St. Johns Wort & Cannabis
Citation: harmreduxer. "Caution Unpleasant Reaction After Vaporizing: An Experience with St. Johns Wort & Cannabis (exp104992)". Erowid.org. Sep 28, 2021. erowid.org/exp/104992
I recently got a new vaporizer to spare my lungs from the toxic products of combustion. I use cannabis quite a bit, sometimes compulsively, so this really became a necessity for me as I learn to gain more control and exercise choice in my use through a harm reduction modality. Bong hits were literally making me asthmatic. But this is not a tale about weed, at least not the weed you're thinking of. This is a cautionary tale about a different weed that many people also consider an innocuous and natural medicine: St. John's Wort (SJW). Just to note before beginning, I had used benadryl in a normal antihistamine dose a few days before this experience, but other than that was using no other drugs at the time aside from cannabis.
So, I had gotten excited about vaporizing different kinds of herbs as a way to cut down on my cannabis intake, and since I struggle with depression and anxiety, I thought SJW was a good place to start because it is well known as a natural anti-depressant. While it is natural, it is also highly pharmacologically active, and great care must be taken when using it with other serotonergic substances/foods. While I found this warning out there, warnings of acute toxicity from SJW alone are practically nowhere to be found (except in livestock). My vaporizer even came with a list of recommended herbs to vaporize and SJW was at the top of the list. It's also one of the first herbs mentioned on forums discussing non-cannabis herbs to vape. I now see this oversight as extremely irresponsible, and frankly am confused about why others have not had or have not reported similar experiences to the one I had.
The amount that I used did not seem like a lot to me. I threw a couple pinches in my grinder with my herb, and put that all in the vape. It was an average sized bowl. In retrospect it would have been smart to only take a couple draws and wait until at least the next day, but I wasn't expecting any potential toxicity and I liked the taste, so I kept vaping until it was mostly done. I got high from the cannabis, but had a more clear-headed high because it was a lower dose than I had been using, and perhaps even as a result of the SJW. It took a couple hours before I started to notice feeling strange in a way I clearly couldn't attribute to cannabis.
I began to feel restless (or energetic, depending on how you look at it), and had a strange sensation in my belly and head that I feel like is most accurately described as 'neurological astringency', but is really hard to accurately describe. It was like a sensation of tightness or butterflies in my stomach. It reminded me vaguely of sensations I've gotten from other drugs, from LSD to poppy tea, but not totally akin to anything I've felt before. At first I just thought it might be because I had been eating a lot of bread and cheese, but I later firmly established that my physical symptoms would get worse every time I ate. The first night I didn't know what to make of it, and I didn't have any trouble sleeping.
The second day was the worst. I got up really early for work, which wasn't that hard (it can sometimes be tough, especially because my depression is often worse early in the morning). I didn't feel super hungry, but ate anyway. I was feeling strange, but didn't think it was anything to worry about. By the time I made it to mid-day, I would normally have been quite hungry, but wasn't hungry at all. I made myself eat a bit anyway a few hours later than I normally would. I then became very fatigued and light-headed. I was having almost fever-like chills and extremely sensitive skin. The feeling of my clothes on my body was sometimes even irritating. The weird internal sensation continued to shift around the regions of my belly and head. Friday is a long work-day for me and by the time my shift ended at 9pm I was so grateful to go home and rest. At this point I was convinced I had 'poisoned' myself with SJW.
The third day my symptoms were still present, and still getting worse whenever I ate. This was super frustrating because I also felt like I needed to eat to give my body nutrients, but didn't have an appetite either. The worst of it, though (the feverish symptoms), seemed to be a little better than the day before, so I was grateful and hopeful. By the fourth day things had definitely noticeably subsided. My appetite started coming back. I felt more comfortable in my body. I still had some physical symptoms, but I was pretty sure I was over the hump, and I was happy about that.
I had, in my spare time, started to do as much research as I could about SJW. I had found that my symptoms were actually not that far off from the symptoms ruminant animals display when they graze pastures with too much SJW (loss of appetite, sensitive skin, restlessness). I started trying to protect myself from the sun because SJW can supposedly make animals, and sometimes people, photosensitive. In animals this can potentially even be lethal in bad cases; I was scared. But people take large doses of SJW extract orally and daily, how could this tiny amount of vaporized SJW have had such a profound effect? I still don't understand this, but it was definitely not placebo, I was miserable. I couldn't find any actual reports of people vaping SJW when I looked into it, only suggestions that it might be a good idea (fools!). I did find reports of smoking, with no untoward effects noted. I postulated that perhaps something is broken down, both by the liver in oral ingestion and by combustion when smoking, that when vaporized stays intact and was causing my acute toxicity. Or maybe I am just really sensitive to SJW? Some things you will never know...
I did find one report of a teen who had taken 15 capsules of SJW daily for 2 weeks and had to be admitted to the hospital as a result. I also heard anecdotally from a friend about someone they knew who took about a whole bottle thinking it was safe because it's natural and then 'had a pretty bad time for a while, not permanently though.' These stories were validating to me, even though I was still confused. I eventually reached a point where I decided I would stop saying I had 'poisoned' myself, because I wasn't really sure exactly what had happened, and because I had started to develop an appreciation or respect for the experience I had. I felt that it challenged my ignorance and hubris, gave me respect for the power of plant medicines, and temporarily rearranged my priorities in a way that I actually really value in retrospect. That being said, though, I do not want to repeat this experience.
The half-life of the experience I had seemed to be a bit more than a day, so it was not unreasonable for it to drag on for a few days.
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