How To Counteract Cannabis-Induced Paranoia

Getting too high and spun out. Symptoms involve paranoia, confusion, loss of coordination, and even feelings of dread. Sometimes users don’t anticipate the potency of edibles, concentrates, or even just straight up bud. With some boutique strains containing more than 25 percent THC and professional breeders and cultivators continually pushing the envelope on cannabis strength, many regular consumers of marijuana will eventually find themselves too high.

If it’s their first overindulgence, some may freak out a bit. This is especially true with sativa strains. Consuming too much of an indica will likely result in the munchies, couchlock, and eventually sleep. The cerebral high of a strong sativa, however, when it goes off the rails, can produce intense fear and anxiety bordering on panic, runaway thoughts, hyperactivity, and an inability to relax.

First, a little knowledge goes a long way, especially when one of the primary reactions to the state of being too high is anxiety. In the immortal words of author Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic!” The mere knowledge that, as each minute passes, one’s high abates and things get better, is sometimes enough to deliver the calm necessary to ride the wave until the peak passes.
Second, keep some black pepper on hand. This technique, made famous by rocker Neil Young, is purported to be truly effective. During an interview with Howard Stern, Stern confessed that he hasn’t touched cannabis in years because “it makes [him] paranoid.”
Neil Young, ever the deep and profound sage, advised him, “Try black pepper balls if you get paranoid. Just chew two or three pieces.”
We at Leafly were curious: does chomping on peppercorns actually work? Sure enough, the next time a bit of unfortunate anxiety hit, even the smallest whiff of black pepper straight from the shaker was enough to quell any panic and anxiety, and the relief hit almost instantly.
What about the science behind the synergy – why and how does this work?

According to a scientific review published by Ethan Russo in the British Journal of Pharmacology, cannabis and pepper have very similar chemical traits; pepper has a “phytocannabinoid-terpenoid effect,” which is known to help with pain, depression, addiction, and anxiety. Combining the terpenoids (such as beta-caryophyllene) in pepper with the tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis has a synergistic chemical reaction on the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
In layman’s terms, they both bind to the same receptors in the brain and, when combined, have a therapeutic, calming effect.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it has recently come to our attention that, if you’re looking to lengthen your high while consuming cannabis, just eat a mango! While this idea stems more from urban legend than from scientific studies, there are legitimate factors to back up this somewhat dubious claim.
Cannabis, as you know, is chock full of terpenes, in particular the myrcene terpene, secreted from the same glands that produce cannabinoids. Mangoes are naturally high in myrcene, and myrcene is highly synergistic with the THC found in cannabis. Myrcene is also responsible for the notorious “couch-lock effect” that indicas are famous for, so it goes to reason that if one were to consume mango long enough to absorb some of those myrcenes into their system (about 90 minutes) before consuming cannabis, that it may, in fact, lengthen and strengthen the effect and duration of the high.

Third, try lemon juice or lemonade — preferably freshly squeezed. Like black pepper, terpenes present in the lemon are the magic ingredient, again serving to modulate the effects of the THC. In fact, this strategy has been recommended since the 10th century, when a Persian doctor prescribed the consumption of acidic fruits to counteract the high of cannabis and hash. If one needs an extra boost of come-down juice, throw a slice or two of lemon rind — which contains more limonene than any other part of the fruit.

Less effective remedies, which should be considered supplements to lemon or black pepper, include hydration (not with beer or liquor, but water), eating, taking a walk (if one is able without stumbling or falling down), and listening to soothing music. In the end, the best solution to overindulgence in the kind herb, especially for those new to cannabis or just a particular form of it (like edibles or concentrates), is “start low, go slow.”

[Updated, originally published 21.4. 2017]

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