10 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Marijuana has been recently legalised for both medical and recreational use in many parts of the world. This means that the availability of tempting treats infused with THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, is on the rise. Unfortunately, so is the unintentional overdose and the risk of THC poisoning these products pose to adults and children together.

Marijuana can be dangerous for the health in all forms, whether you smoke it or consume it as an edible. Multiple long- and short-term effects have been associated with its use, some of which are hard to recover from. Owing to these effects, people must understand how much THC the edibles contain, how they differ from smoking marijuana, and how to recover from edibles overdose if the need arises.

Edibles refer to foods and beverages infused with marijuana extracts with varying amounts of its psychoactive ingredient, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Edibles are commonly perceived to be a safer and more effective way of experiencing the intoxicating or therapeutic effects of marijuana. However, many users fail to understand that the duration of onset for these edibles is different and often longer as they are ingested and metabolised in the digestive tract. These unknown and highly variable factors can sometimes lead to an unexpected overdose on weed, leading to severe side effects.

Edible marijuana products are often similar to regular snacks and sweets. Some common THC-infused products available in the market include:

  • Chocolate bars, gummy candies, lollipops, and fudge
  • Snack foods, baked goods, and desserts, such as popcorn, ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, and brownies
  • Sweetened drinks, such as lemonade and sodas

Despite the ordinary appearance, just one candy bar or a single cookie infused with marijuana may contain several times the recommended dose of THC. Anyone who eats an entire edible, especially a child, may experience overdose effects which may include:

  • Altered perception
  • Intoxication
  • Dizziness
  • Poor coordination
  • Panic
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Heart problems
  •  Apnea (not breathing for 10 seconds or longer)

Teens who regularly rely on edibles can suffer from memory impairment and poor concentration that may interfere with their learning. As a result, they are more likely to quit school in middle or drop out of college before getting a degree. Edibles hallucinations are another symptom of a THC overdose, which may easily freak out a person.

Regular use of marijuana edibles is also associated with psychological problems, a higher risk of a substance use disorder, and poorer overall health. Even using an edible with significantly high proportions of THC for a single time can alter motor control, judgment, and coordination. These side effects, in turn, contribute to unintentional injuries and possible deaths.

The best way to keep yourself and your kids safe from edible overdose is by not having them in your home. Some other considerations to keep in mind include:

Store them safely

If you have marijuana edibles in your home, store them safely, just like you would store medications or any other toxic products. Ensure that these edibles are kept in locked or out-of-reach locations in child-resistant packaging. Do not forget to label the package to avoid accidental overdose in adults.

Use with caution

Experts strongly discourage using marijuana edibles in front of children for recreational or medical purposes, and seeing the products in person can easily tempt the kids to use them independently. Similarly, do not engage in activities that require high focus, such as driving or operating heavy machinery, as the THC in these edibles significantly slows down your reaction times.

Avoid Edibles that resemble real candies

Some edibles come wrapped in packings that closely mimic the package designs of regular candies and other products. This may cause an individual to mistake these edibles for regular candies and consume them in quantities high enough to cause an overdose.

Talk to other family members

If you or anyone around you depends on edibles to manage a medical condition or simply uses them for recreation, talk to them. Ensure that they are storing these edibles safely and advise them not to use these in front of children or other individuals highly vulnerable to accidental ingestion and overdose.

If you or someone you know has overindulged in edibles, the following are some tips to reduce the unpleasant side effects that may follow:

Relax

It is common to feel anxious after ingesting a large amount of weed or other addictive substances. However, anxiety can only worsen the symptoms and must be managed in time. Try self-soothing by reminding yourself that everything will be okay as the mortality risk due to cannabis overdose is minimal.

Eat something

Cannabis overdose may make you feel shaky or nauseous, and having a snack is the best way to alleviate these symptoms. Even if it is the last thing you wish to do, try eating something to make a difference.

Stay hydrated

Severe vomiting is a common symptom of edible overdose that can quickly dehydrate the body. So make sure you drink plenty of water to keep your hydration level up. If you are panicking, try sipping off water slowly.

Get some sleep

Sometimes, sleep is the best thing to do for the intoxicating effects of marijuana to subside. Resting or sleeping is also an excellent way to pass the time as THC slowly makes its way out of your system.

Avoid overstimulation

Being in a busy environment where so much is happening around you can fuel your overdose symptoms and make you even more paranoid and anxious. Make sure you are in a calm and peaceful setting by switching off the TV and music, leaving the crowd, and staying in an empty room on your own.

Sniff or chew black peppercorns

Evidence suggests that black peppercorns consist of caryophyllene, a substance that weakens the uncomfortable effects of THC in the body. Even though this THC overdose remedy is yet to be rigorously studied, there is no harm in trying it out.

Seek help from a friend

You may consider calling a family member or a friend who has had a similar experience with edibles. They might be able to calm you down and get you through this uncomfortable experience by providing necessary support.

If you are hospitalised due to edibles intoxication, experts may keep you overnight for a 24-hour observatory period. Sometimes, fluids are given through the veins, mainly if you show signs of dehydration. Depending on the severity of symptoms, a doctor may administer an antipsychotic drug to reduce psychosis or a benzodiazepine drug to manage high anxiety levels.

Some people develop cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome due to overindulgence in edibles, leading to bouts of repeated vomiting. This condition is widespread in chronic abusers and often requires treatment with IV fluids, anti-vomiting medication, and proton-pump inhibitors to manage stomach inflammation. It may take up to 48 hours to recover from cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome from the last dose of edibles.

If your edibles intoxication is associated with an underlying cannabis use disorder, a doctor may recommend attending an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programme. These rehabilitation programmes involve behavioural therapies and educational sessions to help clients learn healthy coping mechanisms instead of misusing drugs.

For people who are bound to use edibles, primarily to manage an underlying medical condition, the following tips can help guarantee safety.

Start with a low dose

If you are using edibles for the first time, the best approach is to start slow and low. Try consuming a small amount and give yourself some time to see how the body processes it before increasing the dose.

Practice caution

Edibles usually take 20 minutes to 2 hours to kick in as they go through the digestive system. If you are trying them for the first time or are unsure about their strength, try a minimal amount and wait 2 hours before ingesting any more.

Use a low-THC edible

Many cannabis shops and dispensaries mention the amount of THC in their products. If you are new to these products, try one with a deficient concentration of THC or the one with a high CBD: THC ratio.

Stay away from overwhelming situations

Edibles can sometimes make you anxious or confused. Hence, consuming them in a calm and safe environment is best.

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