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Teens, Marijuana, and Depersonalization

The search for self in the time of cannabis parlors.

Posted Jul 17, 2018

A teen smokes weed and ends up with a disturbing experience of an alarmingly strange shift of existence. They lose reality and the old familiar self, and find themselves in a changed, removed world of frightening unreality.

No, it is not just another exciting turn of an altered state of consciousness. It is a mental disorder called depersonalization and derealization. Visit a teen social network, open a marijuana users’ chat or go to a depersonalization forum—this story will come up again and again.

Depersonalization can occur after the first joint or months of using marijuana. A mild beginning feels like “weird vertigo that just needs to be slept through.” Acute onset with the “annihilation of self” and a “dark abyss” can lead to the emergency room. Sometimes, depersonalization resolves itself in a few days or weeks. But, unfortunately, it often turns into months or years of torment.

The relationship between depersonalization and marijuana is not clear. The specific cause of depersonalization is unknown. Marijuana does not directly cause depersonalization. The majority of people who use marijuana never experience depersonalization. However, many people with depersonalization develop it for the first time after using marijuana. This happens most frequently during adolescence and young adulthood, between 12 and 28 years of age.

This ambiguous kinship between adolescent age, marijuana use, and the development of depersonalization links to the process of personalization: Awakening of awareness of “I” and searching for identity. Adolescence includes a youth identity crisis with questioning, “Who am ‘I’?” and overwhelming self-analysis. This intense development makes adolescence’s personalization unstable and susceptible to de-personalization. Some scholars distinguish a youth transient depersonalization–fleeting elements of mini-depersonalization that is normal for adolescence.

Marijuana is traditionally seen as a medium to explore personalization by gaining access to hidden parts of the self or world. Many marijuana-induced experiences balance on the edge of depersonalization. Cannabis might provoke the dissociation of “I” into “I”–acting, and “I”–observing these actions “as if from outside.” Marijuana blurs the boundaries between “I” and the world, and unpredictably toys with the senses, including depersonalization-related senses of reality, time, and space. Marijuana also powerfully affects anxiety, sometimes increasing anxiety to a psychotic level.

Depersonalization is the negative form of personalization: Unreality of self in a removed and foggy world intensifies self-analysis that, in turn, increases the frightening experiences of detachment. When teens with fragile personalization use marijuana that targets this personalization, depersonalization might emerge.

The exact motivation that drives teens to cannabis remains a rhetorical question. Interpersonal conflicts, yearning to be accepted by peers, loneliness, anxiety, academic problems, concerns about appearance, depression, failure to find a meaning of life, shame, envy, guilt, or just boredom and craving for some excitement.

And here comes marijuana–an easy and promising refuge from the adolescent trap between the shame to be “nobody as everyone” and the shame to “be different.” Marijuana seems like a ticket to a club where, if dreams don’t come true, then at least pain flies away. However, for some teens, this ticket might turn into a ticket to marijuana-induced depersonalization.

Frightening and stressed by depersonalization, many teens blame themselves for “sin” or the “transgression” of taking marijuana. Suffering from depersonalization is aggravated by humiliating self-accusation, shame, and guilt. Sometimes family and friends contribute their bitter measure of reproaching.

The teens who are in this difficult situation need understanding, trust, and help to re-build self-respect. Self-respect–a healthy opposite to shame–forms a foundation of solid, stable, and authentic personalization. Self-respect creates powerful responsibility, not destructive guilt. Self-respect gives power to accept true responsibility for one’s own actions, based not on fear of punishment but on care for oneself and others. Self-respect gives freedom to understand one’s own actions and their consequences. This helps teens make free choices and take full responsibility for the results.

The motivation to use cannabis is framed by the social-cultural context. Illegal marijuana had the appeal of “forbidden fruit,” so attuned to adolescence’s zeal of opposition. The current legalization of marijuana with the growing business of cannabis parlors attracts young adults by convenience and safety, but also turns them into consumers influenced by advertisements.

