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Too High on Edibles? Here’s What to Do

There's high and then there's too high. Legal, adult-use edibles will bring new options for consuming cannabis, but also present new challenges with dosing.

Too High on Edibles? Here’s What to Do

By the end of 2019, Canadians will be able to buy cannabis edibles from cannabis retailers. Some people are excited to try these new products, saying they feel edibles will be more discrete and less harmful to their lungs than smoking or vaping1. However, edibles bring their own complication: unlike inhaled cannabis, which begins to act within minutes, edibles can take 1-2 hours to kick in. This makes it really easy to accidentally over-consume. When the dose finally hits you, you can suddenly be way too high.

 

Read More: How Edibles Affect the Body

What Happens When You Take Too Much THC?

THC affects your body and your brain. It can speed up your heart rate, give you a dry mouth, make your eyes red and mess with your coordination. It can also affect your concentration, short-term memory, your senses and your awareness of time2.

The difference between enjoying THC and over-indulging with it is mainly unpleasantness—people who’ve taken too much THC can experience intense feelings of anxiety, paranoia and, in the most extreme cases, hallucinations or delusions3 4 5. Fortunately, while more than a few people have ended up in emergency rooms convinced they are dying, there has never been a recorded case of a fatal THC overdose. Treatment generally includes hydration, a quiet space and calm reassurance that the patient is safe and the high will eventually end6.

What Are the Risks?

Although no one has died from a bad trip or “greening out” on THC, chronic heavy use can sometimes lead to a condition called cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). CHS typically takes years to develop and creates cycles of severe nausea and vomiting. If not treated, sustained vomiting can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and possible kidney failure7. If you are a regular cannabis consumer and you experience severe nausea and vomiting, it’s smart to get checked out. Make sure to let the doctor know that you use cannabis so they can diagnose and treat you correctly.

Getting too high from edibles is unpleasant, but as long as you’re a healthy adult consuming regulated products, you can ride out a bad trip knowing that your body will process the THC and you’ll feel much better tomorrow. 

The most vulnerable population to THC overdose is children. Infants and kids who have accidentally consumed cannabis have been known to need medical attention, particularly when they have swallowed edibles or concentrates8 9. If you keep edibles or other highly potent forms of cannabis in your home, make sure to keep your products clearly labelled, locked up and well out of the reach of children.

How Do I Avoid Getting Too High?

Experienced consumers learn to avoid overdoing it with edibles by carefully managing what they ingest. If you’re new to edibles, start with ultra-small doses (such as 2.5 or 5 mg of THC) and wait up to two hours for it to kick in before you have any more.

If you suddenly feel like you’re too high, it’s obviously too late to “start low and go slow.” The best solution at that point is to wait a few hours before the THC levels in your body start to ebb. However, you don’t have to stay trapped in the miserable sensations, there are some soothing ways to calm yourself and make the experience easier.

 

Cannabis Edibles
[Julia Manga / iStock]

What to Do When You’re Too High

If you Google “Help I’m too high,” you’ll quickly learn that everybody and their grandma has a home remedy for taming a THC freak out. But do any of them actually help?

Some popular, but unproven tips on Reddit include drinking orange juice, coffee or milk; eating something sweet; taking ibuprofen; going for a walk; and having a hot shower. Knowing that your body will naturally process the THC and get you back to normal, it’s ok to experiment with creature comforts to distract yourself while you wait to come back down.

There are a few remedies, however, that actually have some scientific support. 

 

Sniff or Eat Black Peppercorns

This remedy is credited to Neil Young, who mentioned it in a radio interview with Howard Stern. The rock godfather’s THC antidote is based on the fact that black peppercorns contain terpenes, which are aromatic compounds that affect our health and behaviour. Specifically, black pepper contains the terpenes pinene, myrcene, limonene and caryophyllene10 11

Although these terpenes haven’t been specifically tested for soothing a THC high, they have shown a variety of effects that could be calming when you’re feeling anxious and paranoid. Pinene, limonene and caryophyllene have been found to reduce anxiety, and myrcene was able to increase feelings of relaxation and calm12 13. Sniffing or eating black peppercorns won’t make you suddenly sober, but it might help you feel like everything’s going to be ok.

 

Squeeze a Lemon

Another food-based remedy is citrus oil. Eating acidic fruits or drinking lemonade have been recommended since as far back as the 10th century14. This strategy also seems to be based on the power of terpenes. The peels of citrus fruits contain oils that are full of anxiety-relieving limonene15 16 17. The juice of these fruits won’t contain enough oil to help you, so it’s important to gather the oily liquid from the rind.

 

Other Historical Remedies with Terpenes

Some other THC-taming recommendations from way back include calamus root, pistachio nuts and pine nuts. All of these contain pinene (one of the active terpenes in black pepper), and pine nuts also contain limonene18. Keep in mind that results may vary.

