For many people, especially regular users, the notion that you can overdose on marijuana is something of a joke. That is because marijuana does not typically present the same level of physical harm as drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine.
And, there is some truth to the idea that overdose is not a serious concern with marijuana. Around half of Americans have tried marijuana, largely without incident, and as of 2021, 18 states and two territories allow for legal use of recreational marijuana. However, all drugs have the propensity for abuse, including legal ones—alcohol, for instance, is legal but can result in significant health issues, including overdose.
Despite widespread medical legalization and growing recreational legalization, there are some risks in using marijuana. Consider, for example, edibles. Taking edibles often leads to a different kind of high than smoking, which can lead new and even experienced users to become confused or disoriented by the sensation.
What are edibles? What makes them different from smoking marijuana? And, are edibles addictive, and is it possible to overdose on them? This article will answer these questions.
What Are Edibles?
The term “edible” simply refers to any marijuana product that is ingested orally rather than through any other means. This generally requires baking or cooking with marijuana to make products like pot brownies, a common form of ingestible marijuana using a pot-infused butter product as a base.
Edibles used to be a largely DIY kind of endeavor, but as both medical and recreational dispensaries are growing and expanding across the country, it’s now possible to buy pre-made edibles of all kinds, like baked good and candies. For those who don’t want to smoke marijuana but still want to feel the effects, edibles can be a convenient solution.
However, due to the ways in which marijuana is ingested when consuming edibles, the sensation is often quite different. For those expecting the same effects as smoking, it’s not uncommon to become overwhelmed by the sensation. Further, edibles can take longer to kick in than smoking, so users may consume more product in search of a high, resulting in stronger symptoms. For those not prepared for the difference in sensation, panic or paranoia can result.
Edibles are no more or less addictive than any other form of marijuana; nor are edibles dangerous when ingested safely and responsibly. However, no drug is safe all the time, and responsible use is absolutely paramount.
Edibles vs. Smoking
Those not used to eating marijuana may be surprised at the contrasts between smoking and edibles. There are some notable differences to keep in mind.
Smoking marijuana means that THC enters the lungs and then the bloodstream, within a matter of seconds. The peak effects usually occur within 30 minutes and can last for around six hours.
Edibles, however, must be absorbed through the stomach and thus do not take effect for 30 minutes to two hours. Effects last longer, too; the peak occurs after around four hours and effects can last for as long as 12 hours. The sensation can be stronger when consuming edibles, too, which is why edibles can be a preferred method for those with pain from medical issues like cancer.
What Is an Overdose?
An overdose refers to the consumption of any substance in an amount that exceeds safe limits. In some cases, depending on the drug, overdoses can lead to feeling nauseous, dizzy, disoriented, or fatigued. However, in others, as with heroin, an overdose can quickly prove fatal.
In the case of marijuana, a true overdose is uncommon. Per the CDC, it borders on impossible, leading many people to feel that there’s no limit to how much marijuana can be ingested. Unfortunately, this can be a dangerous mindset, regardless of the substance in question. Even though a high dose may not slow heart rate and breathing to the point of death, it can still be un unpleasant experience.
When consuming marijuana at any level, whether smoking it or eating it via edibles, it is important to know one’s personal tolerance and level of consumption. And, if taking increasing amounts to seek more of a high is a consistent part of marijuana use, or if using marijuana interferes with normal life, seeking help may be the best course of action.
The Effects of High Levels of THC
Overdosing on marijuana to a fatal degree is virtually not possible, including an edible overdose, but this doesn’t mean excessive amounts do not contribute to negative effects. The consequences of smoking too much or eating too many edibles, can include:
- Extreme anxiety, including panic attacks and paranoia that can result in erratic behavior
- Psychotic thought patterns
- High blood pressure and a rapid heart rate
- Problems with motor function and coordination
- Severe lack of judgment
Due to the delayed impact of edibles, inexperienced users may take multiple doses when the effects don’t set in as rapidly as expected. For this reason, these symptoms can be more common. Those using edibles for the first time are encouraged to take small doses to start and wait at least two hours for the impact to set in before taking more.
Getting Help for a Marijuana Use Disorder
Marijuana can indeed be used safely, both medically and recreationally, but this isn’t true for everyone. Similar to alcohol, a legal substance that can be abused, marijuana does have the ability to cause problems in daily life. Even though fatal overdose isn’t necessarily a point of concern, including when edibles are involved, this does not mean regular marijuana use cannot become problematic.
Any habit that stands in the way of things like school, work, family, and friends can be a cause for concern. Someone who smokes often, to the point of skipping classes, bailing on work or making critical mistakes, inadvertently ditching family obligations, or withdrawing from friends for the sake of getting high, can be demonstrating signs of a marijuana use disorder.
Addictions can take all shapes and sizes, including behavioral and physical. It’s very possible to become addicted to the practice of smoking. If this is the case, getting help can be the best way to address potential issues before things spiral out of hand.