What Does “Greening Out” Mean?

Greened out
By Andrew Ward Updated March 8th

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

Intoxication comes in many forms. We often associate over-intoxication with alcohol or hard drugs. However, it's possible to overuse just about any substance, including ones most people consider safe enough to use every day, like caffeine. While overusing some substances is potentially deadly, the effects of others aren't usually nearly as dangerous. Still, even if overusing a substance isn't medically dangerous, it might have seriously unpleasant results.

Cannabis lands on that list. Like caffeine and tobacco, cannabis can deliver pleasant and relaxing consumer experiences. Still, these pleasurable intoxicating substances can produce detrimental results when overly consumed.

Consuming too much cannabis has commonly been called greening out, while clinical terms describe the condition as "the initial state of acute intoxication." 

Greening out can severely alter your mindset and cognition. Some of these effects can be positive, but more often than not, greening out isn't a fun experience. None of these outcomes have been deadly, but many will leave you with an unpleasant couple of hours, to say the least.

With cannabis becoming more accessible and potent, consumers should be aware of greening out. More importantly, you should know what to do if it happens to you or someone around you. 

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What Can Cause Someone To "Green Out?"

There's no evidence someone can die from consuming excessive amounts of cannabis, especially not natural cannabis. However there are rare reports of children accessing unregulated, semi-synthetic delta-8 THC gummies, which may have contained high levels of the compound, other synthetic cannabinoids, and hazardous contaminants. While there are no reported deaths from individuals who ingest delta-9 THC, they certainly can become overly intoxicated. 

While it's clear that cannabis has many potential benefits, we must also acknowledge that it's becoming increasingly easy to over-consume it, namely the cannabinoid THC. Products like cannabis extracts contain upwards of 70% THC, making it easier than ever to accidentally become over-intoxicated. THC potency alone is often attributed to the rise in more potent effects, but more accurately, the rise should be attributed to whole plant profiles, including cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds.

No matter the case, consumers need to be aware of how much they're taking in. 

With cannabis, the cannabinoid THC binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body. When it binds to CB1 receptors in the brain, THC has been found to overstimulate receptors, leading to increased production of the naturally occurring chemical serotonin. 

One may assume this is a positive result, as serotonin is often associated with happiness. However, overproduction of serotonin can lead to various adverse symptoms that often resemble greening out. These symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate 
  • Confusion or Delirium  
  • Hallucinations 
  • Nausea  
  • Vomiting    

Someone can "green out" by exceeding their personal THC tolerance. That limit varies by each person, depending on several factors. New and lighter consumers need to be particularly cautious. A 2019 Oregon and Alaska-based poison center data study noted that acute toxicity occurs across all age groups, including minors.1

The analysis found that children were most likely to experience the effects via unintentionally ingesting homemade edibles made by friends or family. Adults were more likely to over-consume using retail edible products. While edibles were the most common cause of greening out, flower and concentrated oil were also considered common contributing factors.

With lower tolerance comes a higher risk of overconsumption. That doesn't mean experienced consumers can't green out, but they carry less risk in most cases.2

A similar condition occurs when mixing cannabis and alcohol in excess. Commonly known as becoming crossfaded, the condition causes similar effects to greening out. However, with alcohol added to the mix, the risks and symptoms do increase. 

Signs and symptoms of being crossfaded to excess include:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Disorientation 

Additional symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Decreased verbal or motor skills
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting

What is it Like to Green Out?

What is greening out

Greening out essentially happens when the good times turn bad. More specifically, greening out happens when various uncomfortable warning signs and symptoms replace the usual pleasurable experiences associated with cannabis.

When people become overly intoxicated on THC, they experience various unpleasant side effects associated with cannabis use intensely. They include many of  the symptoms listed above. In some cases, a person may also experience declined mobility, with some reporting the sensation of heavy limbs. In rare cases, some have reported hallucinations as well.

Several warning signs could indicate a green out on the horizon. They include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea 
  • Sweating 
  • Disorientation
  • Increased anxiety or paranoia

How Does Greening Out Impact Someone's Health?

Greening out is a form of overdosing, meaning you won't have a good time. Thankfully, unlike other substance overdoses, few, if any, long-term effects have been recorded in clinical research to date.

That doesn't mean you're in the clear regarding cannabis overconsumption. Greening out typically lasts several hours and can carry into the next day if you end up with a cannabis hangover. During that time, you can experience a range of uncomfortable symptoms that may produce additional adverse effects such as a lack of sleep, body pains, and other possible associated effects.

