Despite widespread use of cannabis both legally and illegally for decades, no credible instances exist of patients dying directly from a THC overdose. According to Americans for Safe Access, you would have to smoke or vaporize approximately 1,500 pounds of cannabis in 15 minutes to achieve a lethal dose! (An impossible feat.) Many patients find this piece of information helpful when making the decision to try cannabis as medicine in place of pharmaceutical options that may have side effects.
While cannabis doesn’t have a history of fatalities, there are some important safety guidelines to consider when taking medical marijuana:
Researchers have found too much cannabis can cause physiological effects, such as a rapid heart rate, or dilation of the blood vessels. These effects could be hazardous, particularly for those with pre-existing cardiac conditions. Patients should consider, though, that these adverse effects are within the range tolerated for most FDA-approved medications, and often dissipate over time with continued use.
While taking too much cannabis alone is highly unlikely to be deadly, the best piece of advice that your medical marijuana doctor and dispensary budtender will likely give you is: “Start low, go slow.” By taking the minimum doses of THC, you’re more likely to achieve a desired effect as well as combat any unwanted side effects such as anxiety or paranoia. Dosage is the key factor in achieving the most benefits and least adverse effects of cannabis, according to Leafly.
In states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri, smoking cannabis is against the law. The state’s reasoning is that cannabis smoke shares many of the same dangerous compounds found in tobacco smoke, raising concerns that smoking cannabis can lead to the same increased risk of lung cancer and other chronic respiratory diseases found in tobacco smokers. However, more recent research indicates that the long-term health consequences of cannabis smoking appear to be considerably less serious than smoking tobacco.
As an alternative to smoking, vaporizing can offer a huge benefit to some patients as a quick way to treat acute or breakthrough pain, as it’s often faster-acting than edibles or tinctures. However, patients should use caution when choosing to vaporize THC.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended as of April 2020 that patients refrain from all vaping or e-cigarette products that contain THC. Concerns remain about whether or not these products are safe. In 2019, the CDC and the FDA warned against the use of vaporizer products that contain THC, stating the products could contain harmful ingredients and increase the chances of lung damage. If you choose to vaporize, it’s important to only purchase devices and products for vaporization from a state-approved dispensary. Most of the recent concern over vaping products has originated in black market products containing Vitamin E Acetate, a known carcinogen. The CDC said last year that the best way to be safe is to avoid the use of all vaping products. Even legal, state-approved vaporization products use chemicals that release potentially dangerous compounds when heated up. Therefore, if you do choose to vape, you may consider using a dry herb vaporizer or only purchasing solventless cannabis concentrate.
Much like other medicines, cannabis can temporarily impair your attention and concentration. For this reason, new patients should dose their cannabis in their own home and never attempt to drive or operate any other machinery while they are medicating with cannabis. Patients should medicate where they are comfortable, and have a friend or relative who is nearby to help through any unwanted effects. Many dispensary budtenders also give the advice to new patients to keep some cannabidiol (CBD) oil on hand when they are unsure how their cannabis will affect them.
Especially in edible form, THC can take up to 3 hours before the effects are felt. For some, this delayed onset can cause a rush of THC that leads to unwanted feelings such as anxiety. As a counterbalance, CBD can often effectively reduce a THC high by blocking the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and preventing THC from activating them. Other suggested remedies to bring down a THC high include: drinking water, eating pine nuts, sniffing peppercorns, or sucking on a lemon.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.