Teens’ interest in marijuana is easy to understand. This is a puzzling substance with a puzzling effect on the human psyche. There have been many attempts to solve this puzzle. In the middle of the 19th century, the eminent French psychiatrist Moreau de Tours founded the notorious Paris Club of Hashish-Eaters. De Tours believed that studies of Hashish-induced experiences would help to reveal the mystery of mental pathology. The greatest names of French culture frequented the Club. They described their experiences, including hashish-induced depersonalization, in their works. T. Gautier’s The Hashish-Eaters Club and C. Baudelaire’s The Poem of Hashish depicted “disconnection with reality,” “foreign body,” “fog in the head,” and other depersonalization signs. Both poets felt disappointed, concluding that hashish-induced experiences led to a loss of self rather than to self-actualization.

More than a century later, during the golden hippie era, American psychiatrists researched the potentials of marijuana, strongly supporting its medical benefits. On the West Coast, an iconic name was Oscar Janiger, who was especially interested in depersonalization. On the East Coast–the eminent Lester Grinspoon. His “marijuana sessions” were frequented by the legendary poet Alan Ginsberg and the legendary astronomer Carl Sagan. The investigations of De Tours, Janiger, Grinspoon, and many other researchers did not find answers but raised new questions about the marijuana enigma.

A teen smokes weed and ends up with a strange shift of existence, not just another turn of an altered consciousness; It is the disorder of depersonalization and derealization.

Depersonalization and Drugs: What You Need to Know

Last updated on November 1, 2020 By Swamy G

If your depersonalization is a result of consuming weed, using psychedelics, or any prescription or recreational drug withdrawal, don’t worry. Thousands of people have gone through this illness and come out on the other end.

What is the relationship between depersonalization (DP) & derealization (DR) and drugs? I’m talking about both recreational and prescription ones.

One can sometimes consume a drug (like marijuana/weed), have an adverse reaction to it, and develop DP after that. On the other hand, people who withdraw from certain drugs (both prescription and non-prescription) can also develop depersonalization. Let’s go into more detail.

Depersonalization from Weed

With even a little bit of research, one can come to the conclusion that this is the most common way that many become depersonalized in the first place. What we see in the media and culture these days is that weed, or marijuana, is portrayed as a chill party drug. These days, consuming marijuana has become well accepted in the mainstream. It’s often portrayed as making people mellow (or docile), or even creative.

While all of that is true, what we often don’t hear about are the stories of thousands of people who experience an adverse reaction to consuming pot and becoming depersonalized after that.

Many young people (and even a few adults) smoke their first marijuana joint or eat a pot brownie without knowing how it is going to affect them.

Suddenly, they may feel disconnected from reality, feel that everything has become alien to them. The world seems bizarre and unreal. They realize they have no way to control or stop these effects. These effects get stronger and stronger as more and more of the THC molecules bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This leads to experiencing bouts of anxiety. Anxiety experienced while high on weed is felt way more intensely than at normal times.

Within a few minutes, the anxiety can turn into panic as they try desperately to calm themselves down. Without proper guidance, people can then try to fight their way out of the fear that’s building up. They don’t realize that such fighting only creates more fear. This ultimately culminates in a panic attack.

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What then happens is that the person becomes traumatized. One starts to feel dissociated and disconnected from themselves. This is a normal reaction to a panic attack. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA), which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the “bible of psychology,” states that dissociation (depersonalization and derealization) is a common side effect of a panic attack.

People who experience this after consuming weed try to sleep it off, hoping that when they wake up, they will feel normal again. But when they wake up, they find that the effects still linger.

Then, the worrying starts. This leads to more confusion and fear, which causes more stress to the body and the mind. This continuous stress sustains the DP/DR.

What needs to be done at this point is to stop worrying and let the DP/DR gradually dissipate. But due to lack of knowledge, they can aggravate the situation by constantly fighting the DP and treating it as a threat.

They, then, enter a state of hypervigilance. In this stage, people are always on the lookout for threats. People tend to feel unsafe at all times and can become hypersensitive to even small changes in the way they feel. The body and the mind enter into a survival mode. In this mode, people unconsciously feel that their survival is under threat. This leads to constant worry, anxiety, dread, and dissociation (depersonalization and derealization).

Want to know what to do if you’ve found yourself in this situation? Keep on reading.

Depersonalization from Psychedelics

Psychedelics (also known as hallucinogens) are compounds that produce non-ordinary states of consciousness. These may include alterations in mood, disconnection from normal reality, enhanced audiovisual perception, and at times, even mystical experiences.

A vast growing body of research suggests that psychedelics can indeed be used to treat disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, migraines, and end-of-life anxiety.

