Can You Overdose On Marijuana? | Myth Vs. Fact
The amount of cannabis required to cause a human fatality is hundreds if not thousands of times greater than a typical recreational dose of the drug. Nevertheless, excessive marijuana abuse can lead to overdose symptoms such as illness, panic, psychosis, and serious heart rate and blood pressure increases that may be cause for medical attention.
In 2020, the number of Ohio residents who died from drug overdoses rose 25% from the year before, reaching a new and tragic all time high of 5,017.
The majority of these deaths were related to knowing or unknowing use of the hyper-potent opioid drug fentanyl, with most of the remainder attributed to heroin, methamphetamine, and alcohol.
Marijuana, however, does not appear on this list in any form, despite its widespread abuse and ability to cause serious and disturbing overdose symptoms.
Marijuana Overdose Myths
There are many myths surrounding cannabis use, many of which are intentionally misleading with the goal of either defending the substance or demonizing it on individuals or society as a whole.
These myths include assertions that:
- marijuana causes fatal overdoses and kills numerous young people each year
- marijuana cannot cause an overdose in any form
In truth, over-consumption of cannabis can indeed cause non-fatal overdoses, and although the drug has a very low toxicity, it can contribute to medical emergencies and personal harm in other ways.
Defining Drug Overdose
The definition of a drug overdose can vary from use to use, but in general it refers to any excessively large dose of a drug that, when taken, causes harmful physical or psychological effects.
This is different from a side effect, which occurs as a secondary effect of the drug at its normal dosage, or an adverse effect, which occurs when a person has an unusual or contrary reaction to a drug.
Accordingly, blacking out or vomiting under the influence of alcohol is considered a drug overdose, just like having a psychotic episode after taking high doses of methamphetamine or losing the ability to breathe due to over-consumption of opioid drugs.
Of course, overdose is also very often used to more narrowly describe severe and life-threatening situations, especially those related to potent opioids/opiates and stimulant drugs.
Marijuana Overdose Toxicity
Based on the lethal dosage of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis), it would take a minimum of 3,200 to 10,400 mg of THC to kill an adult human in North America.
This intentionally low estimate is between 640 and 2,080 times more than a normal dose of THC at 5mg.
Marijuana Overdose Symptoms
If a person takes an excessively large amount of cannabis relative to their body weight and tolerance, marijuana intoxication can include a variety of non-lethal overdose symptoms, some which can be disturbing and send individuals to emergency rooms in a panic.
These overdose effects can include:
- nausea and vomiting
- intense feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and fear
- panic attacks
- physical and mental impairment (judgment, perception, and coordination)
- tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- chest pain
- short-term psychosis, a serious abnormal mental state that can bring on vivid hallucinations, delusions, mental confusion, and detachment from reality
These symptoms may take hours or, in rare cases, days to resolve, depending on how the drug was ingested and how much of it was taken.
Risk Factors For Marijuana Overdose
There are a number of different factors that can increase the effects of marijuana use and make cannabis overdoses more likely to occur.
- using varieties of cannabis with especially high THC concentration
- mixing cannabis with other drug use, including alcohol, prescription painkillers (opioids), sleeping pills (benzodiazepines), and illicit substances
- ingestion of cannabis in the form of marijuana edibles
Marijuana Edible Overdose
Recreational use of edible cannabis products like brownies, candies, and gummies can oftentimes increase a person’s risk of overdose relative to smoking or vaping for a few reasons:
- these marijuana products are favored by those who don’t take cannabis often
- they can easily be mis-dosed with unusually high levels of THC
- because the effects of the drug are delayed while being absorbed in the digestive tract, people will often take extra doses in a short time period
- marijuana edibles can be taken by accident by people who don’t realize what they are really eating
Other Risks Of Marijuana Use
Other potential risks associated with cannabis use include:
- substance use disorder, also referred to as marijuana addiction
- permanent negative effects on brain development and IQ when the drug is used regularly by adolescents
- decreased mental health, as cannabis use can contribute to depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, and psychotic episodes
- impaired attention, coordination, and judgment, which can result in accidental injury or death from driving under the influence, drowning, falling, etc.
- cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), a condition involving severe and persistent bouts of vomiting and illness
- lasting negative effects related to pregnancies and breastfeeding infants
If you or a loved one have been experiencing negative effects from unmanageable cannabis use, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center today to learn about our personalized addiction treatment programs led by experienced, compassionate Ohio healthcare providers.
- Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Marijuana and Public Health https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects/poisoning.html
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/cannabis-marijuana
- National Library of Medicine: StatPearls https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430823/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/marijuana