might be able avoid the weed willies and enjoy a relaxing high.