Can you Really Die from Marijuana Overdose?
As more and more states adopt a more permissive stance towards marijuana use, new forms of the drug keep cropping up in the marketplace. From medical marijuana to synthetic strains to the new “edible” products, marijuana use shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
While the jury is still out as to whether marijuana carries a risk for abuse and addiction, this drug’s mechanism of action shares certain strong similarities with other drugs of abuse. Likewise, the new varieties hitting the marketplace have further pressed the issue in terms of its potential harmful effects.
Granted, there’s little to no risk of marijuana overdose or death when smoking this drug; however, marijuana in edibles form puts a new spin on the very real dangers that come with using this drug.
Marijuana’s Mechanism of Action
Marijuana exists within a class of its own due to its ability to produce depressant, stimulant and hallucinogenic-type effects. Marijuana exerts its greatest effects on the brain’s endocannabinoid system an area that regulates thinking and emotions. This area also interacts with the brain’s reward system, which plays a central role in developing addictions once chemical imbalances start to take shape.
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, ongoing marijuana abuse creates the same abuse-addiction cycle that develops with any other type of addictive drug. The abuse-addiction cycle includes the following stages:
- Rising tolerance levels
- Withdrawal episodes
- Drug cravings
- Compulsive drug use
In effect, the potential for marijuana overdose and death becomes possible once the abuse-addiction cycle takes hold.
Dangers Surrounding “Edibles”
Edibles, one of the newer marijuana-based substances are food products, such as ice cream, brownies and even cooking oil, that contain marijuana. While this may seem harmless enough, consuming edibles in large amounts carries the highest risk of marijuana overdose.
When smoking marijuana, the drug’s effects take hold almost immediately. With edibles, the onset of effects can take anywhere from one to three hours. With this long delay, a person is more likely to keep “eating” in an attempt to experience the desired effects of the drug.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these conditions pave the way for large amounts of marijuana to build up in the body’s system. In large enough amounts, marijuana overdose symptoms will develop. Overdose symptoms may include:
- Panic attacks
- Extreme paranoia
- Elevated heart rate, to the point of possible heart attack
In effect, a person can die if marijuana’s effects overwhelm the brain’s ability to maintain the body’s systems.
Marijuana Overdose Risk Factors
Someone who’s used marijuana for months or years at a time likely has a high tolerance for the drug in terms of how much he or she must ingest to feel “high.” Under these conditions, it’s that much easier to consume large quantities of edibles at a time. Combining edibles with other types of drugs, such as alcohol, opiates or sedatives also increases marijuana overdose risks.
More than anything else, marijuana abuse practices and addiction pose the greatest risks for overdose as users have reached a point where compulsive drug use has become the norm rather than the exception.