Is Your 'Weed Hangover' Really Depersonalization Disorder?
Weed hangovers are super common.
That feeling of your weed hangover lasting all day, or feeling still high after you’ve slept, is something that even the most experienced smokers can sometimes encounter.
But what happens when that feeling just keeps going?
How long can a weed hangover last? Hours, days?
Can a weed hangover last a week? Or even longer?
If you’re still experiencing feelings of being high long after the weed should be out of your system -- and especially if you’ve had a bad or frightening weed experience --
It’s very possible that what you’re now experiencing is not the effects of the weed, but the symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization.
First, let's remember that we’ve all been there.
Last night you smoked a lot. Maybe too much. Or the strain was way stronger than you expected.
Or you took two edibles instead of one, and they both hit you at the same time. Maybe you ‘greened out’ and felt sick, or the psychoactive effects were just too much.
And now it's the next day and you might be feeling symptoms like:
Fatigue or Grogginess
Dry, red eyes
Short-term memory impairment
Even the most careful weed consumers can sometimes underestimate the strength of a strain and find themselves dealing with a weed hangover the following day.
If you’re still feeling high after you’ve slept, it can be a disconcerting experience. But generally, a weed hangover should be short-lived and can be remedied with food, hydration, a (cold!) shower and some coffee.
But what if that feeling of being high still doesn’t go away? How long can a weed hangover last? What if days or even weeks later, you still feel like you’re high?
In that case, it’s possible that what you’re experiencing is not a weed hangover, but the symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization (DP/DR).
Depersonalization and Derealization are characterized by a feeling of disconnection from your surroundings and from yourself.
You may feel like the world looks and feel strange and unfamiliar. You may experience brain fog and racing thoughts.
Your vision can also feel like it’s been affected, and everything can feel like it’s in 2D, or like you’re seeing reality from behind a pane of glass.
As frightening as it can be, DP/DR is extremely common, and well recognized as a transient symptom of anxiety and panic. In fact, it’s often referred to in psychology as the airbag for the mind.
It’s like the mental equivalent of heart palpitations and muscle tension. It’s part of your body and brain’s fight-or-flight response, your ancient evolutionary reaction to stress and anxiety.
75% of people will experience Depersonalization and Derealization at some point in their lives (yep, it’s that common!)
However, what can sometimes happen is that people focus on the feeling of disconnection while it’s happening, and panic that it means that something is wrong (they’re going crazy, etc).
This can lead to compulsive checking on the thoughts and feelings, which prevents them from fading away naturally (which is what they’re supposed to do) and causing them to last for much longer than they should.
It essentially creates a feedback loop between a symptom of anxiety (the feelings of DP/DR) and the anxiety that's causing it to happen.
This process may sound complicated, but it's actually quite simple and very common, and it’s the basis of all anxiety-based conditions. And DP/DR, like all anxiety-based conditions, can have all sorts of different triggers: panic attacks, work stresses, etc etc.
But if the trigger is a bad weed experience, it can create a particularly confusing situation.
Because the experience of being high and the experience of DP/DR are, arguably, kind of similar!
Think about it -- When you’re high on weed (or other drugs), it can feel quite dreamy and floaty and disconnected, like you’re looking at reality from a distance.
And with DPDR, the effect can be something similar.
The big difference is, however, that on weed that feeling can be quite lovely. It’s relaxing, music sounds great, food tastes amazing, and you can’t stop laughing.
With DPDR, however, it can feel terrifying. You haven’t taken anything but you still feel ‘high’. You’re trying to concentrate on work, study etc, and you have this persistent feeling of disconnection.
Where this becomes a BIG problem is when you’ve had a panic attack ON the weed.
Maybe you greened out, maybe you accidentally took too much, or the strain / edible was way stronger than you had anticipated. But you’ve had a panic attack, and now you’re experiencing the feelings of Depersonalization and Derealization -- maybe even days after smoking the weed.
You should be completely straight and sober -- And physically you're ok!
But you feel like you're not here mentally. You're feeling floaty and disconnected.
And what you assume is that these feelings are still happening because of the effects of the weed.
You worry that greening out has caused trauma in your mind.
You start to panic that you’re somehow still high and you can’t come down, that the THC is still in your system, that you took so much that you’ve fried your brain.
You’re asking yourself panicked questions like ‘Why do I still feel high after I slept?’, or ‘Can a weed hangover last a week?’ or , when what’s actually happening are the lingering effects of Depersonalization and Derealization.
If you’re not sure that what you’re experiencing is a weed hangover or DPDR, ask yourself these questions:
Has enough time passed that the weed is completely out of your system?
Are you still experiencing feelings of disconnection, like you’re still high or dreaming?
Are you experiencing feelings of intense anxiety, fear and discomfort?
