According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is the most-abused drug in the United States, and it is particularly popular among young people.1 Overall, modern marijuana is considered to be more potent than it was 20 years ago,2 which can lead to accidental overdoses. Users who eat edibles containing marijuana may consume more marijuana than intended since they take longer to digest and the onset of intoxication is delayed.1
Additionally, “dabbing” is a new form of marijuana use that consists of smoking resins that contain high levels of THC. Dabbing is a dangerous practice and may be responsible for rising emergency department visits due to marijuana use.1
An overdose on marijuana is dissimilar to overdoses on other drugs because marijuana consumption, in and of itself, is not life-threatening. But using too much of the drug can have hazardous results, which may increase the risk of death.
For instance, someone who consumed a lot of marijuana may be unaware of his or her environment, which can lead to accidents or falls. Furthermore, marijuana intoxication has been linked, in some studies, with psychosis,3 a condition in which the individual is disconnected with reality, typically resulting in hallucinations, delusions, or extreme paranoia. A person who is having a psychotic episode may put him or herself in dangerous situations due to confusion or detachment.
Another factor that can lead to overdose is mixing drugs. When buying marijuana on the street, you never know what it could be laced with. Dealers have been known to lace marijuana with other drugs, such as PCP, crack, or cocaine, without informing the buyer.2
Further, some users may intentionally mix marijuana with other drugs to enhance the high. This practice also increases the risk of adverse effects and overdose.
Typical Marijuana Overdose Symptoms
Although marijuana overdose symptoms are rare, it is not impossible for people to overdose on the drug.
Some signs of a marijuana overdose or excessive consumption may include:1,4
- Rapid heart rate, increasing the risk of heart attack.
- Mental confusion.
- Panic attacks.
- Extreme paranoia.
If the marijuana is laced with other drugs, some common adverse effects can include seizures, strokes, or irregular heartbeats.5
History About MarijuanaMarijuana first appeared in the United States in the 1920s, where it was popular with Mexican immigrants. After suffering many popularity dips and highs, marijuana was finally listed as a Schedule I drug in 1970. Despite calls for legalization on medical grounds, marijuana still remains an illicit drug in most states. 6
Common Signs of Marijuana Use & Abuse
Recognizing signs of abuse could help prevent a marijuana overdose to begin with. Of course, a person doesn’t typically try marijuana for the first time and immediately overdose. Usually, people move from casual marijuana use to marijuana abuse, where they may exhibit addiction-like behaviors around the drug. This is often characterized by compulsive use despite negative consequences and the inability to control their use despite frequent efforts to quit or cut down.
The biggest reason people get hooked is because of the increased pleasure and other side effects of marijuana intoxication, which results from the THC in marijuana attaching to specific brain receptors.1
Common signs of marijuana abuse or intoxication include:1,3,4
- Distorted perception.
- Inappropriate and excessive laughter.
- Social withdrawal.
- Altered sense of time.
- Mood changes.
- Feelings of relaxation.
- Impaired cognition.
- Problems with memory.
- Loss of coordination.
- Increased appetite.
- Dry mouth.
- Blood shot eyes.
- Coughing due to lung irritation.
Some signs of problematic marijuana use include:3
- Using larger amounts of marijuana than was intended.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time getting and using marijuana or recovering from intoxication.
- Strong cravings to use marijuana.
- Failing to fulfill school, home, or work obligations.
- Continuing to use marijuana despite harmful consequences, such as interpersonal, psychological, or physical problems.
- Prioritizing marijuana use over previously enjoyed hobbies and activities.
- Using marijuana in dangerous situations, such as driving.
- Requiring increased amounts of marijuana to achieve desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped.
Recognizing these signs of abuse could help prevent a marijuana overdose to begin with. But if it appears you or someone you love has overdosed, immediately getting the right treatment is crucial.
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Treatment for a Marijuana Overdose
If you suspect someone is overdosing on marijuana, or a combination of marijuana and another drug, call 911 immediately and remain with the person until medical attention arrives. Don’t try to approach or touch the person if he or she is exhibiting erratic or psychotic behavior, since that may put you in danger, but you may want to attempt to comfort or reassure the person.
Overdosing on marijuana may affect a teenager’s mind differently. Research has revealed that high doses of marijuana can lead to an early onset of schizophrenia in adolescents, particularly for those who are genetically predisposed.4 Dual diagnosis treatment, or treatment for co-occurring marijuana addiction and schizophrenia, may be necessary following emergency treatment for the overdose.
Once a person receives emergency treatment and is medically stable, there are a number of follow-up steps you can take to ensure the person fully recovers. Typically, follow-up care involves supportive therapy, which can be provided in a variety of settings, including:
- Detox: If the person suffers from a severe addiction to marijuana, a detox program may be advisable. Detox programs are short-term forms of treatment that assist the person in safely withdrawing from the drug, while also providing medical care and support. Patients often transfer into an inpatient or outpatient program following completion of detox.
- Inpatient: Inpatient recovery centers require that the patient live at the facility for the duration of the program (usually 30, 60, or 90 days) and provides the person with a combination of individual therapy, group counseling, 24-hour medical and psychiatric care, and relapse prevention education.
- Outpatient: Outpatient treatment programs provide the patient with the freedom to live at home while still recovering from a marijuana addiction. Therapy services range from 1-hour sessions, 1 to 2 times per week, to several hours a day, 5 days a week.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Marijuana.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (n.d). Marijuana.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Drug Fact Sheet: Marijuana.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Marijuana intoxication.
- Oregon State University. (2014). The Illegalization of Marijuana: A Brief History.