How Taking Drugs When You Have A Mental Illness Can Cause A Scary High
“I think I gave you my crazy,” my ex-boyfriend said, leaning his face close to mine.
My eyes were wide. I was screaming my own name inside of my head.
Panic rose inside of me like liquid nitrogen. A cold burn filled my chest, running down my arms to the tips of my fingers. I was unable to remember the sequence of words going through my head from one moment to the next, yet I was fully aware of my own loss of cognition, and not in a good way.
I thought I had broken my brain.
I felt my psyche clawing at the inside of my skull, trying to find a way back to reality. I wanted it all to stop.
I was trapped inside of my worst nightmare, stuck in a panic attack. I was convinced that I had forever altered my brain chemistry and fallen into a deep psychosis. I was certain that I would never think normally again.
We use the phrase "I lost my mind" so colloquially, but most of us don't fully understand it. Everything that makes me who I am -- my thought processes, memories and personality – slipped from my grasp, no matter how hard I tried to reel it back in.
All I had left was sheer terror and excruciating mental anguish.
As I became more aware that this was the result of my brain on drugs, I quietly mumbled that I needed to go to the hospital. I repeated this mantra over and over, like a broken record. I rubbed my arm furiously, trying both to self-soothe and to remind myself that I was a person that still existed.
I looked at the clock. It was a little after midnight.
“Holy shit. That was the most painful thing I ever experienced in my life,” I gasped. I remained in reality for a few seconds longer before the high took over again.
While feverishly scratching the carpet, I rode waves of panic, ebbing in and out of presence and sanity. I repeated my previous mantra, desperately wanting to be taken to the emergency room and sedated, so I could wake up hours later with this awful experience behind me.
When I looked up from my child's pose on the floor, the clock read 12:24 am. I knew, then, I was in for a long ride.
Eventually, I began to feel more and more lucid. Four hours later, I thought I felt normal enough to attempt to go to sleep.
While my ex slept soundly beside me, I lied awake, panic-stricken with an ineffable tightness in my chest.
When my alarm finally went off, I promptly called my therapist.
Most people who smoke marijuana probably won't ever have as awful of an experience as I did that night. I had smoked a number of times before without issue. Recreational drug use is obviously meant to be fun.
Paranoia and anxiety are certainly among the bad side effects associated with weed, and the chances of these symptoms increase with amount smoked and higher THC concentration.
Having been assured that what I smoked was not laced with anything, I was left with only one thing to blame: my own mind.
I've seen a mental health professional for as long as I can remember. I had my first panic attack at 9 years old, and I have spent most of my life since in weekly therapy sessions. I've been suicidal, suffered from anxiety, OCD, depression and a severe eating disorder, for which I was hospitalized multiple times.
At 26 years old, I'd consider most of that behind me by at least 10 years. But as this experience taught me, my mind is still not a safe place in which to be trapped.
Drugs of all kind – alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and caffeine – seem to bring out what is already inside of us. They exaggerate our personas, providing opportunities to be our truest, most uninhibited selves.
This can be a blast, but only if your truest self is healthy. When substances combine with mental illness, it can be a recipe for disaster.
People really do lose their minds when they alter their already-precarious brain chemistry. Drug-induced psychotic episodes could occur and last for a week for someone who is predisposed to them. Studies have even shown that marijuana use can cause schizophrenia to develop in individuals years earlier than it would have otherwise.
Yet, those of us who struggle with mental illness are most likely to use substances in an attempt to self-medicate, whether or not we're actually conscious of it.
My anxiety and OCD surfaced in full force that night after smoking (a lot) of marijuana. That was what was inside of me, and that was what I became trapped in. For others, especially those suffering from a bipolar disorder, I've seen the drug high mimic fully manic episodes, complete with hyperactivity, delusions of grandeur and pages of incoherent writing.
As I'm realizing now, these actually aren't normal marijuana experiences, and I would guess there must be some sort of correlation to mental illness.
I'm not a doctor or scientist and have done no formal research on the subject, but from what I've seen, drugs of any kind can be a slippery slope for those who are on even the highest-functioning end of the mental illness spectrum. Sure, no one is perfectly healthy, but it seems as though drugs exacerbate preexisting mental anguish.
Marijuana is legal in a number of states now, and it could arguably be considered safer than alcohol. Its medicinal properties are also known very well.
Weed is prolific in millennial culture, existing without stigma and providing fun relaxation to most people without consequence. It gives you the munchies, makes you eat pizza and binge-watch Netflix. (Again, perhaps this is another example of the drug bringing out our truest self and desires.)
Hell, marijuana is such a lively and wonderful part of our culture, we're even writing articles likening different strains to sex style or about how it's the key ingredient to a healthy relationship. Clearly, there is so much good about marijuana to discuss.
At the end of the day, though, it's not for everyone. While you might think your painful high is just a typical product of the drug, it could be your unhealthy brain on drugs trying to tell you something.
Disclaimer: This article is solely a reflection of the author's personal experience. Always talk to your doctor about how drugs can affect you.