Marijuana Overdose: Can You Die From THC?

marijuana overdose

The topic of Marijuana overdoses is both simple and complex. If you’re looking for a quick answer scroll down just a bit to the first paragraph. If you’re looking for something specific you can use the links below to jump around the page, but I hope you’ll read through the whole article. Enjoy!

Can You Overdose On Marijuana?
How Many People Have Died From Weed?
     Edibles
     Colorado
Cannabis Death Hoaxes
Effects, Symptoms, & Signs of Over-Intoxication
     Anxiety (Panic) Attack / Heart Attack
     Physical Symptoms
     Mental Symptoms
Treatment / Antidote
Emergency Rooms
911 Call
Can Dogs Overdose On Marijuana?
Fake/Synthetic Marijuana

Can You Overdose On Marijuana?

The quick and short answer is: No, you cannot overdose on marijuana. If that satisfies your curiosity then you’re good to go, but if you’re anything like me, a yes or no answer just doesn’t suffice. Keep reading my friend. I have a lot more to say on this topic.

First off, let’s talk about what an overdose means. For the context of this article I refer to an overdose simply as a lethal or toxic amount of a drug. For example, if you were to do too much heroin you could overdose and die. If you drink too much alcohol you can overdose, get alcohol poisoning, and die. BUT, the beauty of cannabis is that you cannot take a lethal amount of it like you can with other substances. Here’s why…

Each substance affects the body differently. More specifically, different drugs are received through different parts of the body. For example, opioid drugs like heroin and morphine are absorbed through receptors in the brainstem. This is also the part of the body that controls essential functions like breathing. This causes people who take too much heroin to stop breathing and die.

Cannabis (more specifically THC and other cannabinoids) is absorbed through cannabinoid receptors which aren’t located in the brain stem meaning a lethal dose is not possible(source). While the receptors don’t occur in the brainstem they do appear throughout most of our bodies – the brain, organs, tissues, and more (source). The important thing is that they aren’t affecting any essential functions like breathing.

Now, this certainly doesn’t mean that there haven’t been death associated with marijuana. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t take in too much cannabis and experience an unpleasant experience. I’m going to talk about all of that…

How Many People Have Died From Weed?

Related deaths are a whole different ballgame, and also much more difficult to nail down. For instance, if someone gets into an automobile accident while high is it definitely the weed to blame? Would the accident have still happened in they weren’t high? This is why it’s difficult to say if the deaths are truly related to cannabis or not. *For the record, I am very against driving under the influence of weed or any mind or body altering substance.*

Edibles

A large amount of the alleged related deaths are from edibles. This is because they do not hit you right away like smoking. People often take some edibles and don’t feel the effects, so they take some more. By the time the high sets in they’ve taken too many doses and can’t handle the high. This can lead to an accident caused by loss of motor skills, or could cause suicide induced by anxiety and paranoia. Now, of course, these deaths are cause by actions taken while high on weed, and not the weed itself. These deaths are rare.

Colorado

Since legalizing recreational marijuana Colorado has had all eyes on them to assess the effects. For the most part, everything has gone by smoothly. There have been a few instances in the news where deaths have been attributed to cannabis consumption. REMEMBER, just because the news blamed cannabis doesn’t mean it’s truly at fault. All of the situations below are very complex and may involve other substances, preexisting mental disorders, and other outside influences.

  • March 2014 – Levy Thamba Pongi was a student from the Republic of Congo who was studying abroad in the U.S. After ingesting marijuana cookies he became irrational, aggressive, and eventually jumped off the balcony of his hotel room. (source)
  • April 2014 – Kristine Kirk was fatally shot by her husband after he ingested marijuana edibles. (source)
  • March 2015 – Luke Goodman commits suicide by gunshot after ingesting more than 5x the recommended dose of edibles. (source)

Cannabis Death Hoaxes

For whatever reason, cannabis related death hoaxes have become popular among the satirical websites. Since so many people don’t read beyond the headline it starts to spread misinformation as actual fact. For instance, huslerz.com did an article claiming 59 people had died as a result of cannabis. Now, if anyone reads even the first paragraph they would know that the article is meant as a joke, but let’s face it – people are stupid and believe any headline they read. Snopes.com also put out a fake article that has received an absurd amount of traction.

Effects, Symptoms, & Signs of Over-Intoxication

Like I said earlier, you can’t die from taking in too much cannabis. You can, however; have an unpleasant experience that may include both physical and mental effects.

