After smoking several joints with his friends and taking numerous hits off a water bong, Mike, a regular pot user, feels more stoned than he’s ever felt before. Until this moment, he never thought it was possible to “overdose” on marijuana— but now, he feels strangely gripped by a growing sense of anxiety and paranoia. His heart is racing and he’s starting to hyperventilate. He tries to slow his breathing down but can’t. He looks around at his friends having a good time and suddenly realizes he is going to die.
“Call 911!” Mike gasps. “I can’t breathe! I think I’m going to die!”
While Mike’s physical and mental reactions to smoking a large amount of pot will not likely cause death, he is definitely suffering from “marijuana toxicity,” a bad reaction to smoking too much marijuana. In addition, some pot growers spray pesticides and other chemicals on their plants to promote maturation. The fact that toxic pesticides are causing some of Mike’s overdose symptoms is a real possibility that needs emergency medical treatment.
Symptoms of Acute Marijuana Intoxication
Fatally overdosing on pot is unlikely. No documented reports exist of anyone dying from a pot overdose. However, if someone has an undiagnosed health issue like a heart condition, smoking pot could exacerbate that condition.
What Mike experienced were amplifications of pot’s psychoactive effects. Instead of feeling euphoric, relaxed, and slightly disoriented, Mike felt extremely anxious, paranoid, and agitated. His brain wasn’t receiving enough oxygen because he was hyperventilating, which contributed to his paranoia about dying. “Tachycardia” (or rapid heart beat) is usually provoked by panic attacks or electrical misfirings within heart muscles, due to a medical condition. Mike’s tachycardia surfaced when he started hyperventilating and could no longer control his racing thoughts about dying.
Other signs of overdose/bad reaction to pot include:
- Severe nausea that is not always accompanied by vomiting
- Chest pain/feeling of pressure on the chest
- Confusion/disorientation/inability to speak coherently
- Profuse sweating
- Spiking blood pressure
When Mike arrived at the ER, he was quickly evaluated by doctors, who gave him a sedative to calm his hyperactive nervous system and medication to reduce his blood pressure. Within an hour, Mike was no longer hyperventilating, experiencing tachycardia, or thinking he was going to die.
Is Marijuana Toxicity Treatable at Home?
The answer to this question depends on the person experiencing symptoms and how severe their symptoms are. Some people can manage hyperventilation and tachycardia by successfully calming themselves down. Others will need to be taken to the emergency room for treatment, especially if they exhibit signs of a psychotic break and/or uncontrollable aggression.
If you or someone you know suffers an episode of acute marijuana toxicity and needs to go to the emergency room, know that the hospital will not contact the police. Never avoid emergency help because you are afraid you might be charged with possession or another drug-related offense. That won’t happen. Once a person recovers from a marijuana overdose, they are simply sent home to further recuperate.
Is Marijuana Really Addictive?
Marijuana is much more psychologically addicting than it is physically addicting. Pot chemicals do not target opioid receptors in the brain like heroin and prescription pain pills do. Instead, marijuana abusers become addicted to the euphoria and reality-distorting qualities of a pot “high”.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana contains over 400 different chemicals that bind to hundreds of brain receptors. Specifically, pot is rich in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive substance stimulating cannabinoid receptors widely distributed throughout the brain and central nervous system. When THC enters CB receptors, your ability to think, remember, feel pleasure and perceive pain is altered considerably. Reaction times slow down and inhibitions recede.
Unlike heroin addicts who suffer severe withdrawal symptoms that could be dangerous to their health, daily pot smokers experience withdrawal symptoms that are unpleasant but not harmful to their health. Insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and cravings can make it difficult for users to stop smoking pot. Now that pot is either decriminalized or legally available for recreational use in many states, it’s even harder to stop smoking marijuana because it is so easy to find and use legally.
When Marijuana Use Becomes Problematic
If a person has had multiple episodes of acute marijuana intoxication, they may have an addiction to pot and should seek professional treatment. Just like heroin addicts or alcoholics, people with marijuana use disorders can end up spending all their money on marijuana, losing their job because of failed drug tests, or creating a hazardous work environment because they are high all the time. Although getting caught in possession of small amounts of weed by law enforcement generally results in only a fine, it is still illegal to sell pot in all states unless you have a license to do so.
Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?
Addiction is a biopsychosocial disease: It is heavily dependent on the individual’s genetics, their environment, and the cultural aspects influencing their lifestyle choices. Studies investigating the potential for pot to lead to “hard” drug use generally focus on teenagers who report smoking pot before they go on to harder drugs. Since brain development is still an ongoing process in teenagers, the propensity for children between the ages of 11 and 19 to engage in risky behaviors is well-known, having been documented in comprehensive studies. Individuals predisposed to use drugs who are provided with easy access to drugs are more likely than others to use both pot and, eventually, harder drugs. The fact that hard drug users typically begin their drug abuse with pot is to be expected, simply because marijuana is much more readily available–and more decriminalized–than heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
Contact FHE Today to Learn About Marijuana Treatment
The overwhelming results of research into the physical health consequences of smoking pot indicate that it can cause some of the same diseases and medical issues attributed to heavy drinking and smoking, such as lung cancer and kidney and cardiovascular disease. While overdosing on marijuana will not likely cause death directly, long-term abuse of pot increases the risk of chronic diseases that have serious health consequences.
Acute marijuana toxicity is no joke. Neither is an addiction to pot or the potential for pot abuse to lead to more harmful drug use. At FHE Health, we provide the compassionate support and professional assistance necessary for overcoming marijuana addiction. Call us today if you or someone you care about needs help.