By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 12, 2021
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Is it possible to die from a pot overdose?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 12 Mar. 2021, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/it-possible-die-pot-overdose. Accessed 23, Jun. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2021, March 12). Is it possible to die from a pot overdose?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/it-possible-die-pot-overdose.

Dear Alice,

Is it possible to die from a pot overdose?

Dear Reader, 

The short answer to your question is that it’s complicated. The term overdose (or OD) refers to the negative, sometimes fatal, effects of taking a large amount of a particular drug or combination of drugs that overwhelms normal physiological functioning. Although there have been no reported instances of fatal overdoses from marijuana, using too much marijuana at once may lead to acute toxicity. Some common symptoms of acute toxicity include: intense drowsiness or confusion, stumbling, vomiting, increased heart rate, or acute psychosis that resembles schizophrenia (such as experiencing hallucinations or extreme paranoia). Using large amounts of marijuana also increases the risk of unintentional injuries such as car accidents or getting into physical altercations. There are also some substances, such as synthetic marijuana, that increase the risk of fatally overdosing. Read on to learn more about how marijuana toxicity and synthetic marijuana can increase the risk of overdosing. 

The main ingredient that gives users a high when consuming marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Depending on how it’s consumed, the amount of THC the body consumes can vary, with smoking marijuana being the highest potency. For many, THC leads to feelings of calmness and altered perceptions of time. However, if THC is in the body and someone experiences acute toxicity, they may experience more adverse side effects: 

  • Intense feelings of panic or anxiety 
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) 
  • Exacerbated symptoms of mental health issues (e.g., hallucinations, depression, anxiety) 
  • Sleepiness or passing out 
  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Respiratory problems such as increased heart rate or slowed breathing 

If you’re using marijuana and experience any of these symptoms of acute toxicity, particularly with respiratory issues, it’s advised that you seek medical care. Otherwise, treatment for acute toxicity typically involves managing symptoms. Unlike alcohol, there is no consensus on the lethal dose of marijuana. The long-term effects of marijuana use, particularly with periods of acute toxicity, aren’t well-understood; however, some researchers believe there may be long-term effects such as developing respiratory diseases or interference in motivation. 

This may not be the case for all types of marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids, such as synthetic marijuana may increase the risk of overdosing. These synthetic drugs mimic THC by binding to specific receptors in your body, leading to similar types of highs from consuming marijuana. However, the effects of synthetic marijuana are much more intense and, in some cases, fatal. Synthetic cannabinoids may have more life-threatening side effects, such as brain swelling and seizures. This is because synthetic marijuana and other types of synthetic cannabinoids are sprayed with unknown chemicals, making it difficult to be entirely sure what is entering the body the drug is consumed. Overdosing, or experiencing acute toxicity, is more likely to be fatal from taking synthetic cannabinoids compared to natural marijuana. 

So, while marijuana poses certain hazards, the possibility of dying from an overdose probably isn't one of them. However, synthetic cannabinoids increase the risk of fatally overdosing. Overall, the long-term effects of acute toxicity aren’t well-known. Additionally, for those interested in exploring their relationship with marijuana use, meeting with a health promotion specialist or mental health professional may provide some additional support.  

Additional Relevant Topics:

Substance Use and Recovery
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