Our standard way of thinking about drugs is that the more drugs you take, the more intense an experience you’ll have. In this model, not only does more mean more intensity, but it also means the possibility of taking too much, and overdosing. Can this happen with cannabis? According to research, THC has a limit, and if you keep smoking past it, you don’t get higher. Take a look.
Do we have THC limits within us? Is there a point of smoking when we don’t get higher, no matter how much we smoke? According to research (and life), yes, there is! Our 100% independent news publication focuses on stories in the growing cannabis and psychedelics spaces. We provide the Cannadelics Weekly Newsletter for readers to stay updated, and offer tons of deals for a range of products, from smoking devices to cannabinoid products like HHC-O, Delta 8, Delta 9 THC, Delta-10 THC, THCO, THCV, THCP & HHC. You can find deals in our ‘best of’ lists, for which we ask you only buy products you are comfortable with using.
Before getting to the study, and the ‘official’ documentation, let’s first think about smoking behavior. Sure, not everyone is a giant pothead, but there are plenty of giant potheads out there, and even lower-level smokers might encounter a specific time period of mass smoking whereby they can assess the situation of what happens with increased amounts of THC.
If you keep taking opioids, you’ll get super high, and then eventually, you’ll take too much for your system to handle the depressive aspects of the drug, and your body will shut down. We call that an overdose. Many drugs lead to death when too much is taken, by essentially flooding the body with a compound it can’t remove fast enough, or balance the effects of, for regular function. Some drugs are more likely to kill than other drugs, but even a non-fatal reaction can result in a seizure, unconsciousness, or bodily injury of some kind.
However, this isn’t the case for all drugs. And technically, for pot, we know this doesn’t happen fatally because there are enough smokers out there, that this kind of information is understood. We know people don’t die from pot because no death statistics exist. And because no one has seen it happen before. But what does that mean for super heavy smokers? Are they simply never getting to the death limit, or is there no limit to get to? And if it won’t cause death, does that mean it stops working at some point?
Standard life tells us, yes. As a regular smoker myself (and a sometimes full-out pothead), I’m well aware that if I take toke after toke after toke, that eventually, I’m not going to feel any difference anymore. After a certain point, my brain will remain at the same level of mush, and I don’t get higher, despite possibly smoking way, way more. I might burn my throat if I’m smoking joints or pipes, or set my asthma off (both things that are avoided by vaping), but I’m not going to enter into some new high headspace with each new drag.
Technically, every smoker knows this, even if they never thought about it logically. For one thing, if we did continue to get to higher points, it would be written about extensively, and its not. At all. And for another thing, that seeming inability to die from it indicates that at a certain point, there is no further bodily response. A couple years ago, a study came out that helped show this logic, and which backs up the idea that with THC, there is a limit. And after that limit, smokers don’t get higher.
The study in question, is called Association of Naturalistic Administration of Cannabis Flower and Concentrates With Intoxication and Impairment. The goal of the study was to assess if there is an “association of legal market cannabis flower and concentrates with cannabis intoxication and neurobehavioral impairment?”
In order to do this, study researchers designed a cohort study with 121 cannabis flower and concentrate users. The participants were in groups per their choice of general product (flower or concentrate), and then randomly split within user groups into two groups, a higher-THC product group, and a lower-THC product group. The study used legal market cannabis flowers for the flower group, with a range of 16-24% THC, and concentrates with 70-90% THC for the concentrates group. 55 of the participants used cannabis flower (41.4%), and 66 of the participants used concentrates (49.6%).
Investigators measured plasma cannabinoid levels, as well as subjective drug intoxication of the users, and performance results on a range of neurobehavioral tasks to test attention, memory, inhibitory control, and balance. Researchers found that it didn’t matter which product the participants used (flower vs concentrate), as users showed similar behavior on a neural level after acute use.
The concentrates caused uniformly higher THC blood plasma levels across the board (.32 vs .14 μg/mL). In nearly all metrics, though, neurobehavioral measures were not changed by short-term cannabis use. There was a delay in impairment of verbal memory and balance in general, but apart from these factors, there was no different outcome based on the type of product or potency level.
Researchers concluded that though cannabis concentrates provide higher THC exposure, that the difference in subjective and neurobehavioral impairments in the short term, is not specifically associated with the strength of the product used.
According to researchers, “In general, across most cognitive measures, acute performance changes following cannabis use were minimal. In 1 exception, delayed verbal recall performance was impaired after use, which is consistent with prior work demonstrating reliable cannabis-associated impairment in this memory domain.” And that “across forms of cannabis and potencies, users’ domains of verbal memory and proprioception-focused postural stability were primarily associated with THC administration.”
One limitation of the study, was that there was no control group used, so all participants received THC, with no group which did not. Investigators were also required to go by federal mandate, which restricted drug dosing, as well as control of other aspects of administration. A last restriction, they had to pre-assign the major groups of flower-users vs concentrate-users based on pre-existing user behavior, due to ethical limitations. Even with these limitations, the results still say a lot about how little the effect changes when a person has more THC.
What it means
The researchers weren’t testing to see at what level a person stopped breathing, or keeled over and died. However, the research pointed out why we don’t worry about these things with cannabis. If low and high THC users essentially show the same functional reactivity, it indicates that past a point, no further effect is felt by increasing THC.
Though this doesn’t provide a direct answer as to whether a person can die from too much THC, or too much cannabis in general, it does imply this is unlikely. Death results from the body being pushed past a limit, for which stronger and stronger doses of a compound will show a leveled increase in whatever is being measured. After the point the body can no longer handle this, it shuts down, or changes in some way.
This study implies that though THC plasma levels increase, and though some neurobehavioral change occurs (mainly in verbal memory and balance), that results are effectively the same regardless of THC amount. This means that even if the THC in the blood continues to increase, it shouldn’t show any further change with neurobehavioral activities. This study did not asses effects on heart rate, breathing rate, or blood pressure.
If one was to make the assumption that such changes in these other processes would be indicated by differing brain behavior, then it could be assumed (while still requiring official testing), that increased levels of THC intake, past a point, do not alter other body functions like respiration, heart rate, or blood pressure, either. Once again, this study did not attempt to answer these questions, but as cannabis isn’t associated with a death rate, the implication is that these factors don’t increase out-of-range either.
This study backs up why there’s no death count for marijuana. It might not explain why the body reacts the way it does, but it does show a certain ability to withstand increased amounts of THC. This leaves plenty more questions for the future, but does elucidate why when we get to the point of smoking joint after joint, or taking vape hit after vape hit, or bong rip after bong rip, that the end result, is about the same. And that somewhere along the way, we hit a THC limit, whereby we don’t get higher.
This is not to say that a user won’t experience bad effects from using cannabis, even if death isn’t one of them. However, having said that, there is also no indication that these negative responses accumulate with use, either, indicating that there is also a limit to the bad feelings that can come from smoking marijuana.
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