Table of Contents

Definition of Cannabis Intoxication

Cannabis intoxication refers to the effects of consuming cannabis (marijuana), leading to alterations in mood, cognition, perception, and physical state due to the psychoactive compounds present in the plant. The primary psychoactive component in cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which interacts with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, producing various effects on the body and mind.

Symptoms of cannabis intoxication may include euphoria, relaxation, altered perception of time and space, increased appetite, impaired coordination, altered senses, and changes in mood. However, excessive consumption can lead to adverse effects such as anxiety, paranoia, impaired short-term memory, decreased motor skills, and in extreme cases, hallucinations or delusions.

The intensity of cannabis intoxication can vary depending on factors like the potency of the cannabis strain, method of consumption (smoking, vaping, edibles), individual tolerance, and the presence of other substances. While cannabis intoxication is usually not life-threatening, it can cause impairment that affects daily functioning and should be approached with caution, especially in activities requiring alertness and coordination like driving or operating machinery.


History of Cannabis Intoxication

Cannabis has a long history of use by humans, dating back thousands of years. Its intoxicating effects have been documented in various cultures across different periods.

Ancient Use:

  • Cannabis is believed to have originated in Central Asia and was used for medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes in ancient civilizations.
  • The earliest evidence of cannabis use dates back to around 500 BC in Central Asia, where it was consumed and cultivated for its psychoactive properties and medicinal benefits.
  • In ancient China, cannabis was utilized for its medicinal properties, mentioned in texts like the Pen Ts’ao Ching (Classic of Herbal Medicine) by Emperor Shen-Nung around 2700 BC.

Cannabis in the Middle Ages and Beyond:

  • The use of cannabis spread to different parts of the world, including the Middle East and Africa. It was employed for medicinal and recreational purposes and played a role in various cultural and religious practices.
  • By the Middle Ages, cannabis was known in Europe and was cultivated for its industrial uses, such as fiber for textiles and rope.

Modern Era:

  • During the 19th century, cannabis gained attention in Western medicine for its potential therapeutic properties. It was listed in pharmacopeias and used for treating conditions like pain, nausea, and muscle spasms.
  • In the early 20th century, attitudes towards cannabis began to shift. Concerns about its psychoactive effects led to regulatory measures and eventually prohibition in various countries.
  • Despite legal restrictions, cannabis continued to be used recreationally, and its popularity surged during the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Scientific research on cannabis intensified in the latter part of the 20th century, leading to discoveries about its active compounds, including THC and cannabidiol (CBD), and their effects on the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Recent Developments:

  • In recent years, attitudes towards cannabis have evolved, leading to the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis in some countries and states. This shift has sparked increased research into its medicinal applications and regulation of its use.
  • Cannabis intoxication remains a subject of ongoing study, focusing on its effects on the brain, behavior, therapeutic potential, and potential risks associated with heavy or prolonged use.

Overall, cannabis intoxication has been a part of human history for millennia, with its perception and usage evolving over time due to cultural, societal, and legal factors.

DSM-5 Criteria of Cannabis Intoxication

In the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), the criteria for cannabis intoxication are outlined as follows:

A. Recent use of cannabis.

B. Clinically significant problematic behavioral or psychological changes (e.g., impaired motor coordination, euphoria, anxiety, sensation of slowed time, impaired judgment, social withdrawal) that developed during, or shortly after, cannabis use.

C. Two (or more) of the following signs or symptoms developing within 2 hours of cannabis use:

  • Conjunctival injection (red eyes) or presence of eye redness due to vasodilation.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate).

D. The signs or symptoms are not due to a medical condition and are not better accounted for by another mental disorder.

E. The symptoms do not occur exclusively during a delirium.

F. The disturbance is not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., acute intoxication with another substance, withdrawal from another substance, a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia).

The DSM-5 provides specific criteria to help mental health professionals diagnose substance-related and addictive disorders, including cannabis intoxication. These criteria are used to assess and diagnose individuals based on observable signs, symptoms, and behavioral changes associated with cannabis use.

