Some background: The event was triggered by smoking one hit of marijuana. I have used it for years without issue. There had been changes in my perception leading up to the event in the last few years, likely due to my meditation practice: heightened bodily awareness and sense of subtle sensations. The effects of marijuana had already seemed to interact with these changes prior to the event, I would feel even a tiny dose lingering for hours and often find my thoughts racing and difficulty sleeping.
The experience of the episode was an extreme anxiety that felt different than any anxiety experienced before. I was in the car with a few friends when it happened, and it felt similar to what I’d experienced on a bad trip of acid. I felt intense fear, so much that I thought I was going to lose my mind and go psychotic (although I didn’t know what that would even look like).
Perceptually, I felt hyper aware and overloaded with sensory perceptions, that I was becoming unglued from reality, and it also seemed I was viscerally seeing how my sense of reality was constructed from my sense perceptions, something that was terrifying in that moment. Additionally, my awareness of mental images was extremely strong and almost intrusive. I had a fear that there was more fear lurking that would explode.
These effects lasted for 3 weeks on and off, where the same panic would come on with no clear trigger and last for a few hours as I tried to calm down. The first week I would feel it almost once a day. The fact there was no trigger was especially worrying. After 3 weeks, the panic attacks faded, although I do sense the fear is still a place I could return to if I’m not careful.
- Having a plausible mental framework to put the experience in, beyond just that I was going crazy. I had a deep fear that meditation had “damaged” my mind and I was going psychotic, due to stories I’d read. Framing this instead as possible resurfaced trauma or an insight event and discussing this with therapist and meditation teacher helped bring a more curious, detached mindset and feel less alone.
- Hearing about other meditator’s experiences and how they’ve recovered, helped it feel less esoteric and more mundane. Hearing that meditation in the long run has overwhelming improved people’s mental health.
- Maintaining agency. Discussing with meditation teacher a toolbox of mitigations like walking, breathing, focusing on the body, calling someone, eating, and going outside helped me at the very least let me feel I had some control over the situation, even if I had no idea what was going on. And trying all of them was a good way to stop over focusing on the fear.