The term ‘greening out’ is a colloquial phrase for when somebody consumes too much cannabis. Yes, our body has a limit to which it can accommodate cannabis/cannabinoids especially THC. With doses that are too large or too frequent, cannabis starts producing some adverse side effects.
Many regular cannabis consumers will know what it’s like to feel greened out, however the ordeal can be quite overwhelming for newcomers.
Despite the forgiving safety profile of cannabis (specifically THC), too much of it can lead to intense side effects such as:
- Loss of balance
- Increased heart rate
- Emotional disturbance
- And other undesirable effects.
Regardless of whether you’re new, experienced, or healthy as a horse, greening out is an unpleasant and sometimes a frightening ordeal. However, it is important to remember nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose although heart issues for some people are a valid concern.
If you learn how to prevent and handle greening out, it’ll make the entire experience a lot easier.
How Does Greening Out Happen?
If you like cannabis, greening out is the consequence from too much of a good thing. But exactly what is it?
Simply put, “greening out” describes a series of unpleasant mental and physical effects caused by too much THC. It is often referred to as THC overdose. Note that THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It is responsible for the altered state of consciousness and feeling of euphoria as well as other physiological effects after using cannabis products.
What’s happening here, exactly? Here’s some science for you.
Our body’s natural endocannabinoid system relies on receptors – called CB1 and CB2 – which are responsible for the uptake of internal cannabinoids produced by the body. CB1 receptors primarily exist in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), while CB2 receptors are mainly found throughout the body.
These same receptors work directly or indirectly with phytocannabinoids (external cannabinoids) like THC. In THC’s case, the compound directly affects both the CB1 and CB2 receptors located in the central nervous system and body respectively. This is how THC has physical and mental effects.
Greening out occurs when the nervous system’s CB1 receptors take more THC than they can handle, leading to a slew of mental effects that can be scary, uncomfortable and – if you have a heart issue – potentially dangerous.
Greening out is most common in people who consume alcohol immediately before using cannabis. These individuals will go pale (turn green or white) hence the name “greening out or whiting out,” start to sweat and feel nauseous or dizzy. They may start vomiting and experience panic.
Essentially, the presence of alcohol in your system can increase your THC absorption thus producing a much stronger effect.
Symptoms of Greening Out
Greening out is hard to experience, but it’s easy to spot. The symptoms are mostly obvious, although there is some overlap between being really high and greening out.
Some of the symptoms we’ll talk about might be par for the course in strong chemovars (aka strains). But what separates greening out is that the effects become too intense.
In other words, if you green out, you’ll know. Let’s see what to look for.
Cannabis is famous for its ability to help with nausea. We’ve all heard the wonders it does for cancer patients undergoing stomach issues and lost appetite from chemotherapy.
But if you become nauseous during or after cannabis use, it’s quite likely you’re greening out.
Dizziness isn’t uncommon when you’re high. That lightheaded feeling might throw you off balance a bit - literally and figuratively.
But when you green out, the dizziness goes beyond that manageable light-headedness.
Try lying down or closing your eyes. If you feel like you’re still spinning, you’ve probably pushed beyond your THC limit.
Paranoia is often associated with being high, so just because you have paranoid thoughts doesn’t mean you’ve overdone it (although it’s a sign you should put down the weed for now).
If you’re unfamiliar, paranoia is an uneasy feeling, as if something’s not right. This can lead to intrusive, disturbing thoughts. If you live in a state where cannabis is illegal, the fear of being caught can really stoke the flames of paranoia.
You may also get jumpy, being more reactive to movement or sounds.
Again, it’s not uncommon to feel somewhat paranoid. You might be used to it. But if that feeling gets more extreme than you can manage, it’s possible you’re greening out.
A lot of people use cannabis to combat anxiety, be it isolated or chronic. But anxiety and weed are a balancing act. Low, careful doses of THC help anxiety, but high doses of THC may lead to anxiety.
Some chemovars just make you feel anxious. But again, it’s about the degree. If you feel extremely nervous after consuming a lot of weed, cut yourself off right away.
5) Increased Heart Rate
THC and increased heart rate go hand-in-hand, but too much THC can cause some serious problems in the cardiovascular department.
If you have no concerning issues, then you’ll probably be fine once the THC wears off and your heart rate becomes normal.
However, those with heart disease, high blood pressure, or any other condition affected by heart performance, it’s best that you avoid cannabis entirely until you check with specialist.
Drowsiness is easily one of the most common side effects from using cannabis. After all, its sedative nature has been a life-saver for many people with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Of course, not all chemovars make you drowsy. But it’s easy to tell the relaxing ones from the uplifting kinds.
