As much as it pains me to admit it (because KiNE Magazine is for recreational marijuana), I have been shocked by a frightening occurrence that has happened multiple times in my circle of acquaintances in the last few weeks:
People have flat-out passed-out from smoking weed.
Not the slurring, stumbling messiness of black-out drunks, or the slow-fading of a heavy-drinker; we’re talking about the fact that they took a couple hits off a joint or pipe and within half-an-hour had fallen face-down on the floor, eyes open, not-breathing like they just went 9 rounds with a heavy-weight and got knocked-the-fuck-out.
Let me say that again: one minute they were fine, the next, they were face-down on the floor… out.
This is terrifying to me and many occasional smokers for a multitude of reasons:
- These people were not “pot-heads”. They were occasional, recreational weed smokers. Which happens to be the fastest growing group of new users of marijuana in Colorado.
- Straight-up passing-out from smoking pot is rare. Like, I’ve-never-seen-or-heard-of-it-before-rare.
- None of these people had been drinking a lot before they passed out. One had a White Russian a few hours earlier, the others were cold-sober before they smoked.
Needless to say, something was really wrong, and we had a number of initial theories here at KiNE:
- Something was wrong with the bud. It had been laced, or tampered with in some way? Yet, no one else who had smoked that night had any similar symptoms or experiences.
- Something was wrong with the person. Maybe there was some underlying physical condition, yet unknown, in each of these cases that had led to them being affected by marijuana in such a way?
I wasn’t there personally, but some of our staff members said it was terrifying for at least a minute on these nights, so we’ve made it our personal mission to get to the bottom of this.
Why? Because KiNE is a supporter of the legal and responsible use of marijauana, and as such, we cannot turn a blind-eye to the risks of marijuana. True activism has making the world a better place at it’s heart, and we’d be hypocrites to promote only the benefits of marijuana while ignoring the potential down-sides. There’s a name for those people: snake oil salesmen, and we refuse to be unfaithful to our overall activism.
So in the spirit of true, responsible activism, here is what we found:
You CAN pass-out / faint from smoking weed
While my initial suspicions were that the weed was laced or tampered with in some way, through our research we found that the real culprit was most likely the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) itself. Although a rare occurrence, you can pass out / faint (also known as syncope) from smoking weed, even just a couple of hits. How?
Marijuana is a vasodilator, which means that it causes the blood vessels of the body to dilate, or expand, and results in lower blood pressure. Consequently, the heart rate increases to try and compensate for the lower blood pressure (how many times has your heart raced when you smoked? That’s a result of the lowering of your blood pressure). However, in a small population of people, it can lead to such a severe drop in blood-pressure that all the blood to pools in the legs, which leads to dizziness and fainting (orthostatic / postural hypotension).
Effects on the Heart and Blood Vessels
The cannabinoids exert quite profound effects on the vascular system. In animals, the main effect of THC and anandamide is to cause a lowering of blood pressure; in man, the effect in inexperienced users is often an increase in blood pressure, but after repeated drug use the predominant effect becomes a lowering in blood pressure. This is due to the action of THC on the smooth muscle in the arteries, causing a relaxation that leads to an increase in their diameter (vasodilation). This in turn leads to a drop in blood pressure as the resistance to blood flow is decreased, and this automatically triggers an increase in heart rate in an attempt to compensate for the fall in blood pressure. The vasodilation caused by THC in human subjects is readily seen as a reddening of the eyes caused by the dilated blood vessels in the conjunctiva. The cardiac effects can be quite large- with increases in heart rate in man that can be equivalent to as much as a 60% increase over the resting pulse rate (Fig. 2.9). Although this presents little risk to young healthy people, it could be dangerous for patients who have a history of heart disease, particularly those who have suffered a heart attack or heart fai lure previously. Another feature commonly seen after high doses of cannabis is postural hypotension; that is, people are less able to adjust their blood pressure adequately when rising from a seated or lying down position. This leads to a temporary drop in blood pressure, which in turn can cause dizziness or even fainting.
- Leslie L. Iversen, The Science of Marijuana p. 57, Oxford University Press
So, is this dangerous? The fainting itself isn’t necessarily dangerous (you should consider getting checked out by a doctor because it can be a sign of other cardiovascular problems), but what about falling and hitting your head? Or fainting while driving a car?
That could be tragic.
The bottom line regarding passing out / fainting after smoking weed.
If we want the liberty to enjoy cannabis recreationally, then we have to be honest about the risks, and even more so, responsible for our choices. Marijuana’s potency is through the roof, and the likelihood of this happening to more and more occasional smokers is increasing. So? Don’t be stupid. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation.
If you feel the least bit dizzy/lightheaded after smoking/ingesting marijuana:
- Sit down. Don’t stand.
- Don’t drive.
- Don’t attempt extreme activities (skiiing, climbing, hiking difficult trails).
- Breathe deeply and regularly. Don’t panic.
- If you do faint / pass-out you should probably go see a doctor because it could be a sign of a more serious cardiovascular condition.
Overall, the research seems to show that these orthostatic hypotension events from smoking/ingesting marijuana are short-lived. They will pass quickly and you will be fine, as long as you and your friends have made smart choices.
Before we freak out about the “dangers of pot”, consider this…
Is passing-out/fainting from smoking pot dangerous? Yes it can be. Very.
But let’s keep all of this in perspective: On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report stating that there were over 3 million deaths related to alcohol in 2012. That’s 1 in 20 of all the deaths in the world that were directly related to alcohol consumption.
Is fainting /passing out from the onset of orthostatic hypotension after smoking/ingesting marijuana a very serious issue? Absolutely, but that’s exactly why I think we need to be real about it and be aware of it.
As marijuana is legalized in more states, the potency of the strains continues to increase, and more people participate in recreational use, we are going to see more instances of passing out/ fainting. I think if people know this information and watch out for themselves and each other, there shouldn’t be any serious health threats from this.
However, if we ignore it, or worse deny it, then there will be ample opportunities for tragic accidents to happen that could have been avoided with just a little awareness and a little information.
If you enjoy our new-found liberty to partake in recreational marijuana, please consider sharing this article and talking about it to your friends.