Cannabis overdose Even though some people may claim otherwise, nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose. Not even Snoop Dogg would be able to consume the quantity required to OD. However, anyone who has made space cake with an excessive amount of cannabis knows that too much cannabis can be very unpleasant.
Reports on cannabis overdoses appear in the media from time to time. The most recent example concerns a case in Colorado, in which an eleven-month-old baby boy died from heart failure.
According to the doctors in attendance, Dr. Thomas Nappe and Dr. Christopher Hoyte, the cause of death was myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle). In their autopsy report, they draw attention to the fact that cannabis was found in the boy’s blood. “The only thing that we found was marijuana. High concentrations of marijuana in his blood. And that’s the only thing we found,” said Dr. Hoyte.
What happened afterwards is typical in this day and age, in which journalists are more concerned about the number of clicks than about the content. AOL, New York Daily News, Daily Mail and Fox News all reported the “world’s first cannabis death”. In a reaction to this wave of inaccurate news coverage, Dr. Nappe distanced himself explicitly from the glaring media headlines: “We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child.”
It is unfortunate that lies about cannabis are repeatedly spread. These lies hinder fact-based discussions on the theme and ultimately stand in the way of an open debate on the risks and possibilities of cannabis use.
Is it possible to die of a cannabis overdose?
An overdose refers to the consumption of a higher dose of an active ingredient than is needed for medical purposes (medicine) or for intoxication (drugs). In the most serious cases, an overdose can cause death. Is it possible to die of a cannabis overdose? The short answer is no. Up to now there have been no known cases anywhere in the world of a person dying as a direct result of cannabis use.
In the 1980s the American drug administration tried to kill laboratory animals with cannabis. They failed. In comparison, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), six people a day die from alcohol poisoning in the USA. Six people every day! On top of that, another 100 people die every day as a direct consequence of alcohol abuse.
These figures emphasise once again the absurdity of a ban on cannabis while a far more dangerous substance like alcohol is freely available.
The effect of cannabis
The reason that some substances are lethal and others are not is related to their effect. Opiates such as heroin or Fentanyl are absorbed in the brain stem of the recipient in the place where respiration is also regulated. People who die from a heroin overdose simply stop breathing.
On the other hand, the active ingredients of cannabis are absorbed by cannabinoid receptors, which are not located in the brain stem and which therefore have no real influence on vital functions such as respiration.
This makes cannabis less dangerous, although it is not completely innocent. Like all drugs, THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) influences a person’s judgement, which may cause inexperienced users to get caught up in dangerous situations.
Too much is too much
From a purely theoretical perspective, all substances can be lethal. Anyone who uses too much cocaine will die, just like anyone who eats too many carrots. The toxicity is determined by the dosage.
David Schmader, author of the book Weed: The User‘s Guide, has calculated how much cannabis would be required to kill someone. The answer: 750 kilos in 15 minutes. Nobody can consume that amount. “Not even Snoop Dogg,” writes Schmader in his book.
In other words, the lethal dose (LD50) of cannabis is over a thousand times higher than the effective dose (ED50). A glance at the table below shows why certain substances are more dangerous than others.
Source: American Scientist
The ratio between the lethal dose and the therapeutic dose is called the therapeutic index. This is a good indicator when assessing the danger of medicine and drugs. As a general rule, the lower the therapeutic index, the more dangerous the substance. Consequently heroin, GHB and alcohol are the most dangerous recreational drugs. At the other end of the spectrum is cannabis, with a therapeutic index of over 1000.
In addition to the effect and the dose of a substance, the method of administration also determines how dangerous a substance is. Fast absorption into the bloodstream, such as via an intravenous injection, increases the risk of an overdose.
Why less is often more
Although it is virtually impossible to die from a cannabis overdose, excessive consumption can rapidly cause undesirable effects, which can be very unpleasant. These may include nausea, shivering and anxiety attacks. You should be especially cautious with edibles. The best thing is to gradually work towards an optimum dose.
You should also keep in mind that everyone reacts differently to drugs. What one person finds normal may be too much for another person. As a general principle, people who use substances that alter their psychological state must feel good and must be properly informed.