With greening out, that drowsiness can get really severe. It crosses the line from “mellow and relaxed” to “barely awake.”
7) Dry Mouth
If you wonder why weed can give you cottonmouth, you might be surprised to know it’s not due to dehydration. Instead, THC inhibits saliva production, leading to “cotton mouth.”
While you’re not at risk of dehydration, greening out can cause severe cottonmouth or dry mouth, which feels really uncomfortable. This is probably why long-term cannabis use can cause gum disease, which has been noted in multiple studies including one from Columbia University.
Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth from getting too dry.
Greening out can lead to uncontrollable vomiting. Vomiting during greening out can also arise from consuming cannabis with a high concentration of contaminants like neem oil.
It is common for people greening out to hallucinate. In most cases, they may lie motionless and experience an altered sense of time. This is because the absorbed THC has altered the state of the brain,making users experience what is actually not there.
The more THC you have in your system, the higher the chances of going through a psychoactive episode. For example, high absorption of THC in the body can lead to cannabis induced synthesia where users have experienced a loss of smell and touch.
10) Panic Attacks
The altered mindstate that comes with greening out can bring about a feeling of doom, numbness or tingling sensations and a sense of detachment from your body. This can lead to panic attacks which may be severe and cause seizures in users.
11) Breathing Problems
Greening out can make breathing difficult. This is resulting from the hyperactivity of THC and altered heart rate. The body tries to supply more oxygen that will neutralize the effect of THC.
Is Too Much THC Dangerous?
Generally speaking, THC is not toxic. It mimics the activity of anandamide, a chemical that interacts with our brain to modulate cognitive activities, which the body already produces naturally.
Note that no recorded deaths have been reported as a result of too much THC alone. Obviously, if you get really high and then operate heavy machinery, such as a car, you’re more likely to run into problems.
Certain activities like drinking alcohol, combining cannabis with other medications and/or underlying health conditions can however worsen the situation. This can increase the level at which we absorb and react to THC thus making us green out.
How to Avoid Greening Out
The best way to handle a greenout is prevention - something that’s surprisingly easy to do. Ultimately, it comes down to being cautious to avoid biting off more THC than you can chew.
Beware of drug-drug interaction
People who combine cannabis with alcohol are more at risk of greening out than others. They also risk a negative drug-drug interaction whose consequences may be severe and life threatening.
Cannabinoids are processed in the liver by the CYP450 enzyme which is also responsible for processing most medications. By combining cannabis with certain medications and substances like alcohol, a competitive inhibition may set in which increases the absorption of THC thus leading users to green out or white out.
In other words, if you want to avoid greening out, be careful about combining weed with booze.
Be Careful With Edibles
A lot of people like edibles for their variety and extended effects. The problem is that greening out on edibles is easy to do, but hard to fix.
Smoking or vaping weed hits quickly, so it’s easy to tell if you’re reaching your limit. Edibles take time, so you could consume 1,000mg of THC and not know until much later.
“Start low and go slow” is a common motto in the cannabis community, and users of all skill levels should stick to it religiously. The delayed effects of edibles make it hard to tell how much you need. The only way to know is through gradual experimentation.
If possible, it’s best to get your weed products legally, where THC content is constant and clearly-labeled.
Dr. Chris Emerson recommends 3mg to start. Wait 30 to 90 minutes for the edibles to take effect, although it could take even longer. Some people have to wait a full day before trying again.
Re-dosing too quickly is a common challenge with edible cannabis. Edibles can creep up on you and seem weak at first, then feel considerably stronger.
Know Your Limit
Weed dosing isn’t an exact science - despite our best efforts to change that. We do understand, however, that everyone’s system is different.
The sensitivity and concentration of cannabinoid receptors in the body and central nervous system impact how easily you’ll be affected.
Experience (or lack thereof) also determines tolerance. New users need to be extra careful and avoid overdoing it with high-THC products.
Consume With Friends
Getting quietly high at home can be relaxing, but if you plan to push your limits, it’s best to do that in a trusted group setting.
Friends can warn you if you’re using too much cannabis. If you do green out, being around others will help reduce symptoms like anxiety or paranoia because the sense of immediate help has a calming effect.
Conversely, some people do prefer to be left alone when greening out.
Try Lower THC Products
This is a pretty straightforward rule. Greening out happens when you take in more THC than your body can tolerate. The key to preventing that is to stay as far away from that threshold as possible.
We’ve covered “start low and go slow” as the golden rule for edibles, but a similar strategy applies with smoking or vaping. Newcomers should start with a bud below 10% THC. Take two or three puffs and see how you feel after ten minutes then try more if necessary.
