A lot of marijuana these days is bred for high potency. This is partly due to the pressure of Prohibition- since the law treats mild marijuana the same as strong pot, and the penalties escalate by weight, it makes logical sense to concentrate the active ingredient into as small an amount as possible.
Unfortunately, that really isn't the best way to regulate the effect- especially when smoking it. Smoking pot is the way to get it into the system fastest- it tends to get into the system and hit the neural receptors very quickly.
In the old days of seeded, less resinous pot, this wasn't much of a problem. But nowadays it's often been bred so strongly that it've very concentrated. That means that the effects can come on very strong, very fast. People who smoke it all the time are used to it, and don't notice the effects that much. But if you only smoke now and then and you smoke the powerful stuff, it can be very disorienting. That's what tends to lead to the panic attacks.
So the best thing to do is to only smoke a small amount. I can tell you, a small amount these days can be something like 1/2 of a puff. One or two hits won't make you too terribly high, but you're better off just exhaling fairly quickly. And that really should be plenty, if you aren't a regular enough smoker to be used to it.
You might want to tell people in advance that you get a strong reaction from weed and only want one or two hits.
The other part to keep in mind is that most of what causes the panic is disorientation- time tends to expand so much that you may forget what you're saying halfway through a sentence, or find it hard to keep track of conversation, etc.
If this starts happening, the key is to give it a few minutes. It's even okay to tell the people you're with that you need a few minutes to get oriented.
After 10 minutes, you should be fine. You'll still be high, but the edge will be off. And you can have a little more later on, if you feel like it. The big transition is from the state of not being high to being high. After that, it usually isn't nearly as much of an issue unless you smoke and smoke.
This really did not used to be nearly as much of a problem in the 1970s! It's from all of the superstrong pot these days.
If the people you're with keep trying to force you to smoke more than you want, they're behaving really rudely. They may not be the best people to be high around, in fact. You want to be with people who care about you. People who do fun things after they're high, not just lie there on the couch.
Same with drinking- it seems that there's always a crowd that wants you to drink to get smashed. Bad idea. Wrong people.
In my opinion, you either drink or smoke pot- not both. One beer is okay when you're high on pot, or two in two hours with a meal. I don't recommend using even a small amount of alcohol and driving.
If you're drunk, any amount of pot can give you the spins- as in tossing your cookies, big-time.