Can You Overdose on Cannabis?

Approximately 38 million Americans use marijuana, and you may be surprised to learn that thousands of marijuana-related emergency visits occur in the United States each year. Although a fatal overdose is unlikely, over-ingestion of marijuana is possible, especially if you’re not familiar with the potency of the drug you’re consuming.

“Lessons learned from our EMS colleagues in Colorado have us watching for a significant increase in both marijuana use as well as marijuana-related injuries in the first few months after legalization,” said Sara Brown, EMT-P, manager of Emergency Medical Services at Memorial Health System.

Brown said that EMS personnel in Colorado—which was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana—saw a significant increase in what they described as marijuana tourism, which included citizens of Colorado whose first use came after the legalization, but also people travelling from other states to Colorado.

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. It contains a mind-altering compound called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Cannabis over-ingestion most often occurs when users consume foods containing marijuana, known as edibles. Just like alcohol, how marijuana affects someone depends on their tolerance, genetics, gender, the method in which the drug is consumed and the potency, or strength, of the drug.

“The most frequent type of incident reported in Colorado was when people who had no experience with the drug consumed marijuana-containing foods,” Brown said. “If they didn’t feel any immediate effects, they would often consume more.  By the time the marijuana had time to affect the person, they had taken a large enough quantity to significantly impair themselves, which could lead to injuries like falls.”

“If an adult chooses to consume marijuana, they should educate themselves and be responsible,” Brown added. “Never drive under the influence of any drug, and ensure any medication or mind-altering substance is out of the reach of children. Edibles placed in candies and desserts may confuse children and lead to a trip to the hospital.”

Read commonly asked questions and answers about marijuana from the Centers for Disease Control.

Poison Control Centers

Poison Control Centers can help you get answers on what to do if someone swallows, splashes or gets stung by something harmful. Their free webPOISONCONTROL tool can help with possible poisoning.

In the event of an emergency, call 9-1-1 and go to your nearest emergency room:

Comments (1)

  1. As I mentioned in your previous article on “Winter Benefits”
    I also have HX working in the ED, thanks for sharing and will share this article with my ED colleagues !

    Bruce Singley
    University of Maryland Shore Regional Health

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