 

Take Some CBD

Of all of the advice out there to help you cope when you’re too high, CBD is the most proven antidote. Research shows that CBD, the cannabis compound that does not make you feel high, can reduce the intoxicating effects of THC19 20. Scientists think this happens in two ways. First, CBD changes the shape of the CB1 receptor so that THC can’t bind to it so easily21. Second, CBD blocks the process in your liver that turns edible THC into super-potent 11-hydroxy-THC22 23. Both processes make your body less susceptible to the THC high.

Most of the research shows that when you take CBD either just before or at the same time as THC, it can reduce THC’s effects on your heart rate and anxiety24 25.

A more recent study showed that when taken daily, CBD helped chronic cannabis smokers feel less depressed, experience less psychosis, and enjoy a better memory and clearer thinking26. This study found that CBD could counteract THC no matter when it was taken and that a CBD tincture (taken under the tongue) could get into your body quickly to give you relief from too much THC.

Summary

All in all, if you approach THC edibles with a respect for their potency, keep them labelled and locked up, and stay mindful of the time it takes to feel them, you’ll be unlikely to experience a miserable THC green out. But if you accidentally find yourself struggling with feelings of panic and paranoia after consuming, remember that you’re going to be okay. Reach for some CBD, eat or sniff some soothing terpenes, and give yourself whatever you need to feel safe and comfortable while your body processes the THC. In a few hours, you’ll be feeling much better and ready to get back to life.

 

References

[1] Deloitte LLP and affiliated entities. (2019). Nurturing New Growth: Canada gets ready for Cannabis 2.0. Canada: Deloitte Design Studio.

[2] Cohen K, Weizman A, Weinstein A. Positive and Negative Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids on Health. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2019;0(0).

[3] Cohen K, Weizman A. Positive and Negative Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids on Health. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2019;0(0).

[4] Cohen K, Weinstein A. The Effects of Cannabinoids on Executive Functions: Evidence from Cannabis and Synthetic Cannabinoids – A Systemic Review. Brain Sci. 2018;8(3).

[5] Cohen K, Weinstein AM. Synthetic and Non-synthetic Cannabinoid Drugs and Their Adverse Effects – A Review from Public Health Perspective. Frontiers in Public Health. 2018;6.

[6] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364.

[7] Habboushe J, Sedor J. Cannabinoid hyperemesis acute renal failure: a common sequela of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2014; 32(6):690.e1-690.e2

[8] Macnab A, Anderson E, Susak L. Ingestion of cannabis: a cause of coma in children. Pediatr Emerg Care. 1989;5(4);238.

[9] Claudet I, et al. Unintentional Cannabis Intoxication in Toddlers. Pediatrics. 2017;140(3) Epub 2017 Aug 14.

[10] Wrolstad RE, Jennings WG. Volatile Constituents of Black Pepper. III. The Monoterpene Hydrocarbon Fraction. Journal of Food Science. 1965;30(2):274-279.

[11] Pino J, Rodriguez-Feo G, Borges P, Rosado A. Chemical and sensory properties of black pepper oil (Piper nigrum L.). Food/Nahrung. 1990;34(6):555-560.

[12] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364.

[13] Nuutinen T. Medicinal properties of terpenes found in Cannabis sativa and Humulus lupulus. European Journal of Medical Chemistry. 2018;157:198-228.

[14] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364.

[15] Sun J. D-Limonene: safety and clinical applications. Altern Med Rev. 2007;12(3):259-264.

[16] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364.

[17] Nuutinen T. Medicinal properties of terpenes found in Cannabis sativa and Humulus lupulus. European Journal of Medical Chemistry. 2018;157:198-228.

[18] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364.

[19] Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-1364.

[20] Niesink RJ, van Laar MW. Does Cannabidiol Protect Against Adverse Psychological Effects of THC? Front Psychiatry. 2013;4:130.

[21] Laprairie RB, Bagher AM, Kelly ME, Denovan-Wright EM. Cannabidiol is a negative allosteric modulator of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor. BR J Pharmacol. 2015;172(20):4790-4805.

[22] Bornheim LM, Correia MA. Selective inactivation of mouse liver cytochrome P-450IIIA by cannabidiol. Molecular Pharmacology. 1990;38(3):319-326.

[23] Bornheim LM, Grillo MP. Characterization of cytochrome P450 3A inactivation by cannabidiol: possible involvement of cannabidiol-hydroxyquinone as a P450 inactivator. Chemical Research in Toxicology. 1998;11(10):1209-1216.

[24] Karschner EL, Darwin WD, McMahon RP, et al. Subjective and physiological effects after controlled Sativex and oral THC administration. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2011;89(3):400-407.

[25] McPartland JM, Duncan M, Di Marzo V, Pertwee RG. Are cannabidiol and Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabivarin negative modulators of the endocannabinoid system? A systematic review. Br J Pharmacol. 2015;172(3):737-753.

[26] Solowij M, Broyd SH, Beale C, et al. Therapeutic Effects of Prolonged Cannabidiol Treatment on Psychological Symptoms and Cognitive Function in Regular Cannabis Users: A Pragmatic Open-Lebel Clinical Trial. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. 2018;3(1):21-34.