Dr. David Pompei, PharmD, MS
Fifty years ago, weed was much less potent. Weed samples from the 1970s averaged at 3-4% THC. Today cannabis growers regularly produce weed strains that have THC levels over 30%.
Not only has weed gotten much stronger, but we have also invented new ingestion methods and product types that allow us to concentrate a huge quantity of weed into an easily consumable format. If you consume super-potent weed products like edibles, dabs, Rick Simpson oil, and moonrocks, can you overdose on weed?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a drug overdose is defined as an incident “when a person uses enough of a drug to produce life-threatening symptoms or death.” Based on this definition, it is not physically possible to overdose on weed. However, it is possible to ingest too much cannabis or THC and experience adverse effects. But first, why is it effectively impossible to overdose on weed?
A 2019 toxicology report released by a coroner in New Orleans claimed to have documented the first death attributed to marijuana. However, experts are highly skeptical of this claim and the official number of deaths due to marijuana overdose is still zero.
According to Keith Humphreys, a former senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, “We know from really good survey data that Americans use cannabis products billions of times a year, collectively… That means if the risk of death was one in a million, we would have a couple thousand cannabis overdose deaths a year.”
Obviously, that is not the case. There is a lethal dose of weed—at least in theory. But ingesting enough cannabis to kill you is effectively impossible. Dr. Jeffrey Chen, executive director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, explains, “there is a theoretical limit that THC could lead to an overdose, but it’s basically impossibly to consume a level that high…You'd have to smoke several hundred pounds of cannabis in an hour for your blood levels to hit that theoretical limit."
If there is no lethal dose of THC, what is a THC overdose? And why is it so hard to ingest a lethal dose of weed?
Cannabis affects your brain differently than drugs like opioids or alcohol do. Opioids and alcohol interact with the pre-Bötzinger complex, a region deep in the brainstem that governs the “fundamental drive to respiration.”
When alcohol and opioids interact with the pre-Bötzinger complex deep in the brainstem, these drugs cause the body to forget to breathe. Cannabis interacts with cannabinoid receptors. Luckily, cannabinoid receptors are found in small numbers in the pre-Bötzinger complex, instead appearing in high concentration in regions of the brain that control cognition and movement.
As a result, smoking too much weed or ingesting a high dose of edibles may distort your cognition and impair your movement, but it won’t kill you.
While it is not possible to fatally overdose on weed, it is possible to take too much cannabis and experience a THC overdose. Certain ingestion methods and product types are more likely to lead to overdose. Most people who have had a THC overdose were consuming edibles or orally consumed concentrates like Rick Simpson Oil (RSO).
RSO is an extremely potent product used by many medical marijuana patients to help them manage pain. RSO overdose is common because RSO delivers a high dose of THC in a very concentrated format.
So, what does a marijuana overdose or a THC overdose feel like? Common side effects of a THC overdose include anxiety, paranoia, racing heartbeat, and impaired movement. These symptoms can surface in different ways. For example, impaired movement often translates to uncontrollable shaking after eating edibles. While it is alarming to experience uncontrollable shaking after eating edibles, this symptom is usually caused by THC binding to cannabinoid receptors in areas of the brain that govern movement. It is worth noting that while impaired movement on its own is not dangerous, it may increase your risk of physical injury.
If you are experiencing an RSO overdose, or if you took a huge dab and suddenly feel paranoid, what are some things you can do to feel better after a weed overdose?
Please note that cannabis can produce changes in blood pressure and heartbeat that could be dangerous for some individuals based on their medical history. If you feel you are experiencing a medical emergency, it is important to contact your doctor or go to the Emergency Room.
But if you just smoked too much weed or ate more of an edible than you had intended and just want to mellow out, experts recommend distracting yourself with a good TV show or a song, talking to a trusted friend who can assure you that you will be back to normal shortly, or taking a purposeful dose of CBD.
CBD acts on the same receptors that THC does, but it partially antagonizes them, decreasing the activity of THC in the brain. Many cannabis users use CBD to relax after consuming too much weed and experiencing a THC overdose.
CBD is non-intoxicating, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t consume too much. There is no known lethal dose of CBD and consuming a large dose of CBD is unlikely to produce adverse effects aside from gastrointestinal distress or nausea. Most people tolerate high doses of CBD oil without any adverse side effects.
Human trials on CBD have used between 20mg-1500mg per day, so CBD has a wide dose range depending on your wellness goals. The best way to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of consuming too much cannabis or CBD is to use the Jointly app to find your optimal dose for each of your wellness goals.
Jointly is a cannabis discovery app that makes it easy to find and match with the best cannabis and CBD products for your goals. Your matches are calculated from the real product ratings and experiences of hundreds of thousands of people using the Jointly app.
With Jointly, match with top-rated products, and build lists of your favorites to save, share, and bring to your local dispensary to help guide your shopping experience.
Jointly also helps you track your cannabis experiences through reflections that help you understand what’s working, and what’s not. In fact, the quality of your diet, how much you slept, who you’re with, and the time of day are just some of the factors that can impact your experiences.