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Can Marijuana Kill You?

16 June 2021
How much cannabis would it take for an overdose?
16 June 2021
7 min read
Can Marijuana Kill You?

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  • 1. What is an overdose?
  • 2. What happens when you overdose?
  • 3. Can you overdose from cannabis?
  • 4. What happens if you try to overdose on cannabis?
  • 5. Has there ever been a death caused by cannabis?
  • 6. In conclusion

A drug overdose refers to the ingestion or application of a certain substance in greater quantities than recommended, this means that it doesn’t actually need to be an illicit drug in order to harm you. From poisonous substances such as mercury to day-to-day ones such as coffee, any substance can actually kill you if you ingest too much, and this also applies to cannabis. You can suffer from a lethal overdose from cannabis if you ingest enough, but you would have to ingest 680 kg of weed in 15 minutes, which is literally impossible.

1. What Is An Overdose?

Overdose refers to the ingestion or application of any substance in quantities greater than recommended, resulting in a toxic state or death; But overdosing is more often associated with illicit drugs or harmful substances, but the truth is, any substance can harm you if consumed in excess. This means that not only poisonous substances but also everyday substances can kill you, obviously, the amounts needed to cause death will vary greatly depending on the substance’s toxicity.


Can marijuana kill you?: what is an overdose?

The ingestion or application of any substance in quantities greater than recommended may result in intoxication and even death.

For example, 1 single gram of Polonium which is used as an atomic heat source to power radioisotope thermoelectric generators can kill more than 50 million people when vaporized, on the other hand, seemingly harmless substances can also cause death, for example, consuming 80 cups of coffee at once can kill an adult

Everyday Substances That Can Cause An Overdose

Substance Amount Symptoms
Banana 400 bananas in one sitting Abdominal and chest pain, vomiting and numbness
Water 6000 ml in less than 30 minutes Headaches, seizures, coma
Tuna More than 180 grams per week Damage to brain, kidney, and peripheral nervous system
Coffee 80 cups at once Insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations


So it really doesn’t matter what substance you’re consuming in excess, if you’re consuming much more than recommended it’s almost certain that it will harm you. But what actually happens when you overdose?

2. What Happens When You Overdose?

Depending on the substance you’ve abused, the initial symptoms can vary, but if it’s a lethal dose all will end up affecting the area in the brain controlling basic life functions like breathing and heart rate, which will begin to shut down and can cause death.

For example, in moderate doses, caffeine can reduce physical fatigue and prevent drowsiness or sleep but if you drank the equivalent caffeine to 80 cups of coffee, which would be approximately 7500 mg of caffeine, these effects can become excessive (called caffeinism) and lead to unpleasant symptoms, known as “caffeine jitters”. When this happens, you can feel irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and headaches, which could trigger heart palpitations or lead to cardiac arrest. 


Can marijuana kill you?: what hapens when you overdose?

What happens when you overdose?

This means that a high dose of caffeine won’t always be lethal but when it happens, it’s because you've exceeded the median lethal dose of caffeine in humans which depends on individual sensitivity and may vary from one individual to another. The median lethal dose of caffeine is estimated to be around 150-200 mg per kilogram of body mass but could be affected by genetic predisposition or genetic disorders such as chronic liver disease, for example. There have been deaths reported in which a person with cirrhosis overdosed on caffeinated mints, which resulted in severe brain hemorrhage and loss of brain matter.

Just like with caffeinism, drinking water in excess can cause intoxication; If you drink approximately 6 L of water you could suffer from overhydration (aka water intoxication) which would cause the brain cells to swell, leading to headaches, seizures, comas or even death in more extreme cases. This happens because a buildup of fluid in the brain (also known as cerebral edema) can affect the brain stem and cause central nervous system dysfunction, and in more severe cases, seizures, brain damage, coma, and even death.

Now, this doesn’t always happen when you consume too much of a substance, it can also happen if you stop consuming a certain substance your body needs. For example, if you were to stop drinking water or consume too much salt, you would become dehydrated, and when this happens, your cells can start to shrink, leading to hyponatremia. Hyponatremia happens when there’s a low sodium concentration in the blood and the symptoms can be mild or severe depending on the amount of sodium left. Mild symptoms include a decreased ability to think, poor balance and headaches, and nausea, while the severe symptoms include all of the mild symptoms and also confusion, seizures, and coma.

But how does this relate to cannabis? Well, cannabis is a relatively harmless substance that can also cause overdose if consumed in large doses.

