How Hospitals Treat Marijuana ‘Overdose’?

Marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in nine states, plus Washington D.C. In total, the herb is legal either medically or recreationally in 30 states (31 if you include the District of Columbia). As a result, tens of millions of American adults now have easy access to Mary Jane. At the same time, marijuana is getting stronger as breeders successfully experiment with new hybrids. It is normal for a strain to contain more than 20% THC, the psychoactive compound that causes you to get ‘high.’

Even though more states are making cannabis available, it is common for first-time users to lack basic knowledge of the herb. This is one of the reasons why legendary activists such as Dennis Peron were pro-medicinal marijuana but against recreational use. The combination of poor education about weed increased availability, and markedly stronger weed means overconsumption is possible.

Super Strength = Unexpected Side Effects

Colorado was the second state to legalize marijuana recreationally, and physicians say they have seen a sharp rise in overconsumption cases. Dr. Eric Lavonas works at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center and the Denver Medical Health Center. He says that he sees 3-4 overconsumption cases per week. Hardly an epidemic, but still a noteworthy trend.

One of the biggest reasons for a spike in such cases is the stronger weed that’s now available. While there may have been 20%+ THC marijuana available in the 1970s, it was next to impossible to find. Today, in states where marijuana is legal, 20% is close to the average! It should go without saying that such potent strains WILL have a significant effect on a new user.

According to physicians like Lavonas, the vast majority of overconsumption cases involve edibles. Remember, most incidents involve first-time users; when such an individual uses an edible, they are irritated by the lack of immediate effects. It seems that many of them don’t realize that edibles can take up to two hours to provide the desired effects. They eat an edible, feel no noticeable effect after a few minutes, and decide to eat some more. At this stage, they are into ‘overconsumption’ territory, and when the weed takes hold, it completely overpowers their senses.

Will I Die From Over-Consumption of Marijuana?

The first thing you must remember is that ‘overconsumption’ is NOT the same as an ‘overdose,’ in the sense that your life is in danger. All chemical substances are potentially deadly if taken in a high enough dose, and marijuana is no different. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all approved medicines to have an established toxicity level (also known as an LD50). This measurement is the amount of any given drug it would take to kill 50% of test subjects.

In general, the LD50 measurement test is carried out on female lab rats. For example, if 200 rats were given 2,000mg of Paracetamol and 100+ of them died, we could say that Paracetamol’s LD50 is 2,000mg. To be clear, it is theoretically possible to overdose on marijuana (and there have been claims that people have died from “weed poisoning”), but you would have to consume far more cannabis than is realistically possible.

In 1988, Judge Francis Young famously ruled that marijuana was far safer than many of the foods we consume in “strict medical terms.” For instance, did you know that eating ten raw potatoes could elicit a toxic response? He cited research which stated that marijuana’s LD50 was approximately 1:20,000 to 1:40,000.

In other words, an average-sized man would have to consume at least 20,000 marijuana cigarettes in a 15-minute spell to induce a lethal response.

A more recent 2014 study by Hartung et al., published in Forensic Science International, reported that the LD50 of marijuana in humans was 30 mg/kg. This means a 150-pound man would need to consume two grams (2,000 mg) of pure THC to be in danger of overdosing.

In most states, you won’t even find edibles with more than 100mg of THC. In theory, you could be placing yourself in danger if you eat 20 such bars. In practice, however, no one is foolish enough to eat so much THC chocolate (but even a quarter of one 100 mg bar could be enough to cause certain negative side effects).

What Happens When You Over-consume Marijuana?

Symptoms of marijuana “overdose” vary according to each user, and depend on numerous factors including:

  • The amount of THC consumed
  • Your tolerance to the cannabinoid
  • Your age, gender, and Body Mass Index
  • Whether you have existing health problems

One of the most common situations is for a user to be overwhelmed by the physical and mental effects of marijuana. A lack of experience means they panic when their body and mind act ‘unusually.’ As a result, symptoms of panic set in such as labored breathing, vomiting, and nausea.

Other common side effects include anxiety and paranoia. In rare cases, when a patient has gone way over the top with consumption, they can become psychotic. Hospital treatment depends on the type of symptoms and their severity. For example, a patient with vomiting and nausea may require IV fluids for hydration and anti-nausea medications. For agitated patients, a sedation medication such as a benzodiazepine may be required.

However, in many cases physicians realize that the best option is to calm the patient and give them time to ‘come down’ from their high. Lavonas spoke about a case where a man who was eating in a fast food restaurant after smoking weed called 911 after feeling as if he was about to choke. Once he arrived at the ER, it was determined that he was suffering from nothing more than anxiety and cottonmouth. The attending physician even told the man to finish eating his burger! After allowing the patient time to calm down, the doctor sent him home.

Final Thoughts on Marijuana Overdose (Or More Appropriately, “Over-consumption”)

It is important not to confuse the term ‘overconsumption’ with the term ‘overdose.’ Although it is technically possible to overdose, it is not something that has reliably been confirmed in recorded history.

There are some claims that people have died from marijuana poisoning, but there are no official cases of a cannabis overdose – ever.

Even so, you should not assume that it is okay to go wild with potent cannabis. If you exceed your tolerance level, it is entirely possible that you’ll suffer from rather unpleasant side effects. These can include things like anxiety, paranoia, vomiting, and extreme nausea.

If you are not used to consuming marijuana, be careful! This is especially the case with edibles where it is all too easy to over-consume THC. After a while, the ‘high’ can become too much for you to bear. Before you know it, you’re clutching your Whitecastle sliders in an ER wondering how the hell you got there. Please – don’t be that guy. Use marijuana sensibly, and be responsible — for all our sake!