An overdose means that a person has taken a large enough amount of a drug for it to be toxic. Overdoses are not always fatal. They depend on how much of the drug the person took and whether they took any other drugs.1
It is possible to overdose on marijuana. An overdose is not likely to be fatal, but it can be very unpleasant.2
Overdoses on other drugs, however, can be fatal. Opioids, for example, affect the central nervous system, which can slow breathing and heart rates. An overdose can cause a person to stop breathing. Stimulants such as cocaine speed up heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing and can trigger a heart attack or stroke.3
What Does a Marijuana Overdose Look Like?
Even though it’s not fatal, a marijuana overdose can still be severe and distressing.
Possible marijuana overdose symptoms include:4
- Loss of coordination.
- Decreased muscle strength.
- Hand unsteadiness.
- Inability to concentrate.
- Slowed reaction time
- Slurred speech.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Memory loss.
- Dysphoria (unease).
People who overdose on marijuana are likely to feel anxious. Users can experience intense paranoia accompanied by visual hallucinations and fear, resulting in possible panic attacks. These individuals may feel as though they’re dying, especially since a common side effect of the drug is an increased heart rate. Combined with a panic attack, this can result in a rapid heartbeat and chest pains.
The effects of an overdose generally last 3-4 hours but can last longer if the person consumed marijuana orally.5
Factors that can affect the strength and duration of overdose symptoms include:5
- The dose.
- Method of administration (edible effects may last longer).
- How fast a person’s body metabolizes the drug.
- Tolerance to the drug.
Treatment for an Overdose
Since the effects of an overdose are rarely fatal and wear off in a few hours, treatment is typically supportive.
People who visit an emergency room for an overdose will have their vital signs monitored and be placed in a quiet room. Those with psychotic symptoms will be given a benzodiazepine such as Klonopin or Xanax. Most patients will receive counseling from a medical professional or substance abuse professional and may be referred for drug rehabilitation.4
Overdose Risk Factors
Marijuana is a particularly difficult drug to predict. Not only does it come in many different strains with new ones being bred all the time, but it can also be ingested in many different forms. The classic method is to smoke it in a pipe, bong, or cigarette, but it also comes in concentrate form and many different types of edibles.
Edibles like brownies, cookies, candies, and sodas can be very potent. Eating marijuana also tends to create a delayed effect, sometimes taking hours to begin working. During this time, a person may ingest more, thinking that the drug is not affecting them. This can lead to an overdose. In 2014, a young man in Colorado ate a piece of a cannabis cookie, and, not feeling any effect, finished the rest. Over the next few hours, he become erratic and hostile. He eventually jumped from a fourth-floor balcony and later died from trauma from his injuries. Marijuana was the only drug found in his system.6,7
Children are at particular risk for overdose from edibles. Many edible products have colorful packaging and look like cookies and candies. Nationwide, children’s exposure to marijuana products rose 148% from 2006 to 2013 and increased by 610% in states with medical marijuana.4
Another factor that increases the risk for overdose is the increase in average THC potency of cannabis due to more improved plant breeding and cultivation. In the 1970s, the average marijuana cigarette contained approximately 10mg of THC. Today, a cigarette contains 60-150mg.4
People who overdose on marijuana should consider some form of treatment for abuse or dependence. Despite marijuana’s reputation as a fairly harmless drug, many people develop problems with it that affect their personal and professional lives. Treatment can not only help you avoid a future overdose but help you avoid some of the mental and physical effects of long-term use.
. The University of Arizona, MethOIDE. Overdose: Introduction.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Is it possible to “overdose” or have a “bad reaction” to marijuana?
. Harm Reduction Coalition. What is an overdose?
. Russo, L. (2018). Cannabinoid Poisoning. Medscape.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
. Just Think Twice. Drug Alert: Marijuana Edibles.
. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Notes from the Field: Death Following Ingestion of an Edible Marijuana Product — Colorado, March 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 64(28), 771-772.