Anatomy of the come up – what psychedelics taught me about cannabis-induced anxiety
When I consume cannabis, I often experience anxiety immediately after consuming as the plant settles into the bloodstream–a phase often referred to as the “come up.” But it wasn’t always this way. I used to consume all kinds of cannabis products without hesitation and with little worry about anxiety.
Now, I choose how I partake very carefully. As I ponder the later-in-life development of cannabis-induced anxiety, I can’t help to consider the experience of coming up on psychedelics.
Psychedelic legalization and decriminalization movements are active in multiple states. As more people gain access to entheogens, substances consumed to achieve a non-ordinary state, offerings in the psychedelic space grow. Those seeking mind-altering experiences, often called “psychonauts,” can visit resorts and therapists to guide them.
When I was in my early 20s in San Francisco, though, microdosing was a rare topic of conversation. Instead, we were tripping balls, which often required higher quantities that can evoke uncomfortable experiences as the entheogens get to work.
The sometimes uncomfy onset of the psychedelic experience
For me, hypothetically, taking psychedelics meant meeting up with friends, eating at least an eighth of “magic” psilocybin mushrooms or dosing out liquid LSD, and walking into Golden Gate Park for the day.
Though the city decriminalized plant-derived entheogens in the last few years, the intention of this article isn’t to condone eating mushrooms and wandering into the park. After all, the federal government still classifies most psychedelics as highly illegal.
The goal here is to dissect the similarities between the anxiety of making it to the peak of a psychedelic trip, and the anxiety often associated with cannabis consumption.
One thing that accompanied each experience was immense anxiety (and sometimes gastrointestinal issues) on the come-up. As the psychedelics worked their way into my body, I began to question everything around me, creating anxiety that would be eventually quelled by hitting the peak and beginning to plateau into the experience.
As I’ve gotten older, group acid trips have been swapped for playground meetups. Experimental substances have mostly fallen by the wayside. But that experience of anguish on the come-up has returned; it just transitioned into my cannabis consumption.
How could cannabis-induced anxiety be related?
When we were young, taking a hit off a joint or ripping the bong was a routine part of a kickback. But as the years have gone, more friends in my rotation are skipped, citing that weed now makes them severely anxious. I continued being the high friend, but I also started experiencing anxiety after consuming what used to be a comfortable dose.
With these developments in my life and the experience of taking an innumerable amount of psilocybin and droppers of LSD, I often ponder on the similarities of these anxious moments.
In my time on the cannabis beat, I’ve talked to a bounty of experts and scientists, and the consensus is that the plant brings us back to equilibrium. Many posit this is a function of cannabis compounds interacting with the endocannabinoid system. From there, I imagine that we all have levels of cannabinoids in individual ratios.
That could explain why everyone has unique experiences when consuming the same product. Our bodies could all be reaching for different ratios to find equilibrium.
When long-time connoisseurs start to get anxious after consuming high-THC products, could the anxiety be a sign that we’ve already achieved balance? Perhaps the same products that used to be perfect now push me beyond.
Is this anxiety just part of getting older and having 14,345 more responsibilities, or has the cannabinoid concentration in my body changed?
Leaving cannabis-induced anxiety behind
No, I don’t think consuming cannabis is the same as dropping acid or drinking shroom tea. I do, however, think that the experiences I’ve had with the latter have guided my relationship with weed.
A change in cannabinoid concentration would explain some mechanisms behind the reinvigorating effect of a tolerance break. It would also mean that choosing products with different cannabinoid content may quell anxiety.
But alas, I’m not a scientist, just a journalist with a philosophy background who loves to smoke weed. So while I can’t tell you whether any of this pontification is true, I hope it provided food for thought that no longer consume cannabis due to anxiety. Maybe it’s just time to switch up the ratio.