Can I Overdose on Cannabis?
What adverse reactions look like — and how risky they really are
Welcome to my new column for Elemental. Each Tuesday, I’ll attempt to answer a thought-provoking health question with the help of one or two experts. If you’d like to suggest a topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michigan voted to legalize recreational marijuana late in 2018. Open-to-the-public sales began a year later, but I didn’t partake until the fall of 2020, when the monotony of the pandemic and the prospect of a long, isolated winter made a little psychotropic dabbling seem like a good idea.
In Detroit, where I live, the sale of recreational cannabis is still outlawed. And so on a snowy Wednesday evening I drove to a nearby suburb and waited — first in a long line of cars, and then in a parking lot — for a masked dispensary worker to bring out my packet of indica gummies. I went home, cut each of the gummies into fifths, and ate one of these pieces. I felt what I expected to feel, which was a kind of mild cognitive reshuffling — as if someone had slightly rearranged the furniture in the living room of my mind — and an almost imperceptible body buzz.
Since then I’ve been eating a bit of gummy in the evening a few times a month. The break from my usual routine has been a pleasant one. I’m ingesting about 2 mgs of THC each time, which suits me. At this point in my life, it’s all I need or want. But the fact that such a small amount of THC has any effect at all makes me wonder what would happen if I ate or smoked significantly more. (While practices vary widely, many people prescribed cannabis for a medical condition start out taking somewhere between 2 and 10 mg of THC per dose.) I’ve always heard that you can’t overdose on marijuana, but I have no idea if that’s true. Hypothetically, what’s the worst thing that could happen if I overdid it?
“That depends critically on how much THC you consume,” says Wayne Hall, PhD, former director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Hall has researched cannabis for decades, and has published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles on the drug’s effects, good and bad.