Etiology of Cannabis Intoxication

Cannabis intoxication occurs due to the presence of psychoactive compounds, primarily delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), found in the cannabis plant. THC interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, specifically binding to cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

The etiology of cannabis intoxication involves several physiological and neurological processes:

Activation of Cannabinoid Receptors:

THC mimics the actions of endocannabinoids (natural neurotransmitters in the body) and binds to cannabinoid receptors. This activation affects various neurotransmitter systems, leading to alterations in neural signaling.

Impact on Neurotransmitters:

THC’s interaction with cannabinoid receptors influences the release and activity of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This modulation contributes to changes in mood, perception, and cognition.

Effects on Brain Regions:

THC affects different brain regions, including the hippocampus (involved in memory), the frontal cortex (associated with decision-making and judgment), and the basal ganglia (related to movement control). This impact can lead to impaired memory, altered perception, and changes in motor coordination.

Altered Neural Communication:

THC disrupts normal neural communication by interfering with the release and uptake of neurotransmitters, which can lead to both the desired psychoactive effects (e.g., euphoria) and unwanted side effects (e.g., anxiety, paranoia).

Dosage and Potency:

The intensity of cannabis intoxication can vary based on factors like the potency of the cannabis strain, the method of consumption (smoking, vaping, edibles), individual tolerance, and the presence of other substances.

Individual Variations:

People can respond differently to cannabis due to genetic, biological, and psychological factors. Some individuals may be more susceptible to the effects of THC, experiencing stronger intoxication or adverse reactions.

It’s important to note that while cannabis intoxication is typically not life-threatening, excessive or prolonged use can lead to dependence, cognitive impairments, and potential mental health issues, particularly in vulnerable individuals. The etiology of cannabis intoxication continues to be an area of study as researchers aim to better understand its effects and potential therapeutic applications.

Theories related to Cannabis Intoxication

Several theories are proposed to explain the effects of cannabis intoxication, focusing on its impact on the body’s endocannabinoid system and interactions with various neurotransmitter systems. Here are some key theories related to cannabis intoxication:

Endocannabinoid System Modulation:

Cannabis exerts its effects primarily through the endocannabinoid system, which comprises cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous cannabinoids (such as anandamide and 2-AG), and enzymes responsible for their synthesis and breakdown. The theory suggests that THC in cannabis mimics the actions of endocannabinoids and alters neural signaling, impacting mood, cognition, pain perception, and appetite.

Dopaminergic Reward Pathway:

Cannabis consumption, specifically THC, affects the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward system. This theory suggests that the activation of cannabinoid receptors influences the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, which plays a significant role in reward, motivation, and reinforcement. The resulting dopamine release contributes to feelings of pleasure and euphoria associated with cannabis use.

Neurotransmitter Modulation:

THC’s interaction with cannabinoid receptors affects the release and activity of various neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This modulation impacts mood, cognition, anxiety, and other psychological processes.

Memory and Cognitive Impairment:

THC’s effects on the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory formation, contribute to the impairment of short-term memory and cognitive functions. The disruption of normal neural communication in this region is thought to underlie the memory deficits observed during cannabis intoxication.

Psychoactive Effects via CB1 Receptors:

The activation of CB1 receptors in the brain by THC is believed to be the primary mechanism for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. This theory emphasizes the specific binding of THC to CB1 receptors in various brain regions, leading to altered perception, mood changes, and impairment of motor coordination.

Biopsychosocial Factors:

Individual differences, including genetic predispositions, biological variations, prior exposure to cannabis, environmental factors, and psychological characteristics, contribute to varying responses to cannabis intoxication. These factors influence the intensity and nature of the effects experienced by different individuals.

Understanding these theories helps in comprehending the complex mechanisms through which cannabis exerts its effects on the brain and body. Ongoing research continues to refine our understanding of these mechanisms and their implications for both the recreational and potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Risk factors of Cannabis Intoxication

Several risk factors contribute to the likelihood and potential consequences of cannabis intoxication. These factors can influence an individual’s susceptibility to experiencing the effects of cannabis and may impact the severity of those effects. Some common risk factors include:


Adolescents and young adults are more vulnerable to the effects of cannabis due to ongoing brain development. Cannabis use during this period can affect cognitive functions, memory, and executive functioning.

