There has never been a death due to cannabinoid overdose in all of recorded history. It’s not possible to fatally overdose on cannabinoids, and here’s an explanation why:
Cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors before being degraded by enzymes. These cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems and the immune system. More specifically, the greatest numbers of cannabinoid receptors are found in:
- The hippocampus – responsible for memory, learning, and emotion
- The cerebellum – responsible for motor coordination and muscular activity
- The cerebral cortex – responsible for cognition, memory, attention, and perception
- The basal ganglia – responsible for movement and procedural learning
- The hypothalamus – responsible for appetite, temperature regulation, sleep, and mood
- The amygdala – responsible for emotional reactions and decision-making
While cannabinoid receptors are found in different areas of the brain, where they are not is in the brainstem, which is responsible for controlling breathing and heart rate. This means that cannabinoids do not have the ability to shut down the body’s breathing and blood circulatory system.
Cannabinoids cannot cause someone to stop breathing or make a person’s heart stop, no matter how much is consumed.
The incapacity of cannabinoids to cause a fatal overdose is why medical professionals and researchers are urging physicians and policy makers to recommend cannabinoids instead of prescription opioids. Opioid receptors are found throughout many areas of the brain, including the brainstem, and an overdose can cause breathing to shut down completely or depress the brain’s mechanism that regulates the heart and blood circulation. Prescription painkillers cause thousands of overdose deaths each year.
As the National Cancer Institute states: “Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal doses from cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.”
What about Overconsumption?
While cannabinoids themselves cannot cause death, it is still possible to “overdose” on cannabinoids in terms of overconsumption. Large doses of the well-known psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can elicit negative symptoms, including agitation and paranoia. While this experience is uncomfortable and in some cases miserable, these symptoms will pass without permanent effects.
Large doses of cannabidiol (CBD), the major non-psychoactive cannabinoid, have been found to be safe. CBD doesn’t cause the same euphoric effects as THC. A 2011 research review investigating the safety profile of CBD administration in humans found chronic use and high doses of up to 1,500 mg per day to be well tolerated. In 2016, another literature review confirmed the excellent safety profile of CBD.
You can learn more about cannabinoids by visiting our Education page. You may be interested in these articles:
- What are the Difference Between CBD and THC?
- Common Misconceptions About Cannabinoids
- Can CBD Help Those Addicted to Pain Medications?
- 5 Exciting Facts About CBD
- Is CBD Oil Legal?