Dive right in

Help, I’m too stoned! What to do for a THC overdose

Staying tuned into our bodies during use, knowing the signs of an overdose and then adjusting our behavior is a winning recipe for mindful consumption AND a fun time.
Written by
Dr. Amanda Reiman
September 1, 2023

“You can’t overdose on weed”. If only I had a nickel for everytime I’ve heard that one. And while it is true that there is no FATAL overdose of THC due to the fact that we don’t have cannabinoid receptors in the part of the brain that regulates breathing, it is ABSOLUTELY possible to take too much THC and experience a negative effect. I’ve done it, as have most people who use cannabis regularly. The sneaky part is that, because of our own body’s endocannabinoid systems and the influence of set and setting, a dose that hits fine one day, can leave you anxious and overwhelmed the next. Not to worry. Not only is a THC overdose fairly harmless, there are some tips and tricks you can use to avoid one, and a variety of ways to safely deal with one in the moment.

What is a THC overdose?

An “overdose” simply means ingesting more of something than you intended and having a negative experience as a result. If you have ever eaten one too many cookies and had a resulting stomach ache, that is likely due to overconsumption of something in the cookie that upset your stomach (e.g. sugar, butter). Some overdoses, like cannabis, are fairly benign and some can be dangerous due to underlying health conditions (like too much sugar for someone with diabetes). Some overdoses have the potential to be fatal because of the impact that overconsumption has on the body. Back to the reason you CAN’T fatally overdose from THC, unlike cannabis, ethanol (in alcohol) and opiates do impact the part of the brain that regulates respiration. If you over consume alcohol or opiates, your brain may stop sending the signal to breathe. 

But, when it comes to THC, an overdose indicates that too many THC molecules have binded with receptors in your brain and you are experiencing acute intoxication at a level that is not comfortable for you. I am referring to THC only here because CBD, while sometimes having a sedative effect, is not associated with the symptoms of a THC overdose. A THC overdose can happen to anyone, even experienced consumers, and can happen with the same dose but at a different day and time. 

What does a THC overdose feel like?

This can vary from person to person, but some of the symptoms reported include:

While these feelings can be uncomfortable and unwanted, it is important to remember that they are not dangerous, and that they will pass.

How do I prevent a THC overdose?

A tried and true method is to start low and go slow. This applies even if you are an experienced consumer and even if you have taken that dose/product before (I get into why that is in a bit). If your goal is to consume 20 mg of THC via a beverage, drink 5-10 mg first and then see how you feel before pushing it to 20 mg. If you are getting ready to smoke a joint, take a few puffs and then wait before finishing it. If you are smoking a bowl or a bong, take a hit or two and then come back to it in 30 min if you still want more. Track how much you are consuming throughout the day/night, especially if you are consuming edibles. Delicious, 2 mg chocolates at a party may sound low dose, but if you come back for seconds, thirds, and fourths, the THC can add up quickly and the effect may take you by surprise. 

Pay attention to how you feel. One of the benefits of cannabis is that it helps you tune in to what your body is experiencing and helps create balance. If you start to feel out of balance, or overwhelmed or anxious, stop consuming THC. In mid-joint? Put it out. Have half a cookie in your stomach and half in your hand? Put the rest away for tomorrow. The point is, like being drunk, the only thing that really treats a THC overdose is time. So the sooner you stop consuming THC, the sooner the uncomfortable feeling will pass. The more experienced you become, the more you will recognize when your level of intoxication is reaching the danger zone.

I ate the same brand of gummy, same dose and one time I got too high and another time I was fine, what gives?

Our tolerance to THC and experience using it is dependent on many factors. Hormones, metabolism, stress, sleep, all can impact how high we feel. For women, THC tolerance ebbs and flows with our menstrual cycle. As we age, our tolerance usually drops. Operating on little sleep or experiencing high levels of stress can also influence how we experience THC. Additionally, the setting can play a role. Eating an edible at home with your best friend and watching a movie may hit different than eating that same edible at a large concert with loud music and flashing lights. Knowing not only how THC affects you, but how your environment affects you is key to maintaining a good level of buzz. Apps like Tetragram can help consumers track the effects of different products under different circumstances to see patterns and help them achieve the desired outcome. 

Ok, I am too high right now. What should I do?

First, don’t panic. As I mentioned before, THC overdose is not dangerous in and of itself, and it will pass. Here are some things you can do to make the come down a little smoother.

Ok, my friend next to me is too high right now, what should I do?

Help them with the above suggestions. Get them some water and food, watch something funny with them. Reassure them that they are going to be ok and that these feelings will pass. Make sure they don’t drive or burn the house down. Get them some peppercorns, lemon juice or CBD.

Here is what NOT to do.

Look, everyone wants to have a fun time when using cannabis. But knowing the risks and what to do if something goes awry is key to having a lifelong, healthy relationship with the plant. When I was a professor at Berkeley, I always had a few students per semester who told me that they overdosed after eating an edible years ago and now get anxiety every time they use cannabis. Staying tuned into our bodies during use, knowing the signs of an overdose and then adjusting our behavior is a winning recipe for mindful consumption AND a fun time. 

Stay in the loop

I'm ready to have a relationship with plants.

Bringing it into balance...

Do you want to learn more about how to develop and maintain healthy relationships with psychoactive plants? Sign up for our email list for tips, stories, support and more!