It’s not common, but it happens: You share some cannabis with friends, everybody’s having a good time, but then somebody gets too high. Way too high. They’re freaking out.
What do you do?
There are a lot of potential remedies. Some are familiar. Others may surprise you. The main things to remember: Help your friend seek calm, quiet places. Stay with them and offer confident reassurance. Encourage them to nap.
We reached out to professionals and amateurs, all of whom had one thing in common: They’ve been there to help when someone got too high. They told us what worked and what didn’t.
Their answers have been edited for concision.
First, Prevent a Bad High
Michael Backes, the author of Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana, suggests pre-dosing with CBD. “There’s evidence from scientists in several countries that CBD basically works like the seatbelt for THC,” Backes says. He recommends 40 to 60 milligrams of CBD before smoking to counteract the negative effects of too much THC.
A dose of CBD might help assuage the anxiety of a THC high, but Backes cautions that adding CBD after the fact won’t be so effective. Unless you took it beforehand, “you’re kind of on the rollercoaster.”
We asked amateurs about preventing the freakout. Not all live in legal states, so we’ve blinded their names to allow them to speak freely.
Calvin: Talk to your budtender. “Tell them what you like and don’t like about getting high. Listen to their suggestions. When they say, ‘No, that crispy rice treat is not for you,’ by all fucking means listen to them.” Gina: Stay within the dosage that works for you. “Knowing that 3 to 5mg is my ideal dose gives me a lot of insight into how to actually enjoy an edible. If you’re like me, when you want to hit a mystery preroll at a party, let yourself have one puff. Wait 20 minutes before deciding to take another. Don’t worry about looking like a party pooper or lightweight. Just know yourself.”
Richard: Read the label. “I had a friend who had a cookie with a big bold ‘10mg’ on the wrapper. Okay, no problem, he says, and eats the whole cookie. While he’s hanging out waiting for it to kick in, he reads the info on the back of the label: ‘10mg per serving. Servings per cookie: 12.’ Oops.”
Sheilagh: CBD can rein in the wilder aspects of THC (like paranoia), so stay within a THC: CBD ratio that works for you. “I carefully watch the THC: CBD radio and go for higher CBD content.”
Ned: Before you imbibe, have good friends by your side. “Years ago I was at a house party where Superstar DJ Keoki was spinning. Things were starting to pop off, and a four-foot bong got passed around. I took one hit and promptly passed out. I woke up at 6 a.m. to Keoki spinning to a group of whacked-out ravers. Lesson: Make sure you got people who will watch your back whilst you freak out, or at least won’t fuck with you when you’re vulnerable.”
How to Calm a Freaked-Out Friend
What I heard from a lot of people who’ve tended to an overly high friend was this: Stay with them, calm them, talk to them in a soothing voice, encourage them to lie down, give them a comforting pillow and blanket. Continue to assure them that they’re safe and the high will pass in time.
Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist and the author of The Pot Book, one of the classic resources on cannabis, spent nine years working the psych ER at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. She advises holding or hugging your friend (within appropriate and consensual boundaries, of course), or stroking their upper arms in a technique known as Havening. “These actions will increase oxytocin, which will help put their parasympathetic nervous system in ‘tend and befriend’ mode instead of ‘fight or flight’ mode.”
Other tactics: Breathe, sing, or chat together with your troubled friend. “Practice exhaling longer than inhaling,” says Holland. “Close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nostrils, or through your left nostril only.”
One remedy that Neil Young swears by is chewing two or three black peppercorns. And science seems to bear it out. A study in the British Journal of Pharmacology by Dr. Ethan Russo, director of research at the International Cannabis Institute in Prague, found that there’s synergy between cannabis and black pepper. The terpenoids in pepper and the tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis work together in the brain to create harmony—in medical terms, “phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effect.”
Our experienced amateurs offered other measures of counsel.
Denise: Go home, lie on the couch, and watch comforting sitcoms. “I got too high on edibles one time on my way to an Oakland A’s game. I ate them on an empty stomach. On the way to the stadium, I couldn’t even look out the window. I was hiding in my seat. Finally I said to my friend, ‘I cannot go to a stadium. I have to go home and sit in front of the TV and watch Friends until I feel normal again.” And that is exactly what she did.
Melissa: “Lemon water and crunchy pepper crackers always work best for me. Plus a little quiet.”
Lora: Offer soothing distraction and reassurance. “I worked for a bit in the ‘bad acid’ tent at Woodstock. With one patient, I held her and rocked her and told her she was loved. She finally fell asleep. With another, I distracted her with some wildflowers. Once she began to adore the flowers, we started singing, and eventually walked back to the concert area together.”
Create a Cozy Nest
Amanda: Talk your friend into a comfy little nap nest. “A friend of mine ate too much of an edible before boarding a plane home. She texted. ‘Should I get on the plane? Am I just too high?’ We talked her onto the plane and told her to create a little nest for herself in her seat. ‘Remember that you are a little fish and you are now safe in your nest,’ we told her. She made it home safe and sound.”
Kevin: Focus on breathing together. “Slow, deep, controlled and deliberate breathing. Inhale and exhale.”
Cathy: Calm your friend before she calls an ambulance. “Years ago, my roommate decided to eat an old pot cookie tucked away in the freezer. She got so spacey that she called herself an ambulance. Later she told us she had to move out because she was so embarrassed that all the neighbors saw her taken away on a stretcher.”
Nature Works for Some People
Larry: If your friend is an outdoor person, get them into nature. “Years ago I was losing my shit in LA, high as fuck. A friend took me into the Angeles National Forest. Calmed me right down. True, I ate six pounds of bark. Worth it.”
And finally we have this advice from Tim, who counsels all who are not too high to read the situation and improvise to help the too-high friend.
Tim: “I don’t recall if it was brownies-induced paranoia or acid, but one time an athlete at Reed College freaked out and sprinted across the big lawn toward a busy street. His out-of-shape classmates couldn’t catch him. But one was smart. He shouted, ‘Greg! You have no legs!’ Greg looked down, crumpled to the lawn, and was rescued and comforted.”