No long-term effects from overconsuming cannabis have been widely reported. However, some possible acute and long-term effects from cannabis use have been reported in select studies. Select studies suggest that effects predominantly occur among individuals aged 15 to 34. While additional research is needed, the reported adverse effects of long-term and acute consumption include:3

  • Mood disorders
  • Exacerbation of existing psychotic disorders
  • Cannabis use disorders
  • Withdrawal syndrome
  • Neurocognitive impairments
  • Cardiovascular impairments 
  • Respiratory impairments  
  • Various other diseases

What Can You Do If Someone Greens Out?

greened out

Greening out is an uncomfortable and unwanted experience that, thankfully, shouldn't result in grave or lasting effects. Still, it's something you likely want to avoid. And if you do find yourself in that position, you'll want it to end as soon as possible.

So what are you to do when you or someone nearby is greening out? Consider some of these methods as possible preventions and remedies:

  • CBD: Numerous reports have highlighted CBD's impact on the body's cannabinoid receptors, reporting that CBD can reduce the effects of THC.4 But keep in mind that dosage matters.5 Some studies have shown that substantially large CBD doses can cause detrimental effects.
  • Stay Hydrated: It may help with alcohol, but no studies link weed to dehydration. Still, many people swear it's a side effect — most likely because of dry mouth symptoms. While water won't help avoid a greenout, drinking some water is never a bad idea.
  • Black Peppercorns: Anecdotal reports state that crushed black peppercorns may offset the effects of THC. This effect may be due to black peppercorns containing the terpenes pinene, myrcene, and β-caryophyllene, but more research is needed to determine the efficacy of this method. 
  • Eat Something: Food is a risky option. You may find benefits if your stomach is empty. But avoid this option if you've already eaten or are experiencing any nausea symptoms. If you want to play it safe, stick to nausea-symptom food staples, like plain toast, crackers and noodles.
  • Lay Down: Laying down may be your best bet to ride the experience out. Rest cures almost everything. A greenout should only last a few hours. With hope, all of this, or at least the worst, will be behind you when you wake up. Still, take some precautions when going horizontal. Be sure to place a bucket or garbage can nearby if you feel nauseous. Lay on your side just in case you were to vomit while sleeping. Doing so will limit any chances of asphyxiation. 

Don't worry too much if none of the above methods help. Greening out isn't ideal, but it certainly isn't life-threatening. You may have seen a funny video or two of overly intoxicated consumers calling 911 for help. These people probably didn't need to do that and are likely giving themselves more headaches by doing so. 

However, some conditions may require medical attention if exacerbated by greening out. Be sure to contact your medical professional if you experience any adverse effects associated with your heart, mental health, breathing, or other conditions depending on your unique body profile and medical needs.

How to Prevent Yourself From Greening Out

how to stop greening out

So, how can you stop yourself from greening out?

You can best avoid greening out by staying within your tolerance. That means don't venture into territory you may not be ready for. The allure of consuming new,  high-potency products is undoubtedly understandable. But, overdoing it on THC can result in many unwanted short-term outcomes.

Anyone looking to test their threshold should consider doing so at a gradual pace. The start low, go slow method is your best bet to avoid greening out. In this scenario, a person starts by taking a relatively low dose of THC, often 5 mg or less. After consuming, they'll wait anywhere between 15 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the consumption product, to assess how it affected them.6 Suppose a person feels they need more to achieve their ideal effects. In that case, they should repeat the same dosage and assess themselves once again after the designated period. 

It's important that you understand the product contents before consuming. Understand how much THC is in the product and its entire plant profile. The product you're consuming matters just as much, with edibles and concentrated oils representing the highest chances of over-intoxication.

This all may sound scary or overwhelming, but have no fear. With an understanding of your body's limits and the cannabis products you may consume, you can often, if not always, avoid over-intoxication. As with any other psychoactive substance, consume cannabis responsibly for the best possible outcomes.

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References

  1.  Noble MJ, Hedberg K, Hendrickson RG. Acute cannabis toxicity. Clinical Toxicology. 2019;57(8):735-742. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/15563650.2018.1548708
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  2.  Sexton M, Cuttler C, Mischley LK. A Survey of Cannabis Acute Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms: Differential Responses Across User Types and Age. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2019;25(3):326-335. doi:https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2018.0319
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  3.  Karila L, Roux P, Rolland B, et al. Acute and long-term effects of cannabis use: a review. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(25):4112-4118. doi:10.2174/13816128113199990620
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  4.  Laprairie RB, Bagher AM, Kelly ME, Denovan-Wright EM. Cannabidiol is a negative allosteric modulator of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor. Br J Pharmacol. 2015;172(20):4790-4805. doi:10.1111/bph.13250
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  5.  Englund A, Oliver D, Chesney E, et al. Does cannabidiol make cannabis safer? A randomised, double-blind, cross-over trial of cannabis with four different CBD:THC ratios. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2022;48(6):869-876. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-022-01478-z
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  6.  MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2018;49(49):12-19. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004
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The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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