According to various studies, a cannabis overdose has never killed anyone. But, is there anything such thing as a cannabis overdose?
For centuries, no single death has ever been attributed to a cannabis overdose, until last month. A Louisiana coroner became the first expert to claim to have recorded the first death as a result of cannabis consumption. According to a toxicology report, a woman who died in February was apparently killed by a THC overdose. THC is one of the main components of the marijuana plant and is known for its psychoactive effects. Christy Montegut, the coroner, told reporters that he couldn’t find anything else, including drugs, or diseases, that could be attributed to the death of the woman.
A marijuana overdose isn’t entirely a new term, as thousands of people believe it’s possible to overdose on weed. However, most of these stories are usually accompanied by rebuttals that claim that no one can ever die because of taking up so much THC. Most proponents of this perspective conclude that dying of other causes when you have THC in your blood is entirely different from dying of THC intake.
America’s National Institute on Drug Abuse confirms that no single death has ever been attributed to cannabis overdose. This is corroborated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that states that it’s unlikely to die of a cannabis overdose. However, the Center states that overconsumption of cannabis leads to confusion, high blood pressure, emotional distress, unintentional injury, and severe nausea.
This proves that the impossibility of cannabis consumption turning fatal is a statistical one. First, cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in the US, where half of the adult population has tried it at least once in their lifetime. In the US, one in every five young adults under 25 years of age have used cannabis in the past month. The NIDA statistics also showed that 36 million US citizens over 12 years reported consuming cannabis in the past year. If statistics are anything to go by, many fatalities should have been reported if it was true that people could actually die of cannabis overdose.
According to Alex Manini, an emergency medicine clinician from Mount Sinai hospital in New York, you cannot die from a cannabis overdose. The medical expert says that there is a likelihood of overdosing on marijuana, contrary to popular opinion. He said that an overdose occurs when you consume anything more than the recommended or normal amount of cannabis.
In his stint, he says that he has seen dozens of people showing up at his door at the emergency response unit, most with severe symptoms that include rapid heart rates, anxiety attacks, vomiting, and passing out.
He describes an overdose as a situation where a person consumes so much weed that they end up at the emergency section of a hospital. “Taking a joint is therapeutic; some do it for giggles or for a euphoric high. However, even if you overdose and you’re a young, healthy person, you won’t die,” he says.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that it lacks accepted medical benefits. Even with such a categorization, most states have moved with speed to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use. For medical use, the drug is being used to ease the symptoms in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, HIV and Aids, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, and seizures.
According to a 2016 analysis of weed samples, the potency of THC in cannabis has increased threefold since 1995. The materials used in this analysis have since been confiscated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This means that more people are accessing stronger cannabis, translating to most people getting higher than they had planned. However, according to doctors, that there exists a stronger strain of cannabis increases the risk of a cannabis overdose.
Without a doubt, children are at a higher risk of cannabis overdose. They can accidentally consume brownies or cookies which have a high concentration of THC, especially in areas where it’s legal to consume marijuana for recreational purposes.
In a study conducted in 2016, researchers found out that the majority of calls made to the National Poison Data System collated from 2013 to 2015 were related to weed edibles and drinks. They also found that the number of calls to the Poisons Database kept on growing one year after another, and a quarter of these calls emanated from children under five years who reported consuming cannabis edibles. Like most adults, small children can’t tell the difference between a cannabis cookie and a normal cookie.
Dahze Cao the co-author of the study who described the finding as “big”, said exposure of cannabis cookies to young children made them sleepy. In two particular cases, he said that the children were intubated after the cookies affected their breathing. Cao is a toxicology doctor based at the University of Texas, in Dallas.
“It’s a life-threatening situation for any child,” says Manini of Mount Sinai Hospital. He added that there is a huge difference in the way the bodies of children process toxic substances, compared to the way adult bodies do.
The safety of all cannabinoids has further been affected by synthetic cannabinoids, popularly known as k2 or Spice. In a 2016 study conducted by Manini and his colleagues, patients at the emergency department who had ingested synthetic cannabis faired much worse than those who had consumed normal weed.
They compared the clinical effects of normal cannabis to that of synthetic cannabis by analyzing 87 patients who had been brought to the hospital’s emergency department.
According to the study, those who had consumed synthetic weed suffered from worse cardiovascular effects and were much more agitated than their cannabis counterparts. He said that the two products differ from each other as far as chemical composition goes. He added that while the safety of cannabis has been studied for decades, synthetic weed was a whole new world.
Cao says that even if cannabis is unlikely to kill anyone, there have been some recorded deaths resulting from it. One example is the 19-year-old Colorado man who died after consuming a cannabis cookie.
According to his autopsy, he died after jumping out of a fourth-floor balcony minutes after he had ingested the cannabis cookie. His cause of death was thus indicated as marijuana intoxication.
Cao says it’s difficult to clearly tell if anyone can die from marijuana consumption as this is not always a direct cause of death. Cannabis consumption also leads to serious side effects like an increased heart rate and blood pressure and these can be risk factors for people with pre-existing heart conditions.
A 2014 study conducted by French researchers found out that cannabis triggers cardiovascular complications, especially in young adults. When researchers from Philadelphia’s Einstein Medical Center analyzed a database of patients, they found out that heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, and sudden heart failure were more prevalent in patients with a cannabis background. The results of this study were published in 2018. After filtering out other causes of heart failure and stroke, researchers found out that cannabis use was an independent cause of both heart failure and stroke.
There’s scientific evidence that directly links long-term use of cannabis to chronic bronchitis which is accompanied by wheezing and coughing. However, there’s no scientific evidence that links cannabis use to head, lung or neck cancer. At the same time, there’s no conclusive study that has effectively studied the long-term effects of vaping.
Does marijuana affect pets at home? Most homeowners might be struggling with this question as edibles become popular. For obvious reasons, exposure to THC affects your furry friends. As people get access to edibles made of weed, even their furry friends are getting exposed to the same. In the recent past, more cats and dogs have come into contact with THC or chocolate laden cookies.
A 2018 evaluation of calls that were made to the Pet Poison department confirms this. The study noted that dogs have more developed cannabinoid receptors than those of humans and could perceive the effects of THC more than humans do. Lethargy, vomiting, impaired balance, and increased sensitivity to sound and motion are some of the reported signs of THC poisoning in dogs.
The study also notes that synthetic cannabis could have severe effects on pets, including tremors, seizures, and general aggression. The author of the report says that there was no likelihood of the pets dying after consuming cannabis cookies. According to him, no pet deaths have ever been recorded on the national pet poison helpline.
But this, according to Manini, doesn’t mean that people should be afraid of cannabis. He adds that people should desist from lumping cannabis together with other substances that are known to kill people on a regular basis, including opioids and alcohol poisoning. According to statistics, 130 people in America are killed by alcohol and opioid poisoning. According to statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, most Americans aged 12 and above do not associate monthly cannabis consumption with any risks. Cao says that marijuana has a lower risk profile than most other substances. He adds that the perception that cannabis is a dangerous substance is quickly fading and notes that you can overdose without worrying about dying as it is “highly unlikely” or even near impossible.