Smoking marijuana usually leads to an increased sense of well-being, a desire to socialize, and a need to eat out fridges. However, this is not the only finish line out there. Despite being rarely discussed or acknowledged, panic reactions and subjective, lasting shifts in perception can surprise a vulnerable victim. Generally, one refers to such an awry turn of events as depersonalization/derealization, which are glitches in one’s perception of themselves and the environment respectively. However, these debilitating adverse effects are not limited to cannabis use, but can happen with almost any hallucinogen or in any situation that aggravates the right set of emotions. As for prevalence, those with latent anxiety, depressive disorders, or repressed, pent-up emotions are at highest risk. Because psychedelics, including weed, are non-specific amplifiers of the inner state, those with negative emotions tearing them up on the inside will tend to have a tough time handling events upon the drug’s onset.
Upon onset, these emotions surface, so becoming more evident and harder to dodge than in the sober state. This eruption of emotions catalyzes the process of analysis and resolution (psycholytic therapy takes advantage of this), but for the unprepared individual who is just looking for a good time these can become overwhelming and frightening. Because you are confronted with an uncomfortable perception and seemingly alien and peculiar thoughts and sensations, it becomes too much to handle at once, and so you start panicking while trying to get a firm grab on all the racing thoughts inherent to anxiety attacks. The shock generated during this violent emotional upheaval imprints the experience into your memory, and by constantly contemplating it and fixating on the experience you enter a loop of agony that is difficult to break – this is why depersonalization can persist for much longer than the effects of the trigger drug itself. Feeling like going insane or losing control are the words that many choose to describe this lurid state of mind. However convincing the symptoms may be, do not be inclined to believe that psychosis is knocking on the door, because it isn’t. All of what you are feeling can be summed up into one word – anxiety.
Depersonalization, rather than being a malady on its own, is just a symptom of intense anxiety. Once anxiety reaches a certain point, your brain dissociates your senses in order to protect itself from an information overload. Therefore, in order to get rid of your depersonalization you will need to address the anxiety propelling it, and you can accomplish this by developing an effective and sturdy defense mechanism. Depersonalization is not permanent, for anything in life rarely is, but it takes some time to fully overcome it. By implementing some of the upcoming techniques into your daily life, the time of your complete recovery will drop significantly and you will learn to be in complete control of your emotions, so rendering any future anxiety threats innocuous and the return of depersonalization impossible:
1. Exercise and distract yourself – probably the most universal panacea out there. Not only does regular physical activity yield a healthy body, but a happy mind too. Many neurotransmitters, as well as factors promoting the growth of new neurons, uplifting to the mood are released during exercise. These include serotonin and endorphins as well as brain-derived neurotrophic factors. In addition, exercise helps you to break away from the agonizing loop of obsessive thoughts about your current well-being. By having to pay attention to where you are stepping, in case of running, your focus shifts away from the ominous content of your mind towards something more enjoyable. In this way, you are erasing the emotional imprint sustaining your anxieties. This process resembles conditioning; the process which Pavlov used on his dogs to make them salivate whenever he rang a bell. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, your anxiety becomes intensified in the presence of certain stimuli, which can be anything from a thought of having future panic attacks to the smell of cannabis. By avoiding or defeating these triggers, your anxiety fails to be invigorated. Because the conditioning becomes weaker in the absence of the stimuli, the longer you manage to resist/dodge your anxiety triggers the more time you are giving your mind to reset and return to a calmer state. Recovery is, essentially, all about maintaining a cool head for the longest time possible; therefore, distractions are quite helpful.
2. Exposure therapy – probably the most important step to recovery. A better alternative to avoiding triggers is desensitizing or reversing your response towards them. This approach is more rewarding in the long run because it grants you more freedom – instead of avoiding triggers, which can be inconvenient and interfere with one’s daily life, you face them and confront them. One must begin with analyzing the sources of anxiety; you have to find out what your specific triggers are. This can again be anything from engaging socially to having irrational thoughts. Once you pinpoint the irritant, gradually begin exposure. What the exposure to gradually increasing in intensity stimulus does is give you opportunity to reach a level of fear where you are still able to think and rationally explain the situation to yourself. In this manner, you overcome the irrational nature of anxiety because you come to realize that the core fear is absurd or slipping logic.
3. Consider supplementation – vitamin deficiencies or mineral imbalances can often cause more distress than one would even think is possible. Water soluble vitamins such as C and B are most vulnerable to depletion, so make sure there are plenty of these in your diet. Furthermore, there are many supplements and herbal remedies devised to mitigate anxiety, which are not the cure themselves, but can serve as catalysts in the process of recovery and provide temporary relief.
4. You are what you eat – eating excess sugars can have an impact on your mood. Sugar acts on the endogenous opioid centers; therefore, excess intake may prove to be quite habit forming and mood-destabilizing. Furthermore, it tends to cloud one’s mind and may increase the unpleasant sensations of stimulation intrinsic to anxiety. Replacing soft drinks with water may, therefore, prove useful.
5. Meditation – gives your mind a rest. Meditation is a good way to curb your anxiety and to enter an analytical state of mind, which might prove useful in understanding and localizing your sources of anxiety. Additionally, this practice can bring visible neurological changes to your brain; specifically, the cerebral cortex (region associated with many higher cognitive operations) thickens.
This recipe will enable you to fully overcome depersonalization. In complement to the above presented information, two of the main ingredients for recovery are time and patience. In order for your defense mechanism to become proficient enough to rid you of all anxiety you will need to become familiar with the sources of your anxiety as well as with the different forms it can take, which requires you to spend a little time in this state, for you cannot fight an enemy without knowing anything about it. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill out there that will take all this horror away after a single administration, so reducing recovery time is the best you can do. Do not lose hope or think of this time as a lost fragment of life because the process of recovery will teach you a lot and prepare you for any future stress, so making the rest of your life much more enjoyable as well as malleable. Do not be afraid to experiment with various anxiety-combating techniques because you never know which one will suit you the best.
The above presented techniques are only few of the many, so feel free to research them further and find those that fit you best. For the sake of your prognosis, do not be afraid of depersonalization being permanent because it will pass in couple of weeks or months at most. In the meantime, try to appreciate the new perspective and make the best out of the moment no matter how depressing it may seem. A positive outlook can be of great help, so do not underestimate the placebo effect. Believing in recovery will take you a long way.