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Pot, weed, grass, dope…whatever you want to call it, marijuana is no longer exclusive to seventies hippies or high school “burnouts”. In fact over the past decade, marijuana use in the United States has more than doubled (5). With other countries around the world making moves to legalize the drug, it’s popularity is not about to die down, and there are now many groups in the U.S. who are fighting to have the drug legalized,

Of course, along with its rise in popularity, there has also been an increased concern over the drug’s safety. The primary worry expressed by opponents to the drug is the risk of overdose and death. You may be surprised to learn that the CDC’s report of the number of deaths caused by marijuana overdose is a whopping…zero.  Ever.

In fact, David Schmader, author of “Weed: The User’s Guide,” made a point of illustrating just how much marijuana it would actually take to kill somebody: 

In case you can’t tell, this is an _impossible_ number. Just like 1500 pounds of chocolate, green tea, rice crackers, or anything else would kill you if you ate it in one sitting.

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Marijuana vs. Alcohol and Other Drugs

(1, 2, 3, 4) 

As you can see from this chart, death by drug overdose is a major concern among Americans. You may also notice, however, that the highest rate of drug overdoses are not from marijuana, or even “hard” drugs like cocaine or heroin, but from synthetic opioids…aka prescription drugs for pain. That’s right – the pills that you get from your local pharmacy prescribed by your doctor.  Interestingly enough, alcohol, another legal substance, is the cause of 2190 overdose deaths each year.

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Why Can’t You Overdose on Marijuana?

When you smoke marijuana, you are inhaling the chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. This psychoactive compound is what gives you the high associated with smoking marijuana (6).

There are a couple of reasons why you cannot overdose on marijuana.  First of all, your body actually produces it’s own cannabinoids – the same chemicals found in the cannabis plant.  Because of this, there are already receptors all throughout our bodies that are capable of absorbing it whether it was already present in our bodies or taken in from another source.

This is known as the Endogenous Cannabinoid System (7). The goal of this system?  Maintain homeostasis i.e. the status quo. So regardless of how much marijuana you smoke, your endogenous cannabinoid system will make sure the important systems in your body stay balanced.

Secondly, the brain produces a hormone called pregnenolone, which inhibits the effects of THC (8). Essentially pregnenolone lowers the action of THC on the brain’s receptors, creating a negative feedback loop and stopping you from getting too high (8).

Other Side Effects of Smoking Marijuana

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While you cannot overdose on the drug, that doesn’t mean you should smoke marijuana irresponsibly. It is important to be aware of the other side effects of the drug so you can be an informed user.  

For most people, marijuana makes them feel happy and relaxed, however others may experience less desirable side effects like anxiety, paranoia, depression, and a distorted sense of time (9).  

Physical effects may include dizziness, shallow breathing, red eyes and dilated pupils, dry mouth, increased appetite and slowed reaction time (10). These symptoms make operating vehicles and other equipment very dangerous, which is why it is incredibly important that, just like alcohol, you avoid driving while under the influence of marijuana.

So Why Isn’t it Legal?

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After looking at the facts, it may seem crazy that marijuana is illegal while alcohol and prescriptions drugs, which have proven to be much more deadly, are legal.  So why is this?

  1. It is thought to be addictive: The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug for having “a high potential for abuse”. The truth is, we don’t actually know just how addictive marijuana is. When compared with other drugs, though, it has not shown to be any more or less addictive than alcohol or prescription drugs, which are both legal (10).
  2. It has been historically linked with narcotics, like heroin: When anti-drug laws were first written, marijuana was classified with narcotics like opium and its derivatives (heroin and cocaine, for example). Even though marijuana is not a narcotic, the association stuck. (10)
  3. It has “no acceptable medicinal use”: given the high volume of research done on marijuana, this simply doesn’t hold true. Marijuana has appeared to benefit many people suffering from glaucoma all the way to cancer (10). A study done by researchers at Harvard University has shown that the drug has the ability to actually decrease tumour growth in lung cancer and prevent new growths from appearing (11). Marijuana has also proved to be very useful in alleviating symptoms associated with cancer treatment and chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting (11). Other studies have discovered a link between marijuana use and a decreased instance of diabetes, however more research needs to be done in this area to determine an exact relationship (12).

What can you do?

Considering that marijuana is no more (if not less) addictive than other legal substances, it is not a narcotic as many people believe it is, and there are a number of proven medicinal uses of the drug, it only makes sense that it should be legalized. This will ensure that it can be purchased safely by those who need it. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of marijuana, the following are a few resources for further reading:

  1. Would You Try Marijuana Infused Gum for Pain Relief? 
  2. This Synthetic “Alternative” to Marijuana is Legal… but it Could Kill You
  3. What Cannabis Can Do to Your Risk of Stroke
  4. Can Cannabis Help Fight Dementia?

If you would like to see marijuana become legal, try joining a lobbyist group in your area to work to persuade your local politicians to get on board.  Educate yourself on the facts of the drug so that you, too, can educate the others to change public opinion about marijuana.  The more people who want to have it legalized, the more likely the government is to listen.

This article was written by Brittany Hambleton, nutrition and fitness expert and co-founder of The Taste Archives

  1. Vital Signs. (2015, January 06). Retrieved November 22, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/alcohol-poisoning-deaths/index.html
  2. Abuse, N. I. (2017, September 15). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved November 22, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  3. Abuse, N. I. (2017, September 15). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved November 22, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  4. Abuse, N. I. (2017, September 15). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved November 22, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  5. Hasin, P. D. (2015, December 01). Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2464591
  6. Abuse, N. I. (n.d.). Want to Know More? Some FAQs about Marijuana. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-facts-parents-need-to-know/want-to-know-more-some-faqs-about-marijuana
  7. Endocannabinoids in the central nervous system-an overview. (2002, June 11). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0952327801903606
  8. Vallée, M., Vitiello, S., Bellocchio, L., Hébert-Chatelain, E., Monlezun, S., Martin-Garcia, E., . . . Piazza, P. V. (2014, January 03). Pregnenolone Can Protect the Brain from Cannabis Intoxication. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/343/6166/94
  9. How Does Marijuana Affect You? (n.d.). Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/marijuana-use-and-its-effects#2
  10. Head, T. (n.d.). Reasons Why Marijuana is Illegal In Most Places. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-is-marijuana-illegal-721155
  11. Kinga, K. K., Kaczmarska, P., & Szalewska, B. (2017). Medical Use of Marijuana. doi:10.18411/a-2017-023
  12. Rajavashisth, T. B., Shaheen, M., Norris, K. C., Pan, D., Sinha, S. K., Ortega, J., & Friedman, T. C. (2012, January 01). Decreased prevalence of diabetes in marijuana users: cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000494.short

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