Marijuana has been steadily gaining popularity over the past few years. With the herb now legal for medicinal and recreational use in an ever-increasing number of states, people’s opinions on cannabis are changing almost as rapidly as the law. What was once considered an illicit activity to be carried out in secret is now becoming more and more normalized, and it seems this trend is set to continue.
One downside of this increased acceptance is that there has been a surge in hospital admissions due to marijuana overdose. The majority of these cases are adults who have overstepped their limits, or children who have accidentally stumbled across their parent’s stash.
So just how serious is marijuana overdose? Can you die from getting too high? Let’s take a look.
How Much Weed is Too Much?
Most people who use cannabis will have experienced the unpleasant effects of being too high. ‘Greening out,’ as it is affectionately known, can lead to feelings of anxiety and paranoia, dizziness, and nausea. These effects can be especially pronounced when weed is used in combination with alcohol or other substances.
These effects are mainly due to THC, the compound that gives weed its psychoactive properties. Over the past few decades, the THC content of cannabis has been gradually rising. These days it is not uncommon to find strains containing over 20% THC, enough to get even a seasoned smoker well and truly baked. It is also now possible to buy concentrates such as wax and shatter whose THC content is higher still. These potent products make it easier to overdose on weed than ever before, especially for those who are new to the scene.
When it comes to getting too high, another common culprit is marijuana edibles. When you smoke weed, your high is likely to peak within 30 minutes. However, when you eat cannabis, it has to make its way through your digestive system, and that takes time. Because of this, edibles can take as long as 2–4 hours to reach their full effect. It is a common, rookie mistake for people to become impatient after eating edibles and think that they are not getting high. So, they eat another.
It may take a little while, but when the combined effects of these edibles eventually kick in, the high can be too much to handle. Sometimes the only thing to do in this situation is lie down and sleep it off. What a waste!
Although the effects of being too high are by no means enjoyable, you are highly unlikely to die from a marijuana overdose due to the ridiculous amount of weed that this would take.
For obvious ethical reasons, there have not been any human studies on the lethal dosage of THC, but there have been studies on various animals, including dogs. One such study found that when taken orally, a total of 3g of THC per kilogram of body weight constituted a lethal dose.
To put this figure into perspective, let’s imagine that the dose was the same in humans. A person weighing 140lb (63.5kg) would need to consume 190.5g of THC for the dose to be fatal. Therefore, if you had a strain that contained 20% THC, you would need 952.5g of weed in order to overdose fatally. That’s over 33 ounces!
Even if you happened to have this much marijuana hanging around, how could you possibly get through it all in one go? Even the most hardcore potheads would undoubtedly find this a struggle.
Symptoms of Marijuana Overdose
Although you are unlikely to die from a cannabis overdose, there are certain circumstances where you should seek medical attention if you get too high.
The symptoms of marijuana overdose occur as a result of THC overacting on the body’s endocannabinoid system. This system comprises receptors which are designed to bind with our body’s endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide. THC has a similar molecular structure to these chemicals allowing it to bind with these receptors and cause profound effects on our bodies and minds.
Because of the way it affects the endocannabinoid system, THC can have some potentially dangerous side effects. These include respiratory depression, increased heart rate, and a higher than average risk of heart attacks. It is estimated that the risk of heart attacks is as much as 4.8 times higher than usual within an hour of consuming weed. This is definitely something to bear in mind if you have a pre-existing cardiovascular disease or other risk factors.
The number of children admitted to hospital following accidental marijuana consumption has also been rising in recent years. Reported symptoms of cannabis overdose in children include drowsiness, agitation, vomiting, seizures, and coma. These side effects are not necessarily fatal, but early treatment is a must.
So, although cannabis is unlikely to kill you directly, it does have some potentially dangerous side effects. In some cases, these could be fatal if left untreated. Therefore, if you experience severe chest pain after smoking or eating weed, or if your child manages to get their hands on some, getting yourself to the emergency room is a worthwhile precaution.
Another serious side effect of too much weed is cannabis-induced psychosis. This can lead to extreme paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations and could increase the risk of suicide. In one case, marijuana was listed as a contributing factor in the death of a Colorado teenager who jumped from the fourth floor after consuming a cookie containing 65 mg of THC (the legal limit being 10mg per serving). Although it is impossible to say exactly what was behind this tragic incident, it seems likely that THC at least played a part.
Other Marijuana-Related Deaths
There have been no concrete reports of deaths resulting from marijuana use alone, but in some cases, it has been listed as a contributing factor. Annual reports from the American Association of Poison Control Centers show that there have been a number of deaths where cannabis was used in combination with other substances, most often amphetamines or opioids. There have also been a few deaths where marijuana was consumed alone, two in 2012, and one in 2014. Unfortunately, no further details are published in the reports, so it is impossible to know whether marijuana was solely responsible or other factors were to blame.
One major area of concern is that cannabis can impair coordination and motor skills, increasing the risk of accidents both in the workplace and on the road. Research suggests that while under the influence of weed, you are 20–30% more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle crash. There are also several studies that indicate there could be a greater risk of workplace accidents while high, although the evidence is somewhat inconclusive.
In any case, it is wise to avoid taking part in potentially dangerous activities while high, just to be on the safe side.
What Should You Do if You Get Too High?
If you get too high and begin to feel unwell, there are several things you can do to help yourself. Firstly, it is important not to panic. You might feel terrible now, but if you stay calm, it won’t take long to feel like yourself again.
Stay hydrated while you’re high by keeping a large glass or bottle of water close by and taking small, regular sips. Many people also find that eating something helps them to recover from the side effects of too much weed, so keeping some snacks handy is a good idea.
There have also been reports of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, helping to balance out an extreme high. CBD is available as an oil which you can drop under your tongue, edibles, capsules, and topical creams. However, CBD oil is the fastest acting of these products, and therefore most suitable for counteracting unwanted THC side effects.
If all else fails, put on some relaxing music, lie down, and take a nap. The chances are you will feel much better when you wake up.
Can You Die from Getting Too High? Final Thoughts
Although many people think of marijuana as being safe, there are some risks associated with its use, especially high THC strains and edibles. In most cases, the side effects of weed will be short-lived and are not a cause for significant concern. Drinking some water and taking a nap is usually enough to get you back on track.
However, there are some potentially dangerous side effects to be aware of. There is a risk of developing respiratory issues, heart problems, or psychosis, although these are uncommon and usually affect people with pre-existing risk factors. There is also the increased risk of accidents while you are high, but these can be avoided by using common sense and staying away from dangerous situations.
For most people, there is no need to worry about overdosing on marijuana. If you get too high, you might feel like you are dying, but the chances of this actually happening are very slim!