If you have answered ‘Yes’ to all three, it’s likely that what you’re experiencing is not the effects of the weed, but the symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization.
It can be a terrifying experience.
And it’s a lot more common than you might think. As the legalization of weed continues and younger people are exposed at earlier ages, the tendency towards overwhelming, terrifying experiences is increasing.
Add to that the fact that the strains are being engineered to be incredibly strong. The experience of a teenager smoking pot in the 1970s is very different from a kid today who is smoking potentially weapons-grade weed for their first experience with the drug.
They're expecting fun, laughter and relaxation and what they get is a terrifying, near-total loss of reality that lasts for hours.
This can of course lead to total panic -- and the triggering of Depersonalization and Derealization.
What can also happen is a delayed effect:
You can have the scary weed experience, but come down and feel shaken, but ok.
And then days, even weeks later, you might have another panic attack.
And often, the scariest thing about that second panic attack is that it feels like you’re back in that ‘weed headspace’ of disconnection and racing thoughts, even though you haven’t taken anything.
As frightening as all of this can be, it’s important to remember that it’s temporary and harmless.
The feelings of disconnection that occur with DPDR can feel terrifying and disconcerting, but they are part of your body and brain’s natural and correct response to stress and anxiety.
It’s your brain’s anxious response happening at the wrong time, that’s all.
But This Can’t Just Be Anxiety...?
One of the most common responses you’ll hear when discussing DP/DR is:
“But this can’t just be anxiety. I’ve felt anxiety before and this isn’t it. I feel floaty and disconnected. I literally feel like I’m in a dream, like my vision has been affected. This can’t just be anxiety!”
I hear you! In fact, I used to think the exact same thing.
But here’s the thing -- everything you’re experiencing and describing, IS 100% consistent with anxiety -- it’s just a different LEVEL of anxiety to what you’re used to.
Your reference points for anxiety are experiences like a college exam, asking someone out on a date, a work presentation, etc.
But what you encounter in a bad weed experience is much closer to fight-or-flight anxiety, which is the worry that you are literally going to die, or go crazy, etc.
And that carries with it a completely different group of symptoms; one of which is the feeling of intense Depersonalization and Derealization. And with a bad weed experience that can go on for hours and hours.
The Intensity of a Bad Weed Experience
This is something that we need to mention too: Just how terrifying a bad weed experience can really be.
With the legalization of weed (and the celebration of that change!), there can be a railroading of some of the risks and dangers of the drug. And especially with young people, they may feel pressure to just take the drug, regardless of how unprepared or inexperienced they are.
And a bad experience on weed can be VERY frightening!
I’ve had enough bad weed experiences over the years to recognize the feeling when it starts to go wrong -- the creeping realization that you’ve taken too much, the you don’t know how high you’re going to get or when it’s going to stop, the rolling memory loss, the inability to focus on anything, the rollercoaster of thoughts that just…. keeps… going!
Even if you’ve had plenty of green-outs over the years, it’s never a pleasant experience.
Although with experience, you can at least remind yourself that however bad it is, you’ll be fine in a few hours. But if you’re young and not very experienced, and particularly if you’re smoking very strong weed and don’t know what to expect, you can really feel like you’ve just been cut off from reality, floating in space with no lifeline back to Earth.
With edibles, this can be even more intense, as the delayed reaction (relative to smoking, which is pretty much immediate) can be quite confusing. You might take one Gummy Bear, wait an hour, feel nothing, and take another one.
But what you don’t realize is that the reason the first one has taken so long is that your body is still digesting that pizza you had for dinner -- and once that’s done, the effects of both Gummies hit you - hard! - at the same time.
It can be an absolutely overwhelming experience, the discussion of which sometimes gets lost in the wave of positivity that has come with the legalization of Marijuana.
In fact, because of the decades of hyperbolic demonization of weed, and the failed ‘War on Drugs’, it can seem regressive to even mention the fact that weed had some risks associated with it, and that a bad weed experience can be terrifying.
I've even sometimes had people reacting angrily on my social media for even mentioning the well-accepted fact that weed can trigger intense feelings of anxiety.
But of course weed, just like all psychoactive drugs, carries with it a set of risks.
It’s not regressive to acknowledge that!
Personally, I’m all for the legalization of weed, I think it’s a very good thing -- and I’m also all for an open conversation about the risks of the drug, especially for people who may be younger or inexperienced with the drug and its effects.
In fact, the more that we can talk about those risks, the more that we can raise awareness of conditions like weed-induced DP/DR, which will help people to identify it quickly, and not spend time trying to fix a supposed 'weed hangover' -- that's not actually happening because of weed.
Because the sooner that someone understands that DP/DR (regardless of what triggered it) is completely harmless and completely temporary, the sooner they can start on the road to recovery.