Ask anyone with a foundational knowledge of cannabis: Can you overdose on weed? Reflexively, most people will answer, “Of course not. There’s never been a single reported death from cannabis.”
This is true. No one has ever died from the physical effects of consuming too much cannabis. The lethal dose of cannabis is far too high for anyone to suffer a fatal overdose. However, this is also a mischaracterization of what “drug overdose” means. You can overdose on just about anything. You can overdose on caffeine, even though the chances of dying are slim. Based on the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus definition of “drug overdose,” all overdose means is that you consume “more than the normal or recommended amount of something, often a drug.”
Based on the medically accepted definition of “drug overdose,” technically you can overdose on weed. Of course, most overdoses on cannabis are mild to moderate, short in duration, and rarely severe or serious. And they’re never fatal.
Can you overdose on weed? There are two widely held misconceptions:
Among the anti-pot crowd, there are many people who still hold on to a “reefer madness” conception of cannabis and against all scientific evidence believe cannabis is as dangerous as heroin. And that like heroin, you can fatally overdose on cannabis.
On the pro-cannabis side, perceptions are much more grounded in reality. The pro-cannabis side (correctly) argues that no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose. This is 100% correct. But, many further argue that it’s “impossible” to overdose from cannabis. That’s not exactly correct.
Visits to the ER for cannabis-related issues have increased (but much less than anti-cannabis advocates claim). Most of these visits are from people — usually new users — who overindulged on edibles (which is easy to do) or “dabbed” and weren’t prepared for the more intense high. A cannabis “overdose” is much different than other drugs. If you take too much, you may experience paranoia, agitation, and/or nausea, all of which will pass quickly. And, you certainly don’t need to visit the ER.
Most drugs with high rates of fatal overdoses — like alcohol and opioids — affect brainstem areas that control respiration, so if you take too much of one of these drugs, they can shut down your breathing. Cannabis doesn’t affect us in the same way.
According to research published by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, “[C]annabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration.” Cannabis, unlike heroin, OxyContin, alcohol, etc. is not lethal because it doesn’t cause respiratory failure or poor blood circulation. In order to fatally overdose on cannabis, you’d need to take 40,000 times more than a normal dose. That’s basically physically impossible.
Most “overdoses” are edible-related and, to a lesser degree, dab-related. If you’re new to edibles, keep in mind that people who frequently use edibles can easily consume 50 mg without experiencing any adverse effects. In fact, many seasoned users can consume 100 mg or more. But, if you’re new to edibles, you can take much less than 50 mg and experience a “bad high.”
In order to avoid taking too much, it’s important to heed the advice, “start low, go slow.” 5 mg (or 10 mg) is considered a single dose. The first time you try edibles, you should start with a single dose and wait an hour or more to see how you feel. If you feel fine or don’t feel anything at all, you can take more. Or you can add a dose the next time you try edibles. Better yet, don’t be afraid to go into the experience with the expectation that you may not get “high.” Instead, view the experience as trying to find your “sweet spot” in terms of how much you can take. For many people, 15 to 20 mg is their sweet spot and stays that way as long as they don’t consume too frequently.
Bottom line: Can you overdose on weed? No, not in the conventional sense. But, you can take too much. And, that can create some highly undesirable effects. Just be smart, set boundaries, and know your limit. It’s always good to have some CBD around in case you do consume too much THC. CBD counteracts many of THC’s less desirable effects (like anxiety and paranoia).
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