Frequency and Dosage:

Regular and heavy cannabis use increases the risk of developing tolerance and dependence. Higher doses or more potent strains can intensify the intoxicating effects and potential adverse reactions.

Method of Consumption:

Different methods of using cannabis (smoking, vaping, edibles) can lead to variations in how quickly THC reaches the bloodstream and produces intoxicating effects. Edibles, for instance, have a delayed onset and longer-lasting effects compared to smoking.

Individual Sensitivity and Tolerance:

Genetic and biological factors contribute to individual differences in how people respond to cannabis. Some individuals may be more sensitive to its effects, while others may develop tolerance with repeated use.

Co-occurring Mental Health Conditions:

Individuals with underlying mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, or psychotic disorders, may experience exacerbated symptoms or increased vulnerability to adverse effects from cannabis use.

Polydrug Use:

Using cannabis in combination with other substances, including alcohol or other drugs, can amplify its effects and increase the risk of negative outcomes, including impaired judgment and coordination.

Environment and Social Factors:

Socioeconomic factors, peer influence, availability, and cultural attitudes toward cannabis use can influence an individual’s likelihood of using cannabis and the frequency of use.

Pregnancy and Lactation:

Cannabis use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding can pose risks to the developing fetus or infant, affecting neurodevelopment and potentially leading to adverse outcomes.

Driving and Operating Machinery:

Cannabis intoxication impairs motor coordination, reaction time, and judgment. Driving or operating heavy machinery under the influence of cannabis poses significant risks of accidents and injury.

Understanding these risk factors is crucial for assessing the potential consequences of cannabis use and implementing strategies for harm reduction and prevention, especially among vulnerable populations. Monitoring patterns of use and promoting education about the risks associated with cannabis intoxication are essential components of public health initiatives aimed at minimizing adverse outcomes related to cannabis consumption.

Treatment for Cannabis Intoxication

Cannabis intoxication treatment typically focuses on managing symptoms and providing supportive care, as there’s no specific antidote for THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. The approach to treatment depends on the severity of intoxication and the symptoms presented. Here are some considerations:

Supportive Care:

In cases of mild cannabis intoxication, individuals may only require reassurance and a calm environment. Providing a safe and supportive setting can help manage anxiety or discomfort associated with intoxication.


Encouraging the individual to drink fluids to stay hydrated can help alleviate dry mouth and potential dehydration caused by cannabis use.


Continuous monitoring of vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure, may be necessary in more severe cases to ensure stability and address any complications.

Symptom Management:

Addressing specific symptoms like anxiety or agitation may require supportive interventions, such as talking the individual through their experience or providing a calming environment.

Avoiding Stimulation:

Minimizing external stimuli by keeping the environment quiet and dimly lit can help reduce sensory overload and anxiety during intoxication.

Medical Evaluation:

If the individual exhibits severe symptoms or if there are concerns about their health and safety, seeking medical evaluation at a healthcare facility or calling emergency services may be necessary.

Psychiatric Support:

Individuals experiencing significant anxiety, panic attacks, or acute psychological distress may benefit from psychiatric evaluation and support to manage their symptoms effectively.

Avoiding Further Use:

Advising against additional cannabis use, especially during the period of intoxication, is crucial to prevent exacerbating symptoms or complications.

It’s important to note that severe cannabis intoxication is relatively rare and typically resolves without medical intervention. However, in cases of extreme distress, severe psychological symptoms, or if there are concerns about the individual’s health, seeking professional medical help is recommended.

For individuals with cannabis use disorder or dependence, seeking specialized treatment, such as behavioral therapies, counseling, or participation in support groups, can be beneficial in addressing problematic cannabis use patterns and promoting recovery. Professional guidance from healthcare providers or addiction specialists can aid in developing a tailored treatment plan for those struggling with cannabis use-related issues.