3. Can You Overdose From Cannabis?

Just like any other substance, there is such a thing as too much cannabis but in most cases, you would only get very, very high because it’s impossible to reach a lethal dose. In order for cannabis to be lethal, you would need to consume 10.200.000 mg of THC in less than 15 minutes.


Can marijuana kill you?: can you overdose from cannabis?

It would take 10.200.000 mg of THC to overdose which is the equivalent to 680kg of weed!

That amount would be the equivalent to smoking 65.000-68.000 1 gram joints but at that point, due to the amount of smoke, the smoke itself would kill you before all the THC reaches your bloodstream or, if you were to consume cannabis-infused edibles, it would take twelve thousand 1000 mg THC edibles to cause a lethal overdose but it’s most likely that you’d die due to the sugar or salt rather than the THC.

4. What Happens If You Try To Overdose On Cannabis?

In short, no. Obviously, you would get super high and most likely have a bad experience but you wouldn’t be able to actually die from smoking. It doesn’t matter if you’re smoking or consuming edibles, long before you reach the insane 10.200.000 mg of THC that it would require for you to die, you will be too high to even light a joint or take another bite. If you’ve consumed cannabis before, you probably know how you would react if you were to attempt this; One of the first symptoms would be an extreme couch-lock and if you were to resist it, you would end up falling asleep standing still.


Can marijuana kill you?: what happens if you try to overdose on cannabis?

What would happen if you try to overdose on cannabis?

If you’re an avid consumer with a high tolerance and where to resist this, the next thing you would feel is impaired movement which would have you stumbling around, forgetting things constantly and even making simple things such as walking a hard task. Also, as your heartbeat gets faster, you would start to feel displeasing symptoms such as paranoia and anxiety, the effect could go on for more than 12 hs, depending on how much you consumed and, in most cases, it would end up in a long, long nap. Needless to say,  every person is different and the symptoms you experience may not be the same as another individual.

5. Has There Ever Been A Death Caused By Cannabis?

Up to this day, there haven’t been any deaths caused by THC itself but there have been several deaths caused by irresponsible cannabis consumption, this happens because cannabis is an intoxicating substance that can alter your mood and mental state, and can affect people differently. What this means is that no, simply consuming THC won’t kill you but you have to be really careful because, due to cannabis being psychoactive, it can end up “awakening” pre-existing disorders that you wouldn’t have to deal with otherwise, including:

  • Problems with your immune system;
  • Respiratory Illnesses;
  • Mental health, brain function, and memory.

For example, in 2014 a college student visiting Colorado jumped from a hotel after eating a cannabis-infused cookie; The student didn’t have experience with cannabis and, after eating the recommended dose and not feeling any effect, ate the rest of the edible, and as soon as it hits, his friends reported that he became agitated and confused before jumping to this death. After investigating, the police claims that:

"the college student had 7.2 nanograms of THC in his blood which is higher than the normal amount in the blood which ranges between 2.7-4.5 ng/ml"

The relatively high THC in his blood led to the conclusion that the student had suffered a psychotic episode triggered by cannabis, so despite the cause not actually being a THC overdose, it had a significant contribution to his death.

So always keep in mind that despite cannabis being relatively harmless and used in medical treatment in some cases, it can trigger certain conditions that can harm you so always make sure that you take the recommended doses and, if you are taking controlled drugs, always talk to your doctor before consuming either THC or CBD.

6. In Conclusion

Cannabis itself is relatively harmless, yes, you can definitely have a bad trip but it won’t risk your health or your wellbeing but you need to be really careful because due to its psychoactive properties, you may end up triggering pre-existing conditions that can definitely put you in a bad position so always make sure you respect your boundaries and never ingest more than the recommended dose, especially if you have never consumed cannabis before.

If you have any tips and tricks to help fellow new consumers avoid having bad trips (or worse), feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below!


External References

  1. Cannabinoid concentrations in blood and urine after smoking cannabidiol joints. - Ulf Meier Franz Dussy, Eva Scheurer, Katja Mercer-Chalmers-Bender, Sarah Hangartner (2018)
  2. Influence of the sympathetic nervous system on renal function during hypothermia. -  Broman, Lars Mikael & Kallskog, Ö & Kopp, Ulla & Wolgast, Mats. (1998). 
  3. Diagnosis and Management of Sodium Disorders: Hyponatremia and Hypernatremia. - Michael M. Braun, Craig H. Barstow, Natasha J. Pyzocha (2015)