Psychedelics also have the potential to produce long-lasting alterations in personality and thinking. These can sometimes be positive. Someone who is troubled by depression their whole adult life can sometimes be free of it after just one therapeutic session with LSD.

But at times, their use can also bring up challenging material from their unconscious. This is what is known colloquially as a “bad trip.” If a person who experiences them is a novice and is not supported properly, such “bad trips” have the potential to negatively affect one’s well-being for days or even months after the initial consumption.

This can result in the same trauma that the person who has an adverse reaction to weed experiences. Here, too, a person becomes dissociated and can’t seem to shake it off.

Not only that. There are reports of people who do not experience any such “bad trips,” but nonetheless, do find that their relationship to reality has been altered after their psychedelic session. In some cases, the effects don’t show up until after a few days or weeks have gone by.

Such drug-induced spiritual emergencies are common and have been documented by the work done by the transpersonal psychologist Stan Grof and his wife, Christina Grof. These states, though not often psychotic in nature, are characterized by a break with reality. People may feel like they are in a dream. Often, they encounter thoughts about existence, time, the universe, life, and death, and may start to lose interest in everyday, mundane activities like going to work or making small talk.

Withdrawal from Prescription Drugs

One of the most common types of prescription drugs used to treat anxiety disorder is benzodiazepine, or benzos, as they are informally known. Popular brand names such as Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan are all benzos.

Though people who use them report some relief from anxiety and related symptoms, they also report experiencing intense anxiety and dissociation when tapering off them or quitting cold turkey. These benzo-withdrawals can sometimes result in mood swings, brain fog, and depersonalization and derealization.

If the person keeps fighting this experience or tries to suppress the withdrawal symptoms, it can result in a stress-depersonalization feedback cycle. The constant stress and worrying can bring about depersonalization, which can create more stress and worry, thus keeping the cycle going.

Withdrawal from Recreational Drugs

I’ve even had a case with one of my clients, who was abusing recreational drugs, becoming depersonalized after deciding to get clean by himself. In a very unfortunate scenario, this person developed DP/DR after trying to quit drugs cold turkey. I must say that this is just an anecdotal experience and I wasn’t able to find more cases like this in a scientific study.

It’s always a good decision to not abuse any drug (prescription or recreational), and adequate precautionary steps should be taken while tapering off. It’s best to check yourself into a rehab clinic while trying to get off of drugs or consult a trained psychiatrist before trying to quit cold turkey.

Here’s What You Can Do

If your depersonalization is a result of consuming weed, using psychedelics, or any prescription or recreational drug withdrawal, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Thousands of people have gone through this illness and come out on the other end.

Know that whatever you are experiencing is a normal reaction to the trauma and stress that you’ve been going through. The best thing to do would be to not fight DP and its related symptoms.

Learn more about acceptance and how it can help. It’s what I recommend to find your natural way towards recovery. This whole website is chock-full of information about how to work your way out of depersonalization and anxiety without the use of any drug.

At this point, stay away from abusing any medication or recreational drug. It’s not going to help you. It’s ok to consume medication as prescribed by a psychiatrist or a doctor, but do not go over the recommended dosage.

To achieve recovery, you must also be ready to face these feelings, however unpleasant they are. The way to recovery is through these feelings and not around them. It’s by repeatedly exposing ourselves to these fearful feelings that we tell our body and mind that there is no real underlying threat.

Once the body and mind understand that there’s nothing to be afraid of, they will slowly get back into balance. Your DP will start to dissipate. But this happens gradually, so practice patience and be willing to give the time it takes for DP to weaken.

If you feel you’d like some help with this, check out DP No More: A complete DP/DR recovery program.

Hope whatever you have learned in this article has been helpful. Leave a comment and let us know if your DP/DR was drug induced. I wish you the very best in your journey towards recovery.

Image Credits

Images are from Pixabay.com, and from Artist Alex Grey.

About Swamy G

Hi, I’m Swamy. I was once a depersonalization & derealization sufferer. After my recovery, I trained to become a certified counselor to help people recover from DP/DR, anxiety, and panic disorder. On this website, I share all the resources you need to overcome depersonalization, derealization, anxiety, and panic. If you feel like you could use some help and guidance along the way, do check out DP No More.

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If your depersonalization is a result of consuming weed, using psychedelics, or any prescription or recreational drug withdrawal, don't worry. Thousands of people have gone through this illness and come out on the other end.