Why Does Cannabis Make Me Faint?
Smoking weed may sometimes result in undesired side effects like dizziness. We explore why this happens and what it means for the average cannabis consumer.
There are a few unpleasant short-term side effects cannabis users may experience at one point or another. The majority seem to manifest in the inexperienced consumer, gradually dissipating as individuals become better acquainted with the sensation of being high and their tolerance rising.
One such unpleasantry is getting dizzy after you smoked. It can happen even to the most experienced of smokers. In some extreme cases, this dizziness can catapult itself into a full-blown “green out” – a term depicting the classic momentary loss of consciousness after inhaling a particularly strong hero dose of weed.
But not everyone hits the bong like there is no tomorrow. Many simply get dizzy even after a few tokes from a shared joint. But rest assured, this is perfectly benign. The truth is, cannabis does not directly make you dizzy.
EVEN THE MOST EXPERIENCED SMOKER MAY GET DIZZY
Dizziness is a sensation caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure. Cannabis does lower blood pressure, as well as engorge the brain’s vascular system. By doing so, it creates a sort of double whammy effect.
Cannabis influences the bloodstream in many ways. In addition to causing an overall reduction in blood flow (aka pressure), the brain is all of a sudden able to hold more blood, slightly reducing the rest of the body’s circulating volume, and therefore causing an extra drop in pressure.
Have you ever felt dizzy from suddenly standing up after a long period of sitting down? The sudden jolt of going from sitting or prone position into fully erect vertical stance will cause very strong back pressure in your veins. Quite literally, the force of gravity momentarily causes your circulation to halt, making you immediately lightheaded. You do not need to be high for this to happen, but weed certainly does play a part in heightening the experience, as the psychoactive nature of THC does modulate your senses.
The exact same thing can happen while under the influence of alcohol, although at lower levels, alcohol reacts more like a stimulant than a depressant. But it is a usual affair for someone particularly intoxicated to stumble over.
I FELT LIKE I WAS GOING TO DIE
This is a common thought inexperienced cannabis users may have post-toke. We could call it a classic newbie bad trip. Cannabis is not lethal, but a bit of anxiety followed by dizziness can trigger a paranoid state fueled by fear – in this case, fear of the unknown – which could escalate into a panic attack.
Let us break the news, that it’s all in your head. When this happens, it just means you were overwhelmed by the sensation of being high, and a negative thought process took over.
HOW CAN I PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING?
Being lightheaded, woozy, losing your balance, or even flat out fainting because of cannabis is not dangerous at all (as long as you don’t hit your head). On the other hand, if you frequently experience this when you smoke, we strongly suggest trying a completely different strain from another lineage and compare. If you frequently get dizzy even without consuming weed, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
It is very common for some individuals to experience strong anxiety from indica strains while feeling perfectly in tune when enjoying a sativa. On the contrary, many people do not like sativas as they feel paranoid and head-locked, and prefer the more sedative body high of an indica. Some find their Holy Grail in a hybrid. As it stands now, CBD-rich strains are increasingly being used to mediate the intense psychoactive effects of THC.
The real trick here is to experiment as much as possible. Start slow, and do not let peer pressure ruin the experience for you. If you find yourself couch-locked, stretch your limbs and move around a bit before standing up to slightly pump your vascular system.
Have some snacks handy; not only for the munchies, but sugar and salt will increase blood pressure. Stay properly hydrated. More often than not, the good side effects of weed will remind you of these last two. In fact, mild dehydration is a transversal social phenomenon that causes a plethora of symptoms, with low blood pressure being one of the main ones.
Finally, if you do get dizzy – do not freak out! It happens to everyone, with or without weed. The sensation should subside relatively quickly. Grab ahold of something or sit back down, take a couple of deep breaths, do not let negative thoughts invade you – and within seconds, you will be good as new, and still equally high.
Some people may get dizzy or lightheaded when high. We explain why this happens and what to do about it.
Why Does a Single Hit of Weed Make Me Faint?
One night in 2005, at a party at my house, two things happened: I had a single toke from a joint, and a friend introduced me to her new boyfriend. For most people this confluence of events would be no problem, but my body was not having it. As my friend’s boyfriend dribbled on about his adventures in Peru, his fluffy hair began to morph and swirl. The more it swirled, the more I wanted to vomit. Then his voice started piping down through a tiny hole in the roof, then… nothing. It was lights out. That was the first time it happened, but soon enough it became apparent that this was my fate. I could not inhale marijuana—not even a little bit, not even sans alcohol—without blacking out. But why? Is my constitution so delicate, just a whiff of weed requires its total shut-down?
One of the only studies conducted on this phenomenon was published in 1992. Researchers from Duke University gave ten healthy men a strong joint to smoke while standing up, and reported that six participants felt “moderate” to “severe” dizziness. Those who experienced severe dizziness also showed marked decreases in blood pressure, which went as low as 60 mmHg.
The standing-up part is key because it indicates weed could bring on something called orthostatic hypertension, low pressure caused by the movement or position of the body.
“Marijuana can cause quite profound lowering of blood pressure, and cause users to faint as not enough blood gets to the brain,” confirms Dr. Andrew Mongomery, a general practitioner. “A lesser lowering of blood pressure may lead to a sense of dizziness without actually passing out, [although] the biological mechanisms underlying this are highly complex and incompletely understood.
“Marijuana can also lead to anxiety,” he adds, “with a secondary effect of dizziness—or act on the brain directly to create a sense of rotational dizziness.”
Blood vessels dilate, causing the brain to be deprived of oxygen and thus blacking out.
Dr. Harry McConnell, a Professor of neuropsychiatry at Griffith University’s Menzies Health Institute, says the reason behind a weed-related fainting spell depends on the situation and the individual. Aside from a possible drop in blood pressure, “it could also be seizures that cause blackouts, or the other chemicals mixed with it. After all, Marijuana is not pure, so it might have recreational chemicals mixed with it. People may not be aware of those ingredients.
“Marijuana might [also] cause vasodilation,” Dr. McConnell continues, “where blood vessels dilate, causing the brain to be deprived of oxygen and thus blacking out. Sometimes episodes of vertigo can also cause blackouts.”
Then there is the possible effect of other recreational substances, possible other drug interactions, personal medications, or medical conditions. A study from 2002 noted that while weed’s “cardiovascular effects” are not associated with serious health problems for most young, healthy users, people with cardiovascular disease could be putting their health at risk. This is “because of the consequences of the resulting increased cardiac work, increased catecholamine levels, carboxyhemoglobin, and postural hypotension.”
Whatever the reason behind your body’s hatred of the herb, accept that the weed life may not be for you, and get yourself seen to. “[Fainting from marijuana use] is not certainly uncommon,” confirms McConnell. “It’s recognized. But it’s always important to go to a doctor and get evaluated.”
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One toke and I'm out.