Anxiety (Panic) Attack / Heart Attack

Anxiety and heart attacks could fall under the physical symptoms section below, but it’s such a common questions that I thought it should have its own section.

It’s important to note that an anxiety attack, also known as a panic attack, is very different from a heart attack. Many people mistake some symptoms of a panic attack for a heart attack so it’s good to know the difference. This sort of thing is a bit out of my wheelhouse so you can learn more about the differences here.

Let’s start with panic attacks. It is certainly possible for someone to have an anxiety attack if they ingest too much cannabis. The actual amount is going to vary greatly among individuals. Often, it is someone who is already prone to have anxiety attacks, however; this is not always the case. In the event you or a friend has an anxiety attack it’s good to know the procedure for calming someone down. Again, I have no business giving out medical advice so here’s an article from someone much more qualified to comment on the topic.

Now, heart attacks are a whole different story. Most importantly – they can be fatal. I have not been able to find any evidence of a person having a sudden heart attack directly related to cannabis consumption. But, that’s not the whole story. There have been some studies suggesting cannabis can lead to heart attacks. I have my doubts about the study (there were only 124 cannabis smokers in the whole study), but the truth is right now we just don’t know enough about the long-term effects. In the end, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have a heart attack from smoking cannabis unless you were already predisposed for heart disease. Of course, if you believe you are having a heart attack always call you local emergency response number.

Physical Symptoms

  • Loss of Motor Skills – Slowed Coordination
  • Dry Mouth
  • Pupil Dilation
  • Red / Burning Eyes
  • Decreased Verbal Skills
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Shaking
  • Chills / Sweats
  • Disorientation
  • Upset Stomach

Mental Symptoms

  • Short-term Memory Loss
  • Paranoia / Fear / Anxiety
  • Loss of Energy
  • Lack of Focus

Treatment / Antidote

If someone smokes too much weed then you’ll need to get them in a relaxed and comfortable state. Make sure they can breathe well. If they’re inside or in a crowded space try to get them outside. Also, make sure they stay hydrated by giving them a glass of water. There’s really not a whole lot to it. You just have to remain calm, and wait it out. You can always contact emergency personnel, but there’s not much else they can do for you.

Emergency Rooms

Like I just said, you can contact medical help if you use too much cannabis, but there’s not much they can do to help you. Since legalization, Colorado has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of people coming into emergency rooms seeking treatment for cannabis. In extreme cases you may be given a sedative to help calm down, but most the time they are just going to talk you down. Note: I live in Colorado so there’s no legal ramifications to admitting to smoking weed. If you’re living somewhere it’s illegal it could be a different story. With that said, I don’t think anyone should ever feel uncomfortable going to the emergency room. If you think you have an emergency then by all means get some help.

911 Call

A 911 call got pretty famous for a couple reasons. First off, the audio itself is kinda funny knowing that he’s going to be just fine. A man who shared some pot brownies with his wife called into 911, and told the operator he thought he was dying. What really puts this call over the top is the fact that it’s a Michigan State police officer who obtained the weed through criminal suspects. I’m not crazy about the annotations in the video below, but it’s the best full copy I could find.

Can Dogs Overdose On Marijuana?

Marijuana effect animals differently than it does humans, but can cannabis be lethal to your pet? It is possible for a dog to die from eating to much marijuana, but it’s highly unlikely, and they would have to ingest an insane amount (like a pound of pure THC). The vast majority of pets who ingest marijuana may get sick and have a bit of a ‘bad trip’, but they’ll recover just fine (source).

Now, that doesn’t mean that other ingredients in edibles won’t kill them. For instance, chocolate bars or brownies can cause major damage. Just keep your pot somewhere that pets (and kids for that matter) can’t get to them.

Fake/Synthetic Marijuana

Honestly, I don’t even like talking about synthetic marijuana, because it’s absolutely nothing like actual marijuana, but it’s a popular topic that needs to be discussed. So, I’m going to touch on it very briefly. In case you don’t know synthetic marijuana is a bunch of chemicals sprayed onto plant material that is supposed to mimic the effects of cannabis.

Manufacturers use pretty much whatever chemical they think works. There are no regulations so they’re free to put whatever crazy chemicals they want. Unfortunately, there have been many actual deaths directly from synthetic marijuana. Since each batch is different the causes vary, but synthetic marijuana typically turns fatal because it causes you to stop breathing. (source) It’s because a problem across the globe. It’s my personal belief that as cannabis is legalized it will push out these other dangerous ‘legal highs’.

That’s all I’ve got folks. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

 

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