Therapies for Cannabis Intoxication

Therapies for managing cannabis intoxication largely focus on supportive care and addressing symptoms associated with its effects. These therapies aim to provide comfort, manage distress, and help individuals navigate the experience. Here are some approaches and strategies used in managing cannabis intoxication:

Supportive Counseling:

Offering reassurance and a calm environment can help ease anxiety and distress associated with cannabis intoxication. Providing a non-judgmental space for individuals to express their feelings and concerns can be beneficial.


Educating individuals about the effects of cannabis and reassuring them that the intoxication is temporary can help reduce anxiety and prevent panic during the experience.

Relaxation Techniques:

Teaching relaxation methods such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or guided imagery can assist in managing symptoms of anxiety or agitation.

Distraction Techniques:

Engaging individuals in activities or conversation to divert their attention from distressing thoughts or sensations can be helpful. Playing soothing music or watching calming videos might also aid in relaxation.

Safe Environment:

Creating a safe and supportive environment by minimizing external stimuli, providing a quiet space, and ensuring physical safety is crucial in managing the individual’s comfort.

Hydration and Nutrition:

Encouraging the individual to drink water and providing light, easily digestible snacks can help counteract potential dehydration or a drop in blood sugar levels.

Medical Monitoring:

In severe cases or when concerning symptoms persist, medical monitoring at a healthcare facility may be necessary to ensure the individual’s safety and manage complications.

Crisis Intervention:

For individuals experiencing severe distress, panic attacks, or acute psychological symptoms, crisis intervention techniques might be applied by mental health professionals to stabilize the situation.

Long-Term Support:

For individuals with problematic cannabis use patterns or cannabis use disorder, long-term support through therapy, counseling, or addiction treatment programs may be beneficial to address underlying issues and prevent future intoxication episodes.

It’s important to note that while these supportive therapies can assist in managing the acute effects of cannabis intoxication, they do not reverse the effects of THC directly. Seeking professional medical advice, especially in severe cases or when symptoms persist, is recommended to ensure appropriate care and management.

Preventions of Cannabis Intoxication

Preventing cannabis intoxication involves strategies aimed at reducing the risk of excessive or harmful use of cannabis. Here are some preventive measures:

Education and Awareness:

Providing accurate and evidence-based information about the effects, risks, and potential consequences of cannabis use is essential. Educating individuals, especially young people, about the short-term and long-term effects of cannabis helps in making informed decisions.

Delaying Onset of Use:

Encouraging delay in the initiation of cannabis use, particularly among adolescents, can reduce the potential impact on brain development and minimize the risk of developing problematic use patterns.

Promoting Responsible Use:

Advocating for responsible and moderate cannabis use, if legal in a particular jurisdiction, by emphasizing dosage control, avoiding frequent use, and understanding personal limits.

Limiting Availability:

Implementing regulations on the availability and access to cannabis products, particularly for underage individuals, can help reduce the prevalence of cannabis use among vulnerable populations.

Prevention Programs:

Implementing prevention programs in schools, communities, and healthcare settings that focus on drug education, coping skills, and resistance strategies can help deter cannabis use and reduce the likelihood of intoxication.

Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles:

Encouraging healthy lifestyle choices, including engaging in physical activities, developing coping mechanisms for stress, and fostering positive social connections, can reduce the appeal of cannabis use as a coping mechanism.

Parental Involvement and Communication:

Building open and supportive relationships between parents or guardians and children, fostering communication about drug use risks, and setting clear expectations regarding substance use can influence attitudes toward cannabis and prevent early initiation.

Workplace Policies:

Implementing and enforcing workplace policies regarding cannabis use, especially in safety-sensitive industries, to ensure a drug-free environment and prevent impairment on the job.

Treatment and Support Services:

Providing access to evidence-based treatment, counseling, and support services for individuals struggling with problematic cannabis use or dependence promotes recovery and helps prevent further intoxication episodes.

Regulation and Legislation:

Implementing appropriate laws and regulations regarding the production, distribution, and use of cannabis can help control its availability and reduce the risks associated with its misuse.

Combining these preventive measures through a comprehensive public health approach can contribute to minimizing cannabis intoxication and its potential adverse effects on individuals and communities.

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