From a young woman in Canada: About 2 months ago, I accidentally “overdosed” on THC from an edible. I was hearing voices, shaking/tremoring uncontrollably, couldn’t walk, and my heart was beating insanely fast. Emotionally/mentally I felt a sense of dread, I was scared for my life and scared for my sanity. I felt no sense of control, as though anything could happen to me and there was nothing I could do about it but ride through the dark unknown and hope I make it out okay.

As a control freak by nature, I did not handle this well. It was traumatizing to me, and felt as though I was plunged into a chaotic abyss. Reality felt fragile and illusory, and I felt disconnected from it and everyone else… as though nothing is real, or safe, or familiar.

The next day I seemed to be okay, aside from minor involuntary movements in my hands/feet. A week later I felt like myself again, and I made the truly horrible decision to put a micro-dose of THC into my tea. I don’t think I got enough to actually get high off of, but it triggered my experience from the week before and I suddenly felt as though I was sinking into the floor and a wave of extreme panic washed over it. I struggled to breathe and thought I was going to suffocate.

This panic lasted about 4 days, with it waxing and waning in severity but always staying severe enough to make me fear for my life/sanity all over again. I didn’t sleep at all for those days, I went to the ER and everything came back normal (and they detected nothing in my blood).

Since then, I have random attacks that typically last for several hours. During these attacks, I typically struggle to breathe, I shake, I feel extreme nausea and sometimes throw up. I will get lightheaded and feel faint. My head will also get weird feelings in it, like tingling or sensations of over-activity. Emotionally/mentally I will feel helpless again, like I have no control over what’s happening to me, and tend to fear for my immediate safety and long-term sanity.

I just want to know if this is normal; I’m scared of getting worse and of plunging into a darker place farther from reality. I also experience mild bouts of what I think is depersonalization/derealization.

Yes. It does sound like you “overdosed” — meaning you used too much THC for your body to handle. Although marijuana is being legalized in many states, that doesn’t mean that it is totally harmless. The impact on a person depends on a lot of factors including how much THC is in the marijuana used, its strength, and how often the person uses it. It is also possible that the THC you used was mixed with something else. If you were drinking at the time, you put yourself at further risk for a bad reaction. Common signs of using too much THC at once include symptoms like you describe: confusion, anxiety, paranoia, panic, fast heart rate, delusions or hallucinations, increased blood pressure, and severe nausea or vomiting.

I’m not an expert on the effects of THC so responding to your question is  a stretch for me. I can only guess that it’s unlikely that the THC you used in your tea re-triggered the effects of the original “overdose”. (It would be wise to see a substance use/abuse specialist to be sure.) Since your blood work came back as normal, I’m also guessing that it is okay to rule out some other substance being present in the edible. It is more likely the tea re-triggered your feels of being out of control.

You say you are a “control freak.” For someone like yourself, it’s not unusual for a panic attack to evolve into a panic disorder. Panic attacks are extremely frightening. Symptoms are much the same as those for THC toxicity: tremors, rapid heart rate, nausea, and vomiting. Many people have only one or two panic attacks in their entire life. But for someone who hates loss of control, the fear of having another one paradoxically can trigger more. The THC in your tea may have caused just enough similarity in feelings to the severe episode that you became “panicked”.  Your fear was such that you couldn’t even sleep — which, unfortunately, made things even worse.

The good news is that panic disorder can be effectively treated with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). I urge you to stay away from THC and to find a therapist who is both an expert on the effects of THC and experienced with CBT. With guidance and support, you can learn how to manage feelings of anxiety and fears about loss of control.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie