Interviews

Too High? A Medical Marijuana Expert Explains How to Stop THC Freakouts

THC overconsumption isn't fatal, but it sure isn't fun, either.
THC overconsumption isn't fatal, but it sure isn't fun, either. Brandon Marshall
Maybe you hit the joint a few more times than you should have. Maybe you weren't patient enough to let half of the edible kick in before scarfing it all down. Whatever the route, the weed freakout is one ride we've all been on and never want to take again.

While new and regular users alike can find themselves over-intoxicated on THC, there is actually something we can do about it other than sip water and hope those paintings stop staring at us. Grocery stores carry vitamin supplements that can help wipe away the cannabis high inside of thirty minutes, according to Cannabis Clinicians Colorado director Martha Montemayor.

A guiding hand for over 20,000 patients in Colorado's medical marijuana system, Montemayor regularly advises new cannabis users on proper forms of consumption. So she had plenty of tips to share with us about what to do when the THC hits too hard.

Westword: What's happening to our brains and bodies when we're over-intoxicated on THC?

Martha Montemayor: It's like any other over-intoxication, but from different receptors. Unlike narcotics, which slow down your respiratory rate — this is how people die after stopping breathing and sleeping forever — cannabis doesn't do that. Instead, cannabis lowers your blood pressure and raises your heart rate. Now, no one has ever died of a cannabis overdose, but what tends to happen with edibles are a couple of different things: a mild overdose, which we've all probably experienced at one point or another, where you feel violently high. Maybe you're unable to stay awake, you get dizzy or nauseous, or your eyes get too red. You can sleep that off, though, so that's mild overconsumption. Then we get into more serious stuff, which is when someone might have an actual allergy to cannabis plants. People who are allergic to beer tend to be allergic to cannabis, too, because hops and cannabis are members of the same family.


We tend to see the serious overdoses with synthetic cannabinoids, like K2 and spice, and that's where you see things like psychosis and psychotic behavior, where people are belligerent and need to be restrained. That may require hospitalization. One of our doctors who works across the border in Raton, New Mexico, gets people who visited Trinidad, ate an entire THC candy bar, and think they're dying by the time they get back to Raton.

What do you tell users to do when they're too high and on the verge of a freakout?

Available at any grocery store are citicoline and glycerol phosphocholine, and these are B vitamins. Citicoline is often paired with theanine, and is sold under brand names like Cognizin and Brain Focus at King Soopers and Safeway. It's okay if it's paired with theanine, which is a green tea extract that calms your brain and helps retain serotonin. Both of these are B vitamins that cross the blood-brain barrier and help calm the brain down. It takes about 20 to 45 minutes to kick in, and you want between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrams — but start at 1,000 your first time. We've seen this used for stroke recovery and brain nutrition, as well.

Those are the easiest to get, but Undoo is harder to find and works faster. It's a great product, but you have to get it online. It's made from olivetol [a precursor in the synthesis of THC found in lichen]. It works faster, and is actually patented as a cannabis rescue. If you're taking bong rips in the morning and forgot about a court visit for traffic tickets at 3 p.m., this is where Undoo shines. It clears your head, and you're A-OK to walk into court. Citicoline is a milder version of that, but much more widely available.

In the emergency room, if you're at the point of psychosis, there is something called LipidRescue that is used, because cannabis is lipophilic. That is available in the ER only, and not available at any clinic.


Is taming an edibles high the same as taming a smoking high?

When you take either [citicoline or olivetol], you kind of feel a tingling sensation at the top of your head within thirty minutes, and it goes down your body. It's as if the psychoactivity is sort of wiped away. It clears your head, but your body still feels it. That works on dabs, flower and edibles, as well.

Do you think the cannabis industry is aware of these options for treating over-intoxication?

I think there is a definite lack of awareness.

What do you think about the way potency is viewed as the most valuable option in recreational cannabis? Is that a contributing factor to the problem?

No. I think it's more of a frat-boy mentality. People in frats die of alcohol poisoning because the first alcohol they ever try is Wild Turkey or Bacardi 151. The idea to get as drunk as possible the first time can kill you. I think dispensaries do try to get people to start low and go slow, but I don't think people always follow that. Really, the mentality of starting with the strongest thing is what gets people into trouble.

An old trick by employees in Amsterdam coffee shops is telling overly stoned visitors to sip on a sugary drink to combat THC. Is there any validity to that?

That's not something we would advise. Cannabis is stored in fats, so people vomit after overconsumption because their bodies want to get rid of it. With edibles, you can also express it by pooping, so magnesium is helpful at getting that out. Dabs don't go through the digestive system, so that's why the ER product, LipidRescue, locks onto fat and absorbs it by adding more types of fat into the bloodstream, to push the THC out of the brain. 
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell