Marijuana is a very popular drug—and a legal one in several states—yet many people don’t realize it still carries risks and the possibility of harm in excessive quantities.
Signs and Symptoms of Marijuana Overdose
While rare, a marijuana overdose is still possible in some cases. Signs and symptoms of marijuana overdose might include 1,2:
- Extreme anxiety or panic attacks.
- Psychotic reactions in which someone loses touch with reality or becomes paranoid, sometimes in the form of hallucinations, delusions, or a loss of personal identity.
- Decreased judgment, perception, and coordination that can lead to injuries or even death.
- A fast heart rate, chest pain, or heart attack.
- Uncontrollable shaking or seizures.
- Pale skin color.
- Sudden high blood pressure with headache.
When symptoms are severe, get medical attention—call 911 or drive to the nearest emergency room—to ensure the person overdosing is monitored for complications and dangerous side effects.
Noticeable side effects of smoked marijuana may last from 1 to 3 hours, while marijuana consumed in food or drink may last for several hours.
Polysubstance use or abuse is the most common risk factor that increases the chance of overdosing; this involves taking multiple drugs to attain a desired high. Certain drug combinations can be deadly, and the consequences increase especially when marijuana is combined with alcohol 3. Marijuana and alcohol consumed together is the most frequently encountered substance combination implicated in car accidents. Though the mechanisms aren’t entirely clear, beyond the obvious risks introduced from combining two distinct intoxicants, alcohol may increase the level of marijuana’s primary psychoactive element, THC, in the blood 3.
Additional risk factors include 4:
- Pre-existing health issues, such as heart or breathing problems (heart disease, asthma, etc.) that can produce fatal side effects.
- History of use (amount and duration of use).
- Using in combination with prescription medication.
What to Do If You Overdose on Marijuana
If you or someone you know is experiencing a marijuana overdose, seek help by:
- Calling 911.
- Going to the nearest emergency room (if someone with you is overdosing; never drive yourself if you are overdosing).
- Finding someone to help you if you are experiencing an overdose.
- Staying with someone who is experiencing an overdose to monitor for worsening symptoms.
If the person overdosing has stopped breathing, immediately begin administering CPR if you are trained to do so. People who are taken to the emergency room may be given a sedative, breathing support, chest x-ray, IV fluids, and medicine to relieve symptoms.
Preventing Marijuana Overdose
These practices may prevent marijuana overdose:
- Abstaining from marijuana abuse.
- Lowering amounts of marijuana use.
- Being aware of the potentially dangerous interactions with alcohol—avoiding this and other drug combinations altogether.
- Being aware of a decrease in tolerance after a period of abstinence.
- Staying hydrated.
- Being aware of any additional chemicals that may be in marijuana.
- Having knowledge of health conditions that could be made worse by marijuana use.
- Changing people, places, and friends so exposure to the drug is decreased or eliminated.
- Seeking professional help for marijuana addiction.
It is also very important to avoid other situations involving marijuana that can be deadly, such as driving while under the influence. AAA reported that cannabis-involved fatalities increased from 8% in 2013 to 17% in 2014 5.
There are many risks, some minor, some deadly, that are associated with marijuana use. Luckily, treatment is available at any stage of marijuana use.
Treating a Marijuana Overdose
While the symptoms of marijuana overdoses tend to be relatively mild—thus typically negating the need for critical care—depending on your circumstances, you may find traditional drug treatment options helpful in getting you through the residual effects of your overdose and onto the road to recovery.
Inpatient treatment involves 24-hour medical care and therapeutic support for people dealing with drug abuse, addiction, or overdose. Patients live onsite for 30 to 90 days and then move on to a lower level of care.
Outpatient therapy is a treatment which typically includes a commitment of 1 to 2 hours a day, 1 to 2 days a week. This therapy is less structured and supportive than other forms of therapy but is helpful for people who wish to engage in treatment yet must attend to work and family commitments as well. Sometimes people receive outpatient therapy after completing higher levels of care.
Partial hospitalization is a treatment program that takes place in the hospital but allows patients to go home at night. The program is similar to an inpatient program but doesn't offer 24-hour support. Patients typically attend 4 to 5 days a week for 6 to 8 hours a day.
Intensive outpatient therapy (IOP) is typically done 3 hours a day for at least 3 days a week and is more intense than regular outpatient therapy. While the schedule is intensive, it is designed to fit work and family life and is extremely supportive.
Holistic therapy aims to treat the client as a whole through the body, spirit, and mind in the quest for optimal health and wellness. This is done to avoid imbalances in physical, emotional, or spiritual wellness that can negatively impact overall health. Therefore, the addiction or abuse of marijuana is not the only thing treated. For example, holistic therapy may have you practice a healthier lifestyle and work on improving mental health.
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches people skills to identify faulty thoughts and thought patterns that encourage drug use and replace them with more accurate and healthy ones. It also teaches how to replace harmful behaviors with healthy ones that enhance recovery and stop drug use 1.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Marijuana.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. (2015). Marijuana intoxication.
- Science Daily. (2015). Any dose of alcohol combined with cannabis significantly increases levels of THC in blood.
- Mayo Clinic. (2013). Marijuana.
- AAA. (2016). Fatal Road Crashes Involving Marijuana Double After State Legalizes Drug.