Can you overdose on cannabis? This question is controversial, even among people who frequently use cannabis. Some people believe cannabis is as dangerous as opioids or stimulants, while others believe it’s completely harmless and has no side effects.
You can’t overdose on cannabis in the way that you can overdose on, say, opioids. To date, there have not been any reported deaths resulting solely from cannabis use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But that doesn’t mean you can’t overdo it or have a bad reaction to cannabis.
There isn’t a straightforward answer here because everybody’s different. Some people seem to tolerate cannabis well, while others don’t tolerate it well at all. Cannabis products also vary greatly in their potency.
Edibles, however, seem to be more likely to cause a negative reaction. This is partly because they take a long time to kick in.
After eating an edible, it can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours before you start to feel the effects. In the meantime, many people end up eating more because they mistakenly believe the edibles are weak.
Mixing cannabis with alcohol can also cause a negative reaction for some people.
Cannabis products containing high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that makes you feel “high” or impaired, can also cause a bad reaction in some people, especially those who don’t use cannabis often.
Cannabis can have quite a few less-than-desirable side effects, including:
- thirstiness or a dry mouth (aka “cotton mouth”)
- concentration problems
- slower reaction times
- dry eyes
- fatigue or lethargy
- increased heart rate
- anxiety and other changes in mood
In rarer cases, it can also cause:
- paranoia and panic attacks
- nausea and vomiting
These side effects can last anywhere from 20 minutes to a full day. In general, cannabis that’s higher in THC is associated with more severe, long-lasting effects. And yes, it’s possible to wake up with a “weed hangover” the following day.
If you or a friend has overindulged, there are a few things you can do to reduce the unpleasant side effects.
If you’re feeling anxious, it’s good to self-soothe by telling yourself that you’ll be OK. Remind yourself that nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose.
It might not feel like it right now, but these symptoms will pass.
If you’re feeling nauseated or shaky, try to have a snack. This might be the last thing you want to do, especially if you also have dry mouth, but it makes a big difference for some people.
Speaking of dry mouth, make sure you drink plenty of liquids. This is especially important if you’re vomiting, which can dehydrate you.
If you’re panicking, try slowly sipping water to help ground yourself.
Sleep it off
Sometimes, the best thing to do is wait for the effects to subside. Sleeping or resting is a good way to pass time while you wait for the cannabis to work its way out of your system.
If too much is happening around you, it can make you anxious and even paranoid.
Switch off the music or TV, leave the crowd, and try to relax in a calm environment, like an empty bedroom or bathroom.
Chew or sniff black peppercorns
Anecdotally, many people swear that black peppercorns can soothe the side effects of overindulging in cannabis, especially anxiety and paranoia.
Call a friend
It may be helpful to call a friend who has experience with cannabis. They may be able to talk you through the unpleasant experience and calm you down.
Having a bad reaction to cannabis usually isn’t a medical emergency.
However, if someone is experiencing hallucinations or signs of psychosis, it’s important to get emergency help.
Looking to avoid a bad reaction in the future?
Keep the following in mind:
- Start with low doses. If it’s your first time using cannabis, it’s a good idea start low and slow. Consume a small amount and give it plenty of time to kick in before using more.
- Be careful with edibles. Edibles take anywhere from 20 minutes up to 2 hours to kick in because they need to be digested first. If you’re trying edibles for the first time, or if you’re not sure of the strength, have a very small amount and wait at least 2 hours before having more.
- Try a low-THC cannabis product. Most dispensaries and cannabis shops list the amount of THC in their products. If you’re new to cannabis, or if you’re sensitive to the side effects, try a low-THC product or one with a high CBD:THC ratio.
- Avoid overwhelming situations. If cannabis sometimes makes you anxious or confused, it might be best to use it in a safe, calm environment.
While nobody has died from overdosing on cannabis alone, it’s possible to consume too much and have a bad reaction. This tends to happen more with edibles and high-THC products.
If you’re new to cannabis, pay careful attention to how much cannabis you’re consuming at a time and give yourself plenty of time to feel the effects before using more.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.