Welcome back to Ask Giz, the fortnightly series where we answer your burning questions from all over the tech and science world.
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Today’s question is one that you’ve probably thought about. Can you overdose on weed?
Let’s get to the bottom of this one.
Can you overdose on weed?
There’s nothing wrong with being sceptical about recreational drugs, especially when we’re talking about drugs that are illegal in Australia. Because we are not experts in the field, we’re going to rely on the testimony of actual experts to seek the answer to the question: can you overdose on weed?
Ryan Gregory Vandrey, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, whose research focuses on the human behavioural pharmacology of Cannabis, among other things, presented this summary to Gizmodo Australia:
“The short answer is yes, you can overdose on cannabis. The nuance is this: An overdose does not necessarily mean death. From my perspective, an overdose means a several different things. In one case it means that you take a dose that is greater than you can tolerate or than you intended, and as a result you suffer unwanted adverse effects.”
“Because there is such variety in the chemical content of cannabis products, because there are so many different formulations and routes of administration that can have differential rates of drug absorption, and because the product labelling can often be incorrect, it is not uncommon for even experienced cannabis users to get too big a dose and experience nausea/vomiting, paranoia, anxiety, dizziness, cognitive impairment, or other adverse events after using cannabis that are not typical or expected.”
“Another example of an overdose is adverse effects that result from product contamination.”
In a Drug and Alcohol Dependence study between 2000 and 2018 in Australia, focusing on 559 deaths related to cannabis, zero cases solely due to cannabis toxicity were identified. Deaths have however been observed with the use of synthetic cannabinoids, which are developed to mimic the effects of cannabis. These drugs are commonly developed haphazardly and add an additional layer of danger for recreational drug users (there are observable differences between synthetic and normal cannabis).
A separate study from the National Library of Medicine established that it’s unclear whether or not cannabis use is associated with a heightened risk of death while under the influence, however, cannabis use prior to performing activities such as driving increases the risk of a motor vehicle accident. Additionally, “in states where cannabis use is legal, there is increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose injuries among children”, the paper highlights.
“The question of whether one can overdose on marijuana has come up in many academic and lay forums recently due to changing marijuana policies in many states nationwide and thus a corresponding increased interest and consumption of marijuana. To my knowledge, there have been no cases where a person has actually died from overconsumption of marijuana alone,” said Karen Corsi, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado.
As Corsi notes, the available research doesn’t appear to indicate a heightened risk of death due to an overdose on weed, however, it is possible, as Vandrey notes.
“From my perspective, use of cannabis is very unlikely to directly contribute to death, but it is possible,” Vandrey said, adding:
“There are clear differences in the likelihood and severity of experiencing an overdose from using cannabis versus many other drugs (the risk factor favouring cannabis in most cases), but it is foolish to believe that cannabis use is benign and cannot result in an overdose.”
Weed isn’t legal in Australia — this point cannot be stressed enough.
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Ask Giz is a fortnightly series where we answer your questions, be it tech, science, gadget, health or gaming related. This is a reader-involved series where we rely on Gizmodo Australia’s audience to submit questions. If you have a question for Giz, you can submit it here. Or check out the answer to our last Ask Giz: How Do You Solve a Rubik’s Cube?
If you’re struggling with drug addiction, contact the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline (1800 250 015), or call 000 if you’re in immediate danger.
This article has been updated since it was originally published.
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