Marijuana has steadily gained popularity over the past few years. As it is 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 normalized, and it seems this trend is set to continue.
One downside of this increased acceptance is a surge in hospital admissions due to marijuana overdose. Most of these cases are adults who have overstepped their limits or children who have accidentally stumbled across their parent’s supply.
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 marijuana is used in combination with alcohol or other substances.
These effects are mainly due to THC, the compound that gives weed its intoxicating properties. Over the past few decades, the THC content of cannabis has gradually risen. These days it is not uncommon to find strains containing over 20% THC, enough to affect even a seasoned user.
Potent products such as wax and shatter make it easier to overdose on cannabis than ever before, especially if you’re new to the scene.
It is also possible to buy concentrates such as wax and shatter with a THC content of over 90%. These potent products make it easier to overdose on cannabis than ever before, especially if you’re new to the scene.
When it comes to getting too high, another common culprit is marijuana edibles. When you smoke cannabis, your high is likely to peak within 30 minutes. However, when you eat the substance, it has to make its way through your digestive system, which 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 they are not getting high. So, they eat more.
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 Is a Potentially Lethal Cannabis Dose?
The effects of being too high are by no means enjoyable. However, you are highly unlikely to die from a marijuana overdose due to the ridiculous amount it would take. For the record, scientists use a measure called the ‘median lethal dose’ for the chemicals we use. They call it the LD50 rating. It outlines how much of something we’d need to ingest to die at least 50% of the time.
There have not been any human studies on the lethal dosage of THC for obvious reasons, 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 140 pounds (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 marijuana 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?
In 1988, a DEA administrative law judge named Francis Young ruled that it was practically impossible to overdose on cannabis. He stated that a smoker would have to theoretically consume almost 1,500 pounds of cannabis in 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.
Overall, estimates on cannabis’ LD50 vary from 1,260mg of THC per kilogram of body weight to 666mg/kg. The lower estimate means a 175-pound man would need to consume 53 grams of THC at once. For reference, nicotine’s LD50 is 60mg/kg!
Possible Marijuana-Related Deaths
Despite these findings, there are claims that people have died from cannabis overdoses. A story in the New Orleans Advocate in 2019 claimed that a woman died from vaping THC oil. The coroner said that there was no evidence of any other drugs in her system barring THC.
However, it turns out that up to 60 people died during the vaping epidemic that occurred around this time. Most victims used black-market THC oil and likely died due to chemicals such as vitamin E acetate in the liquid.
In 2019, doctors wrote a letter that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. In it, they reported a case of a man injecting 330mg of THC into his system and subsequently overdosing. However, he lived to tell the tale.
In 2014, a student named Levy Thamba plunged to his death from a hotel balcony in Denver after eating six times the recommended amount of a THC cookie. Witnesses described him as having hallucinations and acting bizarrely before his tragic death.
In 2017, Michael Ziobro died from a heart arrhythmia. Medical examiners found traces of cannabis in his blood, and his family is convinced the substance is responsible for his death. Yet the examiners admitted they couldn’t say that cannabis was involved in the young man’s sudden death.
Is Marijuana Really Safe?
Cannabis is also listed as a contributing factor in numerous other deaths. Annual reports from the American Association of Poison Control Centers show several deaths where cannabis was used with other substances, most often amphetamines or opioids.
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 cannabis, you are 20–30% more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle crash.
Several studies indicate there could be a greater risk of workplace accidents while high, although the evidence is somewhat inconclusive.
Overall, however, there is no conclusive evidence that you can die from being too high. Nonetheless, excessive usage of the substance can result in a myriad of adverse reactions. In some circumstances, you may need to seek medical attention.
It is usually a case of overstepping one’s boundaries. Between 2013 and 2014 in Colorado, for example, ER visits involving cannabis use doubled. It was the first year of full legalization in the state, and most people who ended up in emergency rooms due to excessive cannabis use were tourists.
Now, let’s check out the kind of issues you could have when using cannabis.
Symptoms of Marijuana Overdose
The symptoms of marijuana overdose occur as a result of THC overacting on the body’s endocannabinoid system. This system comprises receptors 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 cannabis. This is something to bear in mind if you have a pre-existing cardiovascular disease or other risk factors.
Symptoms of cannabis overdose in children include drowsiness, agitation, vomiting, seizures, and coma.
The number of children admitted to hospital following accidental marijuana consumption has also risen 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 marijuana or your child consumes some, getting to the emergency room is a worthwhile precaution.
Another serious side effect of excessive usage is cannabis-induced psychosis. This can lead to extreme paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations and could increase the risk of suicide or accidental death. The sad case of Levy Thamba is one such example.
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. Let’s check out six of them below.
1 – Know Your Limits
Even the most experienced users can recall when they went over the top and suffered the consequences at least one time. However, you can easily avoid some of the less enjoyable effects of cannabis by approaching things at a slow and steady pace.
By having a little bit at a time, you can more easily gauge when you feel like enough is enough. This is especially true with edibles.
2 – Remember, It’s All in Your Head
One of the most common issues with smoking too much weed is that it usually hurts how we think about things. Rational feelings and thoughts can often give way to bouts of intense anxiety, paranoia, and general distrust. Around 20-30% of cannabis users report that they have felt this way at some point after smoking cannabis.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the environment you are in at the time, the intensity of these negative thoughts will vary. It is often the case that episodes of extreme anxiety can last anywhere between several minutes to a few hours. However, it can be terrifying and distressing during this time.
For this reason, it is so important that you understand the majority of what you are feeling is all in your head. You may be experiencing physical sweats and a faster heart rate, which can often exacerbate the way you think. However, any hallucinations, anxieties, or feelings of paranoia are just a fabrication of your mind.
Once you understand that the way you feel is temporary and mostly in your head, you will control your thoughts and feelings more easily and avoid getting yourself into a worse state.
3 – Find a Safe and Relaxing Space
Finding a moment or an area to be quiet and relax in can make a huge difference in how you feel. Also, practice controlled breathing in through the nose and slowly out through the mouth. This process will help bring your heart rate down, which should directly impact some of your other symptoms, such as sweating and anxiety.
4 – Drink Water
Consuming water will improve your hydration and give your mind something familiar and comforting to focus on, therefore distracting it from any unpleasant thoughts.
If you are not a fan of water, try a fruit juice like orange or apple juice. We wouldn’t recommend anything that contains caffeine as this can cause anxiety to worsen.
Also, suppose you are suffering from the feeling of being too high. In that case, we advise you to avoid alcohol while using cannabis. It isn’t wise to add any other intoxicating substances to the mix.
5 – Secret Ingredient
According to Neil Young: “Try black pepper balls if you get paranoid. Just chew two or three pieces.” Apparently, there are similarities in how cannabis and black pepper bind to the body’s cannabinoid receptors. This means black pepper can combine with marijuana to create a calming effect!
6 – CBD Oil
CBD has been shown multiple times in scientific studies to counteract the effects of a THC-induced high. This is why an increasing number of medical patients opt for strains higher in CBD than THC or at least have a 1:1 ratio. Therefore, if you ever feel too intoxicated with THC, try consuming CBD oil.
Can You Die from Getting Too High? Final Thoughts
Although many people think of marijuana as safe, there are some risks associated with its use, especially high THC strains and edibles. In most cases, the side effects are short-lived and not cause for significant concern. Drinking some water and resting in a familiar spot is usually enough to get you back on track.
If you get too high, you might feel like you are dying, but the chances of this happening are very slim!
However, there are some potentially dangerous side effects. 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 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 happening are very slim!