THC is generally regarded as a safe medication but, like all medications taking too much THC can have unpleasant side effects. Cannabis users often refer to these effects as ‘greening out’ and it can include nausea, fatigue and anxiety or paranoia.
If you’re new to using medical cannabis, it’s important to know how to minimise your chances of taking too much THC.
The general approach to dosing is ‘start low, go slow’, meaning you should always start with a small dose and gradually build up over a period of days or weeks. To reduce the likelihood of experiencing negative side-effects, it is also important to work closely with your doctor to develop a treatment plan & understand your prescribed dosages and titration schedule. Similarly, it is important to always follow your doctor's advice and avoid mixing medical cannabis with other substances such as alcohol or other drugs.
Why Does Taking Too Much THC Cause Negative Effects?
THC is a psychotropic substance, meaning it can affect your mood and how you perceive reality. THC creates these effects through interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a complex network of cells and receptors that help regulate a variety of bodily functions, including mood, sleep and appetite.
THC mostly affects the cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1). CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain and nervous system, including the amygdala – the region of the brain that controls fear. If you take too much THC or aren’t used to its effects, it can overstimulate your CB1 receptors and lead to the unpleasant sensations associated with “greening out”.
Unpleasant side effects are also more common with certain cannabis consumption methods. Cannabis edibles are notorious for this reason – when you ingest medical cannabis products, the effects take much longer to appear and are often felt for an extended periods of time. People sometimes mistakenly consume more cannabis while they wait for the effects to appear, which can result in taking too much THC. This is less common with inhalation based formats as effects are generally felt rapidly, within 15 minutes of consumption and last a much shorter duration of time.
The effects of ingested cannabis can also be more intense compared to other consumption methods. Cannabis edibles aren’t a common prescription option in Australia. However, doctors do commonly prescribe cannabis oils & capsules – our bodies process cannabis oil in a similar way to edibles, meaning it’s important to give the effects of cannabis oils or capsules plenty of time to appear and to take only as directed by your doctor.
What Are The Symptoms Of Taking Too Much THC?
Thankfully the psychotropic effects caused by ingesting too much cannabis are short-lived, but can feel intense. How quickly the symptoms begin will depend on a range of factors: your metabolism, what you’ve eaten, how often you use medical cannabis and your method of administration.
If you’ve inhaled too much THC, the symptoms can appear within minutes. If you’ve ingested too much medical cannabis via oil or capsules, symptoms may not appear until 30 minutes or up to 2 hours after consumption. These psychotropic effects can last from a few hours, or in some rare cases up to 24 hours
Common symptoms when someone has taken too much THC include anxiety, paranoia,increased heart rate, nausea or vomiting. You may also experience mild hallucinations, sweating or dizziness. In rare cases, these intense psychotropic effects can lead to panic attacks. If you or someone with you is experiencing a panic attack or having any sort of negative reaction to medical cannabis, it’s important to know how to manage the situation.
What To Do If You’ve Taken Too Much THC
If you’ve ever taken too much THC, you’ll know that the side effects can be unpleasant and frightening. However, taking too much cannabis very rarely involves physical danger – it’s virtually impossible to fatally overdose on cannabis alone.
All the same, greening out can feel overwhelming. If you’re beginning to panic after using medical cannabis, there are some things you can do that may help. First off, move to a quiet and calming space, ideally somewhere that is familiar and comfortable. You can try several grounding techniques to calm yourself. These can include deep breathing, having a snack, watching a favourite movie or listening to soothing music.
You might also be dehydrated. Try drinking some cold water, as this can also be an effective way of grounding yourself while relieving symptoms such as a dry throat. Staying hydrated will make you feel better in general, so always have some water on hand.
Over time, your symptoms should begin to improve. Sleeping can be a great way of both passing the time and letting your body recharge and refresh. If you’re too overwhelmed to sleep, you can always call a family member or friend.
If none of these approaches help, or if your symptoms are getting worse – seek medical help. If you are experiencing negative effects or you’re with someone who has taken too much cannabis and they’re showing signs of psychosis, serious symptoms such as chest pains, severe vomiting or loss of consciousness, call 000.
How To Avoid Greening Out
Now that medical cannabis is legal in Australia, you’ll always know exactly what it contains and that it comes from a safe source. If you stick to your prescribed medical cannabis dosage and up your dosage slowly as prescribed, it’s unlikely that you’ll take too much THC. Your doctor will personalise a treatment plan for you with specific dosing instructions. If you’re unsure, always ask your doctor and keep the ‘start low, go slow’ approach in mind. This means to start with a very low dose, and gradually and safely increase the dosage over time, until you reach the desired therapeutic effect.
Sometimes taking other substances with medical cannabis can increase your risk of experiencing unwanted side effects. Alcohol may intensify THC’s effects, so be very wary of combining it with medical cannabis. You might also experience excessive drowsiness when combining medical cannabis with alcohol or other depressants, which may lead to accidents.
A 2020 review notes that there are some potentially serious interactions with cannabis, such as causing certain medications to lose their effectiveness or increasing the risk of toxicity. Be sure to discuss with your doctor any medications you’re already taking so that you can stay safe while using medical cannabis.
Staying Safe With Medical Cannabis
Medical cannabis helps many Australians manage a variety of chronic health conditions, but you may feel discouraged after hearing stories of people experiencing negative side effects. The reality is that if you work with a doctor who knows the benefits and risks of medical cannabis, the odds of you having a negative experience are low.
Medical cannabis is usually well-tolerated, especially when you stick to your prescribed dosage. Greening out certainly can happen, but very rarely leads to serious complications. If you think you might benefit from medical cannabis, book an appointment with your healthcare provider or a medical cannabis clinic to see if you’re eligible for a prescription.