Can you die from a marijuana overdose?
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Wether you can die from a cannabis overdose is one of those questions that have been around since the beginning of time. Well, probably since the beginning of cannabis demonization.
We all know the classic propaganda posters from the early 70s, claiming that people who use marijuana will end up crazy, murdering, suicidal and death. But also nowadays there is a lot of false news circulating on whether cannabis can cause an overdose.
As many people just skim the headlines of articles without actually reading the whole thing or conducting their own research, it’s no surprise that stories like these go viral and can sway people’s opinions about cannabis.
COLORADO CANNABIS OVERDOSE NEVER HAPPENED
People who did read them will remember those headlines circulating in 2017 claiming a baby boy from Colorado dying from a cannabis overdose? It’s hard to forget a story about the very first weed overdose in history – and a small child at that – following right on the heels of so many amazing discoveries about the plant.
But this time it wasn’t just a satirical article written by some unknown writer, this was a story picked up by multiple, legitimate news sources.
As tragic as the story is, many found themselves wondering if the cause of death was sensationalized. The infant was admitted to a Colorado hospital after suffering from a seizure that left him unresponsive and with no gag reflex. Prior to that, the child’s behavior was described as “irritable and lethargic”. While at the hospital, he went into cardiac arrest and passed away.
According to the doctors who treated him, Thomas Nappe and Christopher Hoyte, the baby had high concentrations of marijuana in his system, and they believed that was the key factor that caused his death. Other doctors however, weren’t so convinced.
A GROSS EXAGGERATION
In a Washington Post interview after the time of the incident, Nappe stated that “we are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child.” Hoyte also commented that “The only thing that we found was marijuana. High concentrations of marijuana in his blood. And that’s the only thing we found.” He went on to add that, “The kid never really got better. And just one thing led to another and the kid ended up with a heart stopped. And the kid stopped breathing and died.”
Nappe and Hoyte later discovered that the infant died from myocarditis, a condition categorized by an inflamed heart muscle. They do however believe that cannabis may have triggered the myocarditis, key word being “believed”.
Their final report merely postulates that “there exists a plausible relationship between marijuana and the death that justifies further research.” So basically, that’s what they think happened, but it’s truly impossible to tell, so claiming that marijuana was the cause of death is premature and inaccurate.
“There has to be more information to show that this link is real,” mentions Dr. William Checkley, professor of medicine, international health, and biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University. While Checkley believes that some of Hoyte and Nappe’s assessment is correct, he doesn’t think this case shows a definitive link between cannabis exposure and myocarditis. “It’s possible that the baby’s heart condition could have been coincidental to the marijuana exposure.”
It's interesting that when medical discoveries are made, small sample studies and anecdotal evidence always “requires further investigation” before it can be officially used as a treatment option. But when it comes to demonizing weed, people can be very eager to find a connection between cannabis and various ailments, even when concrete evidence just does not exist.
SATIRE CAN BE CONFUSING
Besides stories that later turn out to be untrue or just exaggerated, it can also happen that satire pieces are taken the wrong way.
For example, an article from huslerz.com titled “59 People Die of Marijuana Overdose in Colorado and Washington After Legalization” recently made waves on the web and not everybody who saw this understood that it wasn’t a serious article.
The Daily Currant, a known satirical site, also released their own eye-catching headline (which has since been removed) stating that “Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 on First Day of Legalization.”
Now, if anyone had actually read even the first couple of paragraphs in either of those articles, it would be obvious the articles are meant to be humorous. But nevertheless, pot opponents looked at those titles and ran with them, taking to the internet to bash “liberals” and “democrats” for legalizing a substance that is claiming the lives of so many people (eyeroll).
It can off course be quite funny to see the dumb people who actually fall for these hoaxes make fun off themselves by turning to twitter or youtube to express their anger and opinions.
RIDICULOUS MYTHS ARE USED AS SCARE TACTICS
In addition to using the fear of death to try and scare people away from cannabis, there have been some other pretty laughable rumors over the years.
One is the theory that weed can “make you gay”. This might be alarming to certain people, but the idea that cannabis can alter one’s sexual orientation in any way is purely asinine. It actually stemmed from the reefer madness-era idea that smoking weed makes immoral and mentally ill, coupled with the dated belief that homosexuality was a psychological illness possibly caused by drugs; both of which are 100% false.
Another widely circulated misconception is that smoking weed kills brain cells, and many cannabis opponents point to the infamous Heath/Tulane study from 1974. Dr. Heath of Tulane Medical School in New Orleans determined through his own studies on monkeys that cannabis exposure destroys brain cells but it wasn’t discovered for many years that his research methods were questionable at best.
Heath used gas masks to force the test monkeys to consume the equivalent of 60 joints in only 5 minutes, and he did this every day for 3 months. Moreover, because the monkeys had their faces covered for 5 minutes each day, they were essentially suffocated. It’s arguable that the lack of oxygen is the real reason for the loss of brain cells.
Since 1974, two more studies of a similar nature (although more ethical) have been conducted; one by Charles Rebert and Gordon Pryor of SRI International and the other by William Slikker of the National Center for Toxicological Research. Both researchers studied monkeys who were exposed to cannabis daily for an entire year and found nothing indicating that cannabis negatively impacted the brain.
SO CAN YOU OVERDOSE ON WEED OR NOT?
To answer this question, we’ll have to start with exploring what it actually means to suffer from a drug overdose. All substances – drugs, alcohol, food - affect our bodies in different ways.
Everything we consume can be toxic in certain amounts - even water. The lethal dosage (LD50) of cannabis is estimated to be 1:20,000 - 1:40:000, meaning you need to consume roughly 20-40,000x the amount of cannabis containing within an average joint within the space of 15 minutes for it to become life threatening. This equates to consuming roughly 760kg (1,500lb) in quick succession.
Doesn't sound too practical, does it? It means in realistic terms, it is not possible to overdose on cannabis. This is further backed up by the US National Cancer Institute, who has stated:
"Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur."
So you can’t overdose on weed, what a relief! But even though you won’t die, it’s still possible to consume too much weed. Symptoms are usually mild, but they can include both psychological and physical effects such as:
- Dry Mouth
- Pupil Dilation
- Red / Burning Eyes
- Short-term Memory Loss
- Paranoia / Fear / Anxiety
- Loss of Energy
- Lack of Focus
- Decreased Verbal Skills
- Loss of Motor Skills
- Slowed Coordination
- Shortness of Breath
- Increased Heart Rate
- Chills / Sweats
- Upset Stomach
If you or someone you’re with consumes too much pot, the best thing you can do is help them relax. Get them somewhere quiet and make sure they’re comfortable, hydrated, and breathing well.
Everything considered, there really isn’t very much you can do aside from waiting it out. Once the high goes down, the symptoms will subside.
There are luckily some things you can do when you are just simply too high. Other than that, just rest assured knowing that no matter how uncomfortably stoned you happen to get, at least you can’t overdose.
- ^ The Washington Post, The truth behind the first marijuana overdose death headlines, retrieved January-29-2019
- ^ Huzlers, 59 People die of marijuana overdose in Colorado and Washington after legalization, retrieved January-29-2019
- ^ CA NORML, Marijuana Health Mythology, retrieved January-29-2019
- ^ National Cancer Institute, Cannabis and cannabinoids (PDQ®)–Health professional version, retrieved January-29-2019