It would be next to impossible die from cannabis consumption. Various studies have put the lethal dose around 1,500 lbs in 15 minutes, which would be unattainable for even the most chronic of chronic consumers. However, this doesn’t mean overdose is impossible – only that fatal overdose is impossible. Overdose is actually quite a common experience, especially among first-time consumers of cannabis. So what should you do if this happens to you?
Before anything, remember that at worst this will be a 6-hour ride; the acute effects of cannabis edibles typically dissipate within 4-6 hours, although some report a grogginess or “hangover” after overdosing. Remember that this too shall pass – cannabis overdose can’t cause any permanent physical or psychological damage, and you’ll be right as rain by the next day.
When combatting a cannabis overdose, it can be helpful to understand the physiology behind it. In response to high doses of THC, blood pressure and blood sugar drop to unhealthy levels, leading to conditions known as hypotension and hypoglycemia. The body also becomes dehydrated. These conditions can cause a number of recognizable symptoms, including fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, clammy skin, blurry vision, anxiety, chills, confusion, and delirium. Remedying this is the first step, as it will allow for a calmer, clearer thinking. It’s best to drink something high in sugar first, and once that sets in a bit, eat a light snack. This will help to hydrate the body while bringing blood sugar and blood pressure back to balance. Also, remember to breathe deeply and do your best to physically relax.
Understanding CB1 & CB2 Receptors
Much of the anxiety, paranoia, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and body temperature disturbances associated with cannabis overdose are due to an overstimulation of the endocannabinoid system, specifically CB1 receptors. These receptors bind with THC, producing most of cannabis’ psychoactive and physiological effects. Cannabis overdose responds positively to compounds that bind to CB2 receptors or that block CB1 receptors, including other plant cannabinoids like CBD. If you have any CBD products on hand, try consuming a reasonable dose (20-40mg) to counteract the uncomfortable effects of THC overdose.
Another option for the treatment of acute overdose is terpenes, the aromatic oils responsible for the many scents of cannabis. Evidence suggests that terpenes can help to reduce the side effects of cannabis and treat an overdose, especially the terpenes limonene and beta-caryophyllene. One historical tradition (dating back to 10th century Persia and through to the present day) was to treat cannabis overdose with cold water and citrus fruits, especially lemons, which are extraordinarily high in limonene. A more modern tradition is to consume or sniff black peppercorns, which contain oodles of beta-caryophyllene; beta-caryophyllene is active at CB2 receptors, which, as mentioned previously, can counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.
One effect of cannabis overdose is to lower body temperature, which can cause mild hypothermia. If you’ve overdosed on cannabis, it’s good to find a warm comfy space (like a fireplace) or to wrap yourself in a blanket. Warming up and feeling comfortable can help reduce the anxiety brought on by overdose, and early evidence suggests it may even correct function in a region of the brain (known as the hypothalamus) that becomes disordered during cannabis overdose.
Try to create a tranquil, meditative, and serene space free of overstimulation. Triggers for panic include bright or flashing lights, loud music, and grotesque media (i.e. horror movies, gory video games, and violent TV) among others. It’s always best to consume cannabis with friendly and reassuring company. Don’t partake if you feel pressured to do so or if you’re uncomfortable in a new setting, as this can lead to an increased risk of overdose and panic. If it’s tolerable, sometimes a hug from a close friend or partner can be just the reassuring touch you need.
Ultimately, try to avoid overdose – it’s not fun! But, should it happen to you, remember that all will be okay and that there are steps you can take to understand and respond to overdose.
Lana Tong is an aspiring Biochemist and Squirrel Behavioral Psychologist based in Victoria, British Columbia. She's passionate about cannabis as a medicine, entheogen, food, fiber crop, and so much more. Lana hopes to one day swim in a pool filled with organic CBD oil. We all have dreams - right?!