Too much cannabis Cannabis is a remarkably non-toxic substance, but it is very easy to take too much cannabis. The after-effects of doing so can be unpleasant and worrying, particularly for inexperienced users. Here, we describe the warning signs of overconsumption of cannabis.
1. Too much cannabis can cause White-out/blood-sugar drop
Cannabis use is well-known to have an effect on blood sugar levels; for inexperienced users, this effect can be dramatic, and can result in a drop in blood sugar levels that may lead to weakness, sickness or even temporary unconsciousness. This phenomenon is typically known as a “white-out” (or “green-out” in the U.S.), due to the dramatic pallor (paleness) seen in those affected.
What to do?
If symptoms of low blood sugar are experienced immediately following consumption of cannabis, providing a sugary drink or snack is a quick and effective remedy. Even if loss of consciousness occurs, this typically lasts just a few seconds, and unless injury has been sustained (such as by falling), the individual should experience no long-term ill effects.
The affected individual should be helped into a sitting position and provided with a sugary drink or snack, and should remain seated until any feelings of shakiness or dizziness have passed. Providing more substantial food within an hour of such episodes will also help to maintain blood sugar.
Although (medicinal) cannabis is proving to be an invaluable treatment for tremor-causing illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, some individuals actually find that use of cannabis causes tremors in its own right. While there do not appear to be any formal studies into this phenomenon, there is abundant anecdotal evidence of individuals consuming cannabis before being afflicted with shaking and tremors, which usually lasts just seconds but can endure for up to half an hour.
It is possible that cannabis causes tremors due to the stimulating effect of THC on the central nervous system, or via an interaction with the dopaminergic signalling system.
What to do?
Somewhat similarly, individuals who have become dependent on cannabis may experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to cease use; as well as feelings of irritability, nausea and sleeplessness, some also experience tremors of the extremities (i.e. the hands and feet).
It is important to remember that, while the withdrawal symptoms of THC are far less severe and protracted than with heroin or alcohol, it is still possible to become dependent on it. To avoid this, taking regular tolerance breaks is essential.
3. Cotton-mouth because of too much cannabis
Experiencing a dry mouth and throat after cannabis use is extremely common, and often it does not take much cannabis to induce this effect. However, during a heavy session, the dry-mouth effect can often increase until it becomes extremely unpleasant, to the point that even drinking water or other beverages makes little difference.
Cannabis causes users to experience cotton-mouth due to the presence of cannabinoid receptors type 1 & 2 in the submandibular glands (which produce 60-67% of an individual’s saliva). Cannabinoid agonists such as THC bind to the glandular receptors and block the action of saliva-inducing compounds such as norepinephrine and methacholine, leading to a decrease in the secretion of saliva.
What to do?
If experiencing unpleasant cotton-mouth, remaining hydrated will mitigate the issue to some extent. For more complete relief, using a demulcent (a substance that coats a mucous membrane with a moist ‘film’) designed for oral use should suffice. Many different prescription medications can cause users to experience dry mouth, so there are numerous products commercially available to combat the problem.
Paranoia and anxiety are two common side-effects of acute cannabis intoxication. Although they typically reduce in severity as the user’s tolerance increases, some individuals may find these symptoms become chronic and increasingly problematic.
Not every cannabis user is affected in this manner—in fact, research suggests that if an individual is anxious, depressed or suffering from low self-esteem prior to using cannabis, they are more likely to experience paranoia following consumption of cannabis.
However, THC does have a part to play in heightening these emotions—in a study conducted on 121 participants aged 21-50, in which one third were administered with placebo and two-thirds with THC, 30% of the placebo group experienced paranoia compared to 50% of the THC group. The study also found that feelings of paranoia gradually reduced as THC was metabolised and left the bloodstream.
What to do?
If experiencing paranoia following use of cannabis, be sure to leave a significant length of time before next attempting to use it, and lower the dose to remain within comfortable limits. Ensuring that surroundings are comfortable and stress-free, and that one’s emotional state is calm and at-ease, should also go a long way towards mitigating feelings of paranoia.
Psychosis is a broad term that can mean anything from mild disturbances to everyday behaviours and thought patterns, all the way to extreme sensory and behavioural dysfunction. It is a general term, and typically infers a loss of contact with reality.
Due to misunderstandings and inconsistencies as to how the term is applied, there remains much confusion over the existence of cannabis-induced psychosis, with some studies finding that it does not exist and others finding that it does. Others suggest that cannabis does not cause psychosis in its own right, but may act as a trigger for underlying psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia.
Whatever the correct term for the phenomenon is, there certainly appears to be a set of similar symptoms that affect certain people after prolonged, heavy use of cannabis. As well as paranoia, these symptoms can include extreme social anxiety, panic attacks, and even delusions (irrational beliefs, such as the belief that everyone “sees” one’s discomfort in a social setting, are very common).
Typically, these symptoms reduce in severity and ultimately disappear within a few weeks or months of ceasing cannabis use, although in some individuals, they may be the prelude to persistent or recurrent psychological difficulties.