While there have been no reported adult deaths from overconsumption of cannabis, you’re not likely to hear anyone recommend the experience. Consuming too much cannabis can be quite unpleasant, although the effects are generally temporary. If you’re new to cannabis — especially if you’re new to edibles — the best approach is to start low and go slow.
Read on to understand the signs and symptoms of overconsumption, plus learn practical tips to reduce and possibly avoid them altogether.
Can you overdose on cannabis?
“Overdose” is a problematic term. The word suggests a toxic overload in the body that leads to death or the need for resuscitation, which isn’t accurate for cannabis. Overconsumption of cannabis is better described as poisoning: Your body is trying to process too much THC at one time. You may experience temporary symptoms such as severe anxiety and paranoia, vomiting and, in rare cases, an acute psychotic episode.
There are no documented cases of adult death as a result of overconsuming cannabis because of the way THC interacts with your body. As a cannabinoid, THC connects with cannabinoid receptors in body systems that relate to motor control, cognition and emotional response, as well as your immune system. The parts of your brain that regulate vital automatic functions like your heartbeat and breathing do not have cannabinoid receptors, so they are not affected by an excess of THC.
However, these essential areas of your brain do contain opiate receptors, which is why opioid overdoses can cause death. Neurotransmitters in the brain that inhibit vital functions are also activated by alcohol, potentially with fatal results.
But if you’re here because you’re wondering if it’s possible to have too much cannabis, the answer is yes. Overconsuming cannabis is sometimes called “greening out,” and although it’s generally not life-threatening, it can come with many unpleasant symptoms.
What should I do if I think I’ve overconsumed?
Seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing chest pain, panic attacks, loss of contact with reality, seizures or if your instincts tell you something serious is happening.
In non-emergency situations, these tactics might help.
Eat something. Although more research is needed, certain foods, including pine nuts, black pepper and lemon, are believed to counteract cannabis’s psychoactive effects. At the very least, a snack of any kind may create a pleasant distraction.
Drink water. A glass of water will not only help combat dry mouth — a common side effect — it may also help you stay calm.
Shift your focus. Concentrating on negative feelings can exacerbate them. Sometimes coming down from a bad high is as simple as redirecting your attention. Try repeating positive affirmations like “this will pass” or “I choose calm.” Listen to relaxing music, enjoy a TV show or movie, retreat to a calm environment, or call a supportive friend or family member.
What are the signs of overconsumption?
Symptoms of cannabis overconsumption can vary quite a bit from person to person. They’re influenced by numerous physical, psychological and environmental factors, such as the potency of the cannabis and method of consumption, as well as your personal tolerance, sleeping and eating habits, emotional state and more.
Some common signs that you’ve ingested too much cannabis include:
- clumsiness or loss of coordination
- chest pain
- fast, slow or pounding heartbeat
- panic attacks
- loss of contact with reality
- nausea and sweating
- paranoia, anxiety or fear
What are the risks of overconsuming cannabis?
It’s not just too much cannabis at one time that can be concerning — too much cannabis over time may also have consequences. Daily or near-daily consumption over time is associated with an increased risk of memory loss and concentration difficulties; for consumers who smoke, it can come with respiratory issues.
A 2022 Canadian Medical Association Journal article estimates that one in every 200 frequent cannabis consumers between ages 16 and 44 may suddenly develop nausea, cramping and vomiting whenever they consume, a condition cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). At present, the only cure for CHS is to abstain from cannabis.
Cannabis consumption can alter your perception, impact your memory and affect your decision-making capacity. Avoid activities requiring a clear head, and don’t drive or operate heavy machinery for up to 24 hours after consuming.
Get practical ways to reduce your risk when consuming cannabis.
What does it mean to start low and go slow?
“Start low and go slow” is the modern adage of responsible cannabis consumption and a term you’ll hear a lot at OCS and beyond. But what exactly does it mean?
Starting low means choosing a small initial dose. Going slow means waiting to gauge the effects before taking more.
Everyone reacts to cannabis differently, and your “low and slow” may look different than someone else’s. The chart below offers general guidelines on how you can apply this principle to various products. Remember that the timing of effects and the dose that’s right for you will depend on many factors.
