Monday October 18, 2021
In 2014, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd incited debate when she reported on her particularly bad experience with a cannabis edible. She writes eloquently of a hallucinatory stasis that devolved into existential dread. “As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.”
Some pointed to the piece as evidence of the dangers of marijuana. But despite her experience, Dowd was not unnecessarily critical of cannabis writ large, and she conceded, “I was not a regular marijuana smoker… [and] I should have known better.” Instead, her inquiry was more into the industry’s responsibility to warn users of an edible’s potential potency. And not without good reason at the time. Since the article’s publication, many of the controversies addressed have been mitigated by new industry standards, including individually packaged doses (as opposed to the solid chocolate bar Dowd ate), and a standard of 10 mg THC per serving.
Overindulging on a THC edible is not uncommon among novice users, but is rarely repeated. Learning precisely how cannabis affects your unique physiology, including your THC tolerance, is a process no different than learning how you handle alcohol. Crossing that limit is just one (unfortunate) way of learning your limit.
If you or a friend has overindulged on THC, or you are afraid you may in the future, here are some tips and tricks to guide you through the process, and hopefully help you avoid it altogether.
What to Do if You’ve Eaten Too Many Edibles
If you’ve ingested too much THC it is important to remember that you are (or soon will be) intoxicated. Any thoughts or perceptions you experience in this state should be reserved for scrutiny when you’re sober later (read: don’t panic!). For the time being, just get as comfortable as possible and prepare to spend the next few hours relaxing as best you can.
You will likely experience hypersensitivity when many sensations feel overwhelming or alarming. If possible, change into loose, soft clothing, and reduce any harsh sounds or bright lights. But don’t retreat into the dark either.
Anxiety and paranoia are common symptoms, and an isolated mind may not be the best escape for everyone. Move towards whatever direction feels best for you.
Music is a great guide when your mind is rolling freely. Albums and radio can keep you rooted in the present by changing songs every few minutes, or jam bands can help you glide through long stretches of the process. Familiar TV shows and movies can also help you pass the time comfortably.
Avoid complicating the experience by adding in alcohol or other substances. If you can stay present during the process it will be over before you know it.
Treatment for Being Too High
CBD works as a THC antagonist, meaning it acts against the effects of THC. It does this by raising the level of anandamide in the blood, which binds to the same receptors as THC, effectively blocking it. CBD also relieves anxiety, which can go a long way when everything feels so heightened.
Black pepper is a homeopathic remedy for anxiety, and chewing (or even just smelling) peppercorns is said to help in this scenario as well. Either or both of these may help to reduce your overwhelming experience, especially in the case of CBD. Common other techniques for calming down, like deep breathing or meditating can also help take the edge off.
A soothing tea or some aroma therapy with lavender can be another effective method to soothe the excessive high at its peak.
How Edibles Work
The intoxicating compound in marijuana is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When cannabis is inhaled via smoking or vaporizing, this compound is absorbed through the lungs and travels to the brain within a few heartbeats. However, when you ingest THC, it takes a longer route through your lower intestine and liver, where it is converted into a different compound: 11-hydroxy-THC.
In her New York Times article, Dowd admitted another cardinal sin against edibles. “I nibbled off the end and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more… For an hour, I felt nothing.”
As a standard rule: always give edibles 1-2 hours to kick in before taking any more! Remember the slogan: start low, go slow.
The rate at which an edible is digested, and the amount of THC made bioavailable and absorbed by the body is subject to several factors including the user’s basal metabolic rate, the last time they’d eaten a meal, and possibly even the last thing they’d eaten. THC is fat-soluble, and made more bioavailable with fatty foods (this is why it is often cooked into oils and butter). And edibles on an empty stomach may present effects sooner.
Edible 11-hydroxy THC appears to have a more potent effect than inhaled delta-9 for a few reasons. First, the 11-hydroxy metabolite is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier more easily than delta-9, so more of it is affects your brain. Additionally, the THC is metabolized more slowly and steadily than if it were inhaled, so the effects roll out over a longer period. Expect the effects of an edible to last 4-6 hours.
Some newer products on the market aim to have faster uptake times and smaller effect windows (to mixed success), but it’s best to take the same general advice with any edible and we’ll say it again: start low, go slow.
Overindulging on THC is not a pleasant experience, but it is, ultimately, a relatively harmless one. If you do find yourself or someone else in that state, the important thing is to make yourself or the user as comfortable as possible--both physically and mentally--and remember the feelings will subside shortly. Listening to music and watching movies are comfortable ways to pass this time.
CBD may be taken to mitigate the effects of the THC.
Because of the digestion process, eating cannabis has slightly different effects than inhaling it. Ingested THC is converted into 11-hydroxy-THC which is absorbed more easily by the brain, and is released over a longer period of time. Give edibles 1-2 hours to kick in, and expect the effects to last 4-6 hours.
There is currently no FDA dosing recommendation for THC, but many states recognize 10mg as one dose, and edibles are often individually wrapped in 10mg servings. New users are urged to begin with half of this, ~5mg.
Most cannabis users have one story of an edible lifting them like Nevelle Longbottom helplessly carried off by his broom. But remember, while your view may appear from very high up indeed, your feet are always on the ground.
Is it possible to overdose on marijuana?
Even the DEA admitted decades ago that, “marijuana cannot induce a lethal response as a result of drug-related toxicity.”
How long will this last?
Edibles take 1-2 hours to present effects, and those effects last 4-6 hours. Overindulgence may cause drowsiness the following day.
How much THC is too much?
A single serving of THC is commonly recognized as 10mg, and these servings are often individually wrapped. New or less experienced users are urged to take half of this until they are more familiar with the experience.
What should I do if I ate too many edibles?
Remember that you are going to be fine in a matter of hours, and relax as best you can until then. Soft lighting and sound is recommended. Isolation is fine for a few, but many will be more comfortable around a friend or loved one.
Will remedies for alcohol work for cannabis?
While you are technically intoxicated, you are not drunk, and treatments for drunkenness will not work to reduce a cannabis high. For example, drinking coffee will only speed up the user’s metabolism, causing the edible to activate faster.
Inducing vomiting may help immediately after the edibles are ingested, but by the time the user feels the effects, the edibles have already been metabolized by the body.
How can I be less high?
CBD reduces the effects of THC, and may be used to take the edge off a bad marijuana high.
Have you ever gotten too high? How did you help keep yourself calm?