What to Do When You Use Too Much Weed
Even with careful dosing, there’s still a chance you’ll slip up. If that happens, don’t worry. The next few hours are going to be physically and mentally rough to some degree. Having a plan adds a sense of control to the rocky situation, so it’s tremendously helpful to know what to do if you green out.
Ultimately, you can’t stop a THC overdose in its tracks, but you can mitigate or shorten the effects and learn what works best for you.
Turn to Terpenes
Terpenes - oily compounds found throughout the plant kingdom - play a huge part in the recreational and medical effects of cannabis. These terpenes give plants their distinct tastes and smells, along with different applications in herbal medicine.
When dealing with a greenout, beta-caryophyllene and limonene are terpenes you want to have on hand - the good news is you likely do.
Beta-caryophyllene and limonene are found in black peppercorn and lemon respectively. Both are also common in many cannabis chemovars. These terpenes are known to help reduce anxiety and paranoia from being too high.
To get some quick caryophyllene, just chew a few peppercorn balls. You can easily consume limonene by eating a few lemon slices or drinking lemon juice. Don’t use lemonade, as it’s diluted and full of sugar, which will just dehydrate you.
Dry mouth is a common side effect for many cannabis chemovars, especially if you green out.
Water is usually the g0-to, since every house has access to it, but juice and herbal tea (little to no caffeine) will work as well. If nausea or vomiting won’t let you keep any fluids down, try taking small sips or sucking on ice chips until you feel a bit better.
Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages, like cola or coffee, as these contribute to dehydration.
Grab Some CBD
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a known THC antagonist, meaning it mitigates the effects of THC. CBD alters the uptake of THC in the CB1 receptors, abruptly stopping further intoxication.
Keep some CBD on hand. You can find hemp-derived oils and other ingestible forms of CBD. But it’s also available in vape cartridges. There are plenty of online vendors and health food stores that specialize in these products.
Take a Shower
Showers help awaken the senses and fight off some of the negative effects you’re experiencing. Use cold water if you feel overheated.
Talk to Someone
Hopefully you took the advice to use weed with friends. If so, tell your group you feel sick and suspect you’re greening out. They’ll talk you through the experience and be able to help you be as comfortable as possible while you deal with the symptoms.
If you’re alone, try texting or calling someone you trust - preferably a person who knows about your cannabis use. Tell them you feel sick or might be greening out. Stay in touch on the phone or in text until you feel comfortable enough to power through the ordeal on your own.
Change Your Environment
Sometimes, getting up and moving somewhere else can really help take the edge off. Try going outside for a few minutes. The fresh air will get you away from any lingering weed smell and might just give your senses a bit of a jumpstart.
It’s also a good idea to eliminate intense background noise, like loud music. Try and put on a funny or low-key movie to help keep your mind busy.
When greening out, you’re your own worst enemy. The negative, intrusive thoughts zipping through your head can make the situation feel ten times worse.
It may be difficult to understand at the time, but the issue is temporary and will wear off. Plus, you’ll walk away having learned a valuable lesson about your limits.
Sometimes, the key to a milder greenout comes from positive thinking. Remind yourself that what you’re experiencing is the result of THC. Once that’s gone, the symptoms will be gone too.
Everything you hear, see, or think about is just the consequence of too much weed.
Maybe you feel scared, but don’t worry - it’ll pass. Once you understand this, the whole experience will be a lot easier.
How to Look After Someone Who is Greening Out
While people who green out may tend to be aggressive and uncooperative due to panic attacks and altered sense of consciousness, here are a few things you can do to help your friend who is greening out.
- Don’t be afraid
Remember that your friend is solely relying on your ability to concentrate and bring them out of it. Seek professional help if necessary. Make sure you don’t panic. Keep calm and be confident that it can only last a few hours.
- Take them to a safe place and monitor them
Make sure to remove any potentially items that can harm the person greening out. You can help them get to a safe place and lie them down as the effects wear out. Make sure they are not anywhere near loud music, a crowd or bright light as this can increase the intensity of their experience. Increase ventilation and make them comfortable. Make sure they are breathing properly.
- Reassure them they are not alone
Stay with them and keep reassuring them that you are with them. Let them know you are not leaving their side. This will help to keep them calm and focused. Let them know they’ll feel better once the cannabis wears off.
- Keep them hydrated
Encourage them to stay hydrated. Don’t force them to drink plenty of water as this may not change anything but encourage to take some water when they feel the need to. This will help to reduce the effect of THC and restore normalcy.
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