METHOD OF CONSUMPTION
||One inhalation||15 minutes|
||2.5 mg THC||Two hours*|
* Ingestible cannabis products made with nanoemulsified cannabinoids and containing the terms “fast-acting” or “quick onset” are intended to work faster than traditional edibles. You may feel effects as early as 10 minutes after consuming.
How much cannabis is too much?
How much cannabis you can safely consume entirely depends on you and your body. Knowing your limit is impossible if you’ve never tried cannabis before. Even if you have, each session can introduce new variables that may affect the experience, from differences in the product format, consumption method and potency to changes in your environment or mood. Consider recording your the amount you consume and monitoring your experience to fully understand how much cannabis is right for you.
Why do edibles require special care?
If you’re going to try edibles for the first time, consider yourself a beginner, even if you smoke or vape regularly. The two most important words to remember about edibles are: longer and stronger. Effects may take longer to appear, last longer and feel stronger compared to other types of cannabis.
Timing of effects of edibles
When you inhale cannabinoids — the active ingredients in cannabis — they reach your bloodstream within seconds or minutes. But when you eat or drink cannabis, the cannabinoids take their time passing through your digestive system and into your liver. From there, they’re metabolized into more potent versions of themselves, intensifying their effects.
Feeling of effects of edibles
Taking a smaller dose might not induce the effects you’re looking for, but it also won’t lock you into a bad experience for hours on end. If you’re trying edibles for the first time, consider a few trial runs first, gradually increasing your dose in each session until you find the lowest one that works for you.
What about cannabis concentrates and extracts?
Concentrates and extracts are another category requiring some caution — they’re not recommended for cannabis beginners. Products containing hash, rosin, budder, distillate, isolate, wax and shatter are, as a rule, much more potent than flower or non-infused pre-rolls.
If you’re going to consume concentrates in any format, it’s important to buy them from a legal, regulated source so you know they’re free of harmful chemicals and accurately labelled. And get used to reading those labels — they’ll help you understand the differences in THC potency, which will affect your experience.
Consuming high-THC products regularly is linked to a higher risk of dependency and mental health complications.
How can I prevent overconsumption?
Approaching cannabis mindfully and methodically will help you avoid overconsuming. As always, start low and go slow.
It can also be useful to consider “set and setting,” meaning your personal circumstances and surroundings. Your mood going into a session, the social environment and the physical location can all impact your experience. Avoid consuming cannabis if you’re feeling anxious, anticipate being in a stressful social situation or feel uncomfortable in your surroundings.
Can alcohol and other drugs interact with cannabis?
Yes. Avoid mixing cannabis and other drugs, including alcohol and prescription medications. Cannabis can increase the rate at which some drugs are metabolized. It can also amplify the effects of some substances, including central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines (like Valium, Klonopin, Xanax and Ativan), and stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine.
Talk to your doctor to determine if any substances you might take — legal, illegal, prescription or otherwise — are contraindicated with cannabis.
Cannabis safety tips
There are many strategies you can try to help reduce the short- and long-term health effects of cannabis consumption.
Start with low doses. If you’re new to cannabis or trying a new product, start with a low amount (such as 2.5 mg THC) and wait to see how it affects you before consuming more.
Choose a safe, comfortable setting. Consume cannabis in a setting where you feel relaxed and secure. Avoid consuming in public places or in situations where you may feel anxious or uncomfortable.
Learn how to read and understand cannabis packaging labels. Be aware of the potency and recommended dosage. Read labels carefully and follow dosing recommendations to avoid overconsumption.
Opt for low-THC products. For some people, the psychoactive effects of high-THC products can be overwhelming or anxiety-inducing.
Use extra caution with edibles. The range in timing of effects of edibles — from 10 minutes to two hours — mean it can be easy to consume too much. To avoid overconsumption or adverse effects, start with a small amount, especially if you are new to edibles. Wait at least two hours before consuming more.
Avoid mixing with other substances. Mixing cannabis with alcohol or other substances can increase the risk of unpleasant effects, including nausea, dizziness and impaired judgment.
- Choose legal cannabis products. Legal cannabis products are subject to strict regulations and testing requirements, ensuring they’re safe and free from contaminants. When you buy from an Authorized Cannabis Store, there’s detailed information on packaging, including potency, dosage and potential side effects, to help you make informed decisions.