In case you haven't heard, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd ate a marijuana candy bar in a Denver hotel room and had an intensely uncomfortable experience that left her feeling confused and, at times, frightened.
Using marijuana edibles to get high doesn't typically produce such an extreme departure from reality -- but it can. While pot-infused foods have been around for decades, as Colorado continues to adapt to its new marijuana laws, these products have emerged as a popular and potent way to get stoned. And as with any substance, there's a potential for misuse.
The best way to avoid a bad trip like Dowd's would be to make sure you're informed about proper dosages and to always approach marijuana, and especially edibles, with caution. But due to a lack of proper education, reckless behavior, or perhaps purely by accident, this is sometimes harder than it sounds. So there you are, high as balls and 1,000 percent positive your life is about to end. We're here to help you get through this potentially agonizing experience.
Above all, just remember...
1. You're not actually dying. Just try to breathe normally.
THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, can't kill you, even if you've ingested so much that you're convinced it might. According to studies, you'd need to ingest thousands of times the amount of THC in a single joint to be at risk of death. To put that in perspective, just 10 times the recommended serving of alcohol can be fatal.
So no, there's not nearly enough THC in your bloodstream for it to actually kill you. But there may enough to create a traumatic experience. Edibles come in all forms -- from cookies to candy bars to drinks -- and each one has a different THC concentration and recommended dosage. Entire weed-infused candy bars or brownies are often made with tens of times the amount of THC you'd find in an average joint. Of course, these are supposed to split up into multiple doses -- in Dowd's case, there were 16 pieces, each constituting a serving, though it's unclear exactly how many she ate.
Maybe you pulled a Dowd and didn't take a dose that was right for you. Now you're way higher than you've ever been. THC can cause increases in heart rate, heavy breathing, dry mouth, red eyes, slower reaction times and, in cases of excessive use, severe paranoia and anxiety. If that's what you're feeling, there's no cause for concern. And while marijuana is championed by its supporters for a variety of therapeutic and recreational effects, the relaxation and stereotypical laughing fits may be overshadowed by fear if you're too high. In the most extreme cases, THC has triggered episodes of erratic behavior, dissociation, depersonalization and even psychosis.
If you're unfortunate enough to find yourself in this situation, just remember...
2. This might last a while, but you will make it through.
This may be a tough pill to swallow, especially if you've only recently realized just how high you are.
While the effects of smoking marijuana can usually be felt immediately and tempered accordingly, eating cannabis-infused food can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to kick in, depending on the dose and the person. And it’s this delay -- people taking too high of an initial dose, or taking more in a short period because it's "not working" -- that can often turn what could have been a fun, long and perhaps manageably strange trip into a wide-awake nightmare that can produce panic, anxiety and perhaps worse.
Apologies if it's too late for any of this information to help your high self, but if you failed to ease your way into your experience, the uncomfortable sensation could last between six and 10 hours, depending on how much THC you've ingested. Nothing has the power to make you not-high, and don't even try mixing marijuana with alcohol or prescription drugs, as that's generally considered a bad idea. You'll just have to ride this one out. And you will!
We understand that this is easier said than done, especially if there's a paranoid internal monologue making this a particularly traumatizing affair. Being alone with your hyper-paranoid thoughts is never fun, so don't do it alone -- call up a buddy and see if they can hang out with you and help keep you grounded.
If you think you need help from a medical professional, don't feel that you can't seek it. Unfortunately, though, there's not a lot they can do to offer immediate help.
“[We] can’t end the high and in many cases they’re unhappy because it’s not the high, they’re feeling something different,” said Dr. Chris Colwell, director of emergency medicine at Denver Health Medical Center, to Denver’s CBS affiliate about patients he sees that have come to the Emergency Room after eating marijuana-infused foods. "And we just wait until the effects wear off.”
Just don't forget to remind yourself...
3. You will return to normal.
This is the most important thing to keep in mind during this ordeal. While this trip might get a little bit more intense before it gets better, it will indeed get better. Once the high wears off, you may feel some residual effects -- what some describe as a “marijuana hangover.” These include general fatigue, slugglishness, lasting anxiety and in some cases, a feeling that you are still high. These sensations can last several hours after the most intense part of the high has worn off, but some people continue to feel the effects days later. It's certainly not comfortable, but think of it this way: You just experienced the worst possible effects of marijuana use on your mind -- and you survived!
For some people, a terrible high on edibles will understandably put them off these products forever. Knowing your own limits is the best way to ensure a positive and fun experience, not a stressful one like Dowd's. Although Colorado limits an edible marijuana serving to 10 mg of THC, that could be too much for you if you're an inexperienced user. Don’t be afraid to break a single serving in half and start there. Wait an hour or longer and see how you feel. If you're not where you want to be, eat the other half and see how that works.
In recent weeks, Colorado passed stricter guidelines for recreational use of marijuana edibles for safety reasons, and the state is even considering new educational labeling to help. They'd include these suggested serving sizes: New consumers, 1-5 mg; Occasional consumers, 5-10 mg; Frequent consumers, 10-15 mg.
Using marijuana is like any other substance -- if you're interested in it, you have to do some self-discovery to find your own tolerance levels. You wouldn't expect a first-time alcohol drinker to start out with a double shot of Everclear.
But just like we all know someone who could drink that and be fine, there are also those who have a glass of wine and then need a nap. Marijuana use is similar in that regard: You need to find the proper amount for you alone. Experimentation -- but cautious experimentation -- is the only way to find that out.