Can you Overdose on Marijuana?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, and it is particularly popular among young people.1,2 Overall, marijuana is increasingly more potent than it has been in the past, with concentration of THC (the primary psychoactive component) rising dramatically from 8.9% in 2008 to 17.1% in 2017. This increase in potency may contribute to addiction as well as accidental THC overdoses.3
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 In Colorado, the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits nearly doubled after the drug was legalized for recreational use, and visits were mainly attributed to edibles.5
Additionally, “dabbing” is a form of marijuana use that consists of smoking and vaping resins that contain high levels of THC.1,4 It is a dangerous and often illegal practice and may be responsible not only for rising emergency department visits due to marijuana use but also due to burns as a result of consumers attempting to manufacture these products in their own homes.1,5
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An overdose on marijuana is dissimilar to overdoses on other drugs because marijuana consumption, in and of itself, is not life threatening—there are no reports of deaths from marijuana alone.1,6 But using too much of the drug can have uncomfortable and even hazardous side effects, ranging from anxiety and paranoia to an extreme psychotic reaction in rare cases.1,7
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, and it is particularly popular among young people.
Marijuana intoxication—the euphoria, relaxation, and possibly undesirable side effects that can occur when marijuana is used—has been linked with psychosis, a condition in which the individual is disconnected with reality, typically resulting in hallucinations, delusions, or extreme paranoia.7,8 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.4 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.
Marijuana Overdose Symptoms
Although marijuana overdose symptoms are rare, it is not impossible for people to experience symptoms of being too high on the drug. Some symptoms of a marijuana overdose or excessive consumption may include:1,6,7
- Rapid heart rate, increasing the risk of heart attack.
- Mental confusion.
- Panic attacks.
- Anxiety and extreme paranoia.
Signs of Marijuana Use & Abuse
Recognizing signs of marijuana abuse could help prevent a marijuana overdose to begin with. Often, a person moves 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.8 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 use or intoxication include:1,7,8
- Distorted perception.
- 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.
- Increased heart rate.
Some signs of problematic marijuana use include:8
- 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.
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Marijuana Overdose Treatment
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 they are 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.9 Dual diagnosis treatment, or treatment for co-occurring marijuana addiction and schizophrenia, may be necessary following emergency treatment for the overdose.
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.
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 provide 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.
If you or someone you know has overdosed on marijuana or misuses other drugs, finding treatment is very important—begin researching your options today.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). DrugFacts: Marijuana.
- ElSohly, M.A., Mehmedic, Z., Foster, S., Gon, C., Botany, M.S., Chandra, S., Church, J.C. (2016). Changes in Cannabis Potency over the Last Two Decades (1995-2014) – Analysis of Current Data in the United States. Biol Psychiatry, 79(7), 613-619.
- Chandra, S., Radwan, M.M., Majumdar, C.G., Church, J.C., Freeman, T.P., ElSohly, M.A. (2019). New trends in cannabis potency in USA and Europe during the last decade (2008-2017). Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 269(1), 5-15.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Marijuana.
- Heard, K., Marlin, M.B., Nappe, T., Hoyte, C.O. (2017). Common marijuana-related cases encountered in the emergency department. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 74(22), 1904-1908.
- U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse: Marijuana/Cannabis.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). MedlinePlus: Marijuana intoxication.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- MacDonald, A. (2011). Teens who smoke pot at risk for later schizophrenia, psychosis. Harvard Health Publishing.