marijuana overdose

In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen a rise in the number of states that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In the last decade we’ve even seen some states approve of marijuana for recreational use as well, taxing it in a similar fashion that the states tax alcohol. As of 2020, marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 11 states, and a further 21 have legalized marijuana for medical uses.

As we know, just because a substance is made legal, it does not mean it is completely without risks. We know that alcohol and prescription drugs can both have dire consequences if consumed in an irresponsible manner. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug overdose as an incident “when a person uses enough of a drug to produce life-threatening symptoms or death.” By this definition, it is not possible to overdose on marijuana. At the time of writing this article, there have been zero documented cases attributed to the consumption of marijuana alone.

While a fatal overdose of marijuana is extremely unlikely, this doesn’t mean that marijuana use can’t have some extremely adverse effects.

To understand how and why some of these adverse effects may occur, it is important to know how the psychoactive components of marijuana affect the brain.

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The Science Of Cannabis Use

The reason why marijuana still remains a controlled substance in much of the country is because it contains mind-altering compounds that can affect both your brain and body.

The main psychoactive component of marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC is what is known as a cannabinoid. The human body produces its own natural cannabinoids in the form of chemicals called anandamide and arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) as part of the body’s endocannabinoid (EC) system. The EC system is found in many areas of the brain, which explains why it affects so many different functions of the body. Different cannabinoids exert their influence by regulating how cells send, receive, and process messages. In most cases cannabinoids act as a buffer, slowing down the communication between cells, leading to a number of different physical and psychological impairments.

When someone consumes marijuana, THC enters the brain through the bloodstream and attaches itself to the cannabinoid receptors that make up the EC system. The body’s EC system is finely tuned to react appropriately to incoming information. When an outside source enters the EC system, such as THC from marijuana, it can prevent the natural chemicals from doing their job properly and throws the whole system off balance. This leads to the common side effects of marijuana.

While weed contains no physically addictive compounds, there is still potential for mental and emotional dependence so marijuana treatment services are helpful. 

Method Of Marijuana Ingestion Matters

Marijuana is consumed in a number of different ways. Each different method of ingestion can cause THC to enter the bloodstream at vastly different rates and concentrations. As more medical and recreational marijuana shops open up across the country, people have more access to different forms and potencies of marijuana.

People consume marijuana in the following ways:

  • Eating “edibles,” such as brownies, gummies, cookies or candy
  • Eating or smoking marijuana extracts, or potent THC resins (hash oil, honey oil, wax, or shatter)
  • Orally ingesting cannabis capsules
  • Smoking the dried flower in pipes, bongs, blunts, or rolling papers.
  • Sublingual (under the tongue) THC tinctures, or adding it to food or drink

When marijuana is smoked or vaped, it enters the bloodstream by way of the lungs, leading to very rapid transmission of THC to the brain and near-immediate effects. The effects of marijuana products vary greatly when consumed orally. When eaten, THC is introduced to the bloodstream through the stomach and intestinal lining.

The rate of which the effects of marijuana can be felt when using this method can often be unpredictable. Everyone metabolizes food at a different rate; because of this the strength of marijuana’s effects can be impossible to anticipate. Eating marijuana products can easily lead to overconsumption of THC and many adverse effects.

Symptoms Of Weed Overdose

As mentioned above, fatal overdose on marijuana is extremely unlikely. This doesn’t mean that irresponsible marijuana use can’t have some very uncomfortable negative side effects. Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for when dealing with potential marijuana overconsumption:

  • Panic attacks or severe anxiety
  • Psychotic reactions in which the person loses touch with reality
  • Hallucinations, delusions, or loss of personal identity
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Elevated heart rate, chest pain, elevated blood pressure, or palpitations
  • Uncontrollable shaking or even seizures
  • Pale or flushed skin color
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Headache

Signs and symptoms of overdose can last longer depending on method of THC ingestion. When smoked, the symptoms of marijuana intoxication typically last from anywhere from 1 to 3 hours. When ingested in the form of “edibles” or drinks, these effects can last hours longer.

Dangers Of Polysubstance Use

We’ve established the unlikelihood of fatal overdose on marijuana alone, but when used in conjunction with other mind-altering substances, it can create more serious issues. Polysubstance use is a term that refers to the use of two or more physically or mentally impairing substances at the same time. Certain combinations of drugs can be fatal.

The most common example of polysubstance use involving marijuana is mixing the drug with alcohol. When used together, alcohol and marijuana work in tandem to further impair judgment and motor skills. This combination of drugs is one of the leading factors in automobile accidents that involve intoxication.

What To Do When You’ve Ingested Too Much THC

While the over-consumption of marijuana alone has never been shown to have fatal consequences, it can induce the very uncomfortable side effects mentioned above. There are things you can do to help keep yourself calm until the effects of marijuana run their course in your body.

  • Remaining calm is key. To avoid a panic attack or similar undesired effects, it is very important to remain calm and remind yourself that what you’re experiencing is temporary. Reassure yourself that you will feel better in 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Find a relaxing, quiet place to wait out the effects of marijuana. It can also be a huge help to have a trusted person by your side during the difficult parts of marijuana intoxication. This can help you avoid paranoia and calm your mind.
  • Distract yourself by putting on a favorite movie, television show, or album. Even having conversations with trusted people can help distract you from the negative effects of marijuana intoxication.
  • Taking a shower can be a relaxing experience that may help you ride out any negative feelings.

Using Marijuana Safely And Responsibly

It is important to respect marijuana as a powerful drug and to acknowledge that it has the potential to induce some very serious negative side effects. It’s very easy to prevent the overconsumption of marijuana by following the guidelines below:

  • Abstain from or lower the amount of marijuana used.
  • Educate yourself about the potential dangers of polysubstance use, especially marijuana’s interaction with alcohol. It’s best to avoid this combination and any other drug combinations.
  • Be aware of a decrease in tolerance after a period of marijuana abstinence. This can easily lead to marijuana overconsumption.
  • Know the importance of staying hydrated when consuming marijuana.
  • Educate yourself on the potential health conditions that can be exacerbated by marijuana use.

A common belief is that marijuana “kills brain cells”, which we at Vertava Health have explored in-depth. 

Wide availability of legal marijuana is still in its early stages so we understand the importance of spreading quality information. 

Marijuana Overdose FAQs

  • How much marijuana does it take to overdose?

While it is impossible to “overdose” on marijuana by strict definition, it is easy to overconsume the drug. Everybody metabolizes marijuana differently so it is difficult to say how much marijuana will induce negative effects. A good rule to follow is to consume very small amounts of marijuana initially until you learn how your body metabolizes the THC.

  • What happens if you overdose on marijuana?

Some negative effects of marijuana overconsumption include severe anxiety, paranoia, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, headache, and panic attacks. These symptoms are not fatal but can certainly be very uncomfortable.

  • How to treat a marijuana overdose?

It is important to remain calm while experiencing the overconsumption of marijuana. Be sure to remind yourself that its effects are temporary and will pass. Finding a quiet place to wait out the effects of marijuana overconsumption can help to quell its negative side effects.