The legalization of marijuana has reached a turning point, with one in five Americans now having legal access to cannabis. But critics are still comparing marijuana to dangerous drugs, both legal and illegal, citing the concerns for addiction and overdoses.
Fortunately, the numbers are clear: there have been zero from cannabis.
The reason why there are none is it’s impossible to inhale enough cannabis to trigger a overdose. A DEA judge used this to make the case that marijuana should not be on the Schedule I list of substances, a list that also includes heroin.
“A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response,”
wrote Judge Francis Young in a 1988 ruling.
Eating enough cannabis to overdose is impossible as well. Edibles have received a reputation for being dangerous, and the tragic death of a 19 year-old student in Colorado made people question whether edibles should be legal at all.
But in order to fatally overdose on a cannabis edible, a person would have to eat over half of a gram of THC per kilogram of body weight, according to a recent study. For the average adult male, he would have to consume over an ounce and a half of pure THC.
“That’s far more than most people will consume throughout their entire lifetime,”
Whether it’s inhaling cannabis or eating it, the reason overdose fatalities are still at zero has to do with how the human body handles cannabinoids. The human brain has many receptors, but the specific neuroreceptors that control the respiratory system are found on the brainstem. Many substances that cause fatal overdoses affect receptors in this area, but cannabinoid receptors are found elsewhere.
While people aren’t dying of marijuana overdoses, they are dying from other substances. In 2014, heroin was the leading cause of lethal overdoses, almost double the number of cocaine overdoses.
Alcohol, a legal substance and minimally regulated, accounts for 2,200 deaths per year. That number is specifically for alcohol poisoning. The number of deaths related to alcoholism and heavy alcohol consumption is approximately 88,000.
There is still the issue of taking too much cannabis. “There have been some associations seen with heavy cannabis use and development of possible psychotic behaviors, for example, but we don’t know if it’s a causal pattern,” said Aggarwal, a clinical instructor at the University of Washington. “If it is, I can’t prove it.”
Anxiety, confusion, and psychosis are signs of marijuana over-consumption, but hospitals are treating patients with these symptoms by putting them in a quiet room and monitoring their vital signs. In extreme cases, patients can be administered a sedative if they appear psychotic or dangerous.