Cannabusters myth #13: You can overdose on cannabis

Oct 3 2018, 6:14 pm

Every day, in every way, cannabis legalization in Canada is getting closer. But despite all the hype, noise, and publicity, there seem to be recurring cannabis myths flying around that just won’t quit.

With 13 days to go until federal legalization, Grow’s daily Cannabusters series tackles common myths by cutting through the stigma and sensationalism to bring you the facts about cannabis.

Myth: You can overdose on cannabis.

Fact: You cannot overdose on cannabis, and nobody every has – although you can overdo it.

You can’t overdose on cannabis.

And again: You can’t overdose on cannabis.

It’s worth repeating.

Cannabis “overdoses” are one of the most stigmatizing, problematic and pervasive of the many cannabis myths floating around.

Although experiences with any drug are wholly subjective and impacted by many variables, consuming too much cannabis – however much that may be – is unpleasant. The psychological and physical effects are very real. Symptoms can include paranoia, depression, fear, panic, despair, tachycardia, CNS depression, drowsiness, cognitive impairment, distorted perceptions and negative thoughts, nausea, and a plethora of other ills.

All of these are bad, but they’re not an overdose. So what is?

Per the University of Pennsylvania, the accepted definition of an overdose is “the inadvertent or deliberate consumption of a dose much larger than that either habitually used by the individual or ordinarily used for treatment of an illness, and likely to result in a serious toxic reaction or death” – ie, more than is safe. While the term “overdose” is often misused to describe adverse reactions to drugs, there’s a big difference between unpleasant and unsafe.

During his lecture at the Cannabis Hemp Conference and Expo in September, Dr. Ethan Russo explained that it is impossible for cannabis to lead to respiratory failure (an extreme consequence of a drug overdose) since there are no cannabinoid receptors in the area of the brain that regulate breathing.

But even among trained medical professionals, there are still many who buy into the “risk of death” scenario.

This particularly ugly myth enjoyed a resurgence a few months ago when Ontario ER physician Dr. Merrilee Brown tweeted the following:

In ER last night I treated someone for a cannabis induced psychosis from cannabis ‘edibles,’ in this case, a chocolate bar. She ate one piece of the 16 piece bar. That piece had 20g of THC equivalent to 20 joints! Edibles are often so concentrated that they can be fatal in kids.”

Yeah, no.

Brown managed to pack a lot of faulty information into 280 characters, from the so-called “psychosis” (misleading), to the dose (inaccurate – mg perhaps?), to the wild assertion that cannabis in any form can be “fatal” to children. There is not a single report of a fatality due to cannabis consumption.

Brown has since deleted her tweets and Twitter profile after an uproar from the cannabis community, but having been re-tweeted over 10,000 times, the damage was done.

Misinformation and a lack of education on the part of healthcare professionals created a real barrier to cannabis legalization due to panic about the nonexistent “dangers” of the jazz cabbage. It also serves to weaken the public’s trust in the veracity of medical advice and distracts from the very real opioid overdose crisis that is killing thousands of Canadians.

It’s true that edibles, in particular, can be really intense and sometimes scary, especially for the inexperienced.

New to edibles? “Start low and go slow” with your dose and consult someone knowledgeable before partaking, because there are a ton of variables that can affect your experience – for better or worse.

So what should you do if you get “too” high? Eat something. Take a nap. Pop an Advil. Call a friend. Remind yourself that too much cannabis is not an overdose, like too much stress is not PTSD and seasonal allergies are not anaphylaxis. This too shall pass.

You can have too much of a good thing.

It just won’t kill you.

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Emma SpearsEmma Spears

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