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If you’re like most parents, you know that some teenagers smoke weed. In fact, roughly 1 in 6 high school students in California actively use cannabis. You might even suspect that your own teenager has tried the substance. The phrase “greening out” was mentioned in passing, but you dismissed it. After all, you thought, it’s just marijuana. It can’t be that bad.

At BNI treatment centers, we have seen this story time and time again. Our teen treatment team works only with adolescents, many living with substance use disorders. Their parents are often left blindsided, shaken, and scared as their child’s marijuana use grows out of control.

So what does it mean to “green out”? Is it dangerous? And what can you do to help?

What Is Greening Out?

Many people believe that it’s impossible to overdose on cannabis or THC products. And in some sense, this is true: there have been zero reported cases of teens taking fatal amounts of marijuana.

However, this is not entirely accurate. When individuals take a higher dose of THC than their body can handle, this can lead to intensely negative side effects. In some cases, these symptoms can result in injury or hospitalization.

This unpleasant and dangerous situation is called “greening out”. This gets its name from its association with marijuana, wordplay on the phrase “blacking out” from alcohol. It is otherwise known as a marijuana or THC overdose.

What Causes Greening Out?

Greening out can happen for a large number of reasons, but several are more common than others. 

  • The individual’s tolerance was too low for the dose. “Tolerance” is essentially the body’s ability to adjust to a substance over time, requiring stronger doses to have the same effects. This is at the core of every greenout. Unfamiliarity with THC, social pressures to take more, or simply a long break in between doses causes tolerance levels to diminish. The less tolerance someone has, the more likely they are to experience a THC overdose.
  • Taking additional THC before the previous effects fully set in. Especially in settings where marijuana is mixed with other substances, your teen can think that their previous dose was too weak. They might take a stronger dose, unaware of the effect the previous amount had on them. This is particularly common when it comes to edibles, which can take up to several hours to metabolize.
  • Mixing THC with alcohol or other substances. The effects of THC can rapidly intensify when mixed with other substances like alcohol. This can lead to reduced judgment and awareness, making it more likely for a marijuana overdose to occur. Additionally, any negative effects may feel amplified, increasing the likelihood of greening out.

It’s important to note that those unfamiliar with cannabis, especially teens and adolescents, will be more prone to greening out, both for their reduced tolerance levels and their unfamiliarity navigating the use of THC products.

what is greening out

Side Effects & Symptoms of Greening Out

Common symptoms include vomiting, headache, anxiety, and impaired coordination. These may occur alongside blurry vision and shaking, as well as hallucinations or paranoia. Some individuals may experience reactions such as seizures, rapid heart rate, and unconsciousness.

The duration and intensity of these can fluctuate significantly, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. While greening out isn’t fatal by itself, many of its symptoms can cause adverse health complications. If side effects persist longer than a few hours, or continue to increase in intensity, it is important to seek medical attention.

What Other Factors Can Influence Greening Out?

While a large component of any marijuana overdose has to do with the individual’s tolerance level, there are several additional factors which can influence both the likelihood and symptoms of greening out. 

Environment: Many of the symptoms can be intensified by the environment, whether through the stress of an unfamiliar environment, or through social pressure to mix THC with alcohol or other substances. Anxiety or other mental health conditions can contribute to these effects.

Method of Ingestion: Smoking or vaporizing THC products allows a greater control over the dosage, enabling the individual to stop when necessary. With edibles, even once the initial symptoms are felt, there is often THC still being released into the body as digestion continues. 

Potency: Even those with a high tolerance to THC can experience a greenout if the dosage is too high. Be aware that recreational THC products are typically much stronger than their medicinal counterparts, and may increase the chance of greening out.

Are There Health Risks of Greening Out?

While greening out can be unpleasant, the biggest health risks are typically indirect. Decreased judgment can lead to mixing THC with other substances such as alcohol, which come with their own health risks. Dehydration from excessive vomiting, potential injuries from the loss of coordination, and psychological distress from increased anxiety are also concerns.

However, there are less common but more severe symptoms such as elevated heart rate, chest pain, seizures, and unconsciousness. These can have a much more direct impact on your teen’s health, particularly if they occur frequently.

What Should I Do if Someone Is Greening Out?

If your loved one experiences these symptoms, it’s important they remain calm. Reassure them that the intense feelings are temporary, and that the effects will subside. Ultimately, the best way for them to recover is to stay patient and relaxed while the THC leaves their body. 

Be sure to keep them hydrated to prevent any complications from nausea. In the meantime, it might help them to lie down in a quiet place to avoid overstimulation. They might instead prefer company, keeping distracted from their symptoms.

If an individual becomes unresponsive or experiences a seizure, seek immediate medical attention. For teens or adolescents, even minor symptoms should be taken seriously.

Preventing a Green Out

While recreational THC is legal in California, there are strict age limits around its use. If you suspect your teen is taking marijuana, this is always a cause for concern. Self-medication can be a sign of underlying conditions such as anxiety or depression, and it’s important these are assessed by mental health professionals. 

Ultimately, the only way to prevent greening out is to avoid taking any THC products.

what causes greening out

Teen Marijuana Use Treatment

While a marijuana overdose, or “greening out”, is not necessarily fatal, there can be intense psychological and physical consequences. This is particularly true for young adults and teens, where the symptoms of anxiety, seizures, and paranoia can have profound impacts on their lives.

If your teen has talked about greening out or is partaking in marijuana use, it’s important to know that help is available. Seeking teen substance use treatment is an effective way to get their life back on track.

BNI Treatment Centers is a behavioral health treatment facility for teens ages 13-17, located in the Los Angeles area. Our expert psychiatrist-led team provides accurate diagnoses, manages any necessary medications, and develops specific treatment strategies tailored to our clients. For more information on our evidence-based services, call us at (888) 522-1504.

BNI Treatment Centers: Science-based, evidence-backed, compassion-led. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a greenout last?

The length of a greenout will vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. The dose of THC, the user’s prior experience with the drug, and even the amount of water the person drinks. The duration can last anywhere from a few minutes to an entire day, though most symptoms will pass in a few hours.

Can you need medical help from greening out?

While there have been no reported deaths due to marijuana overdose, greening out can put a tremendous amount of stress on the body and cause health complications. If your teen experiences a greenout, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

Are there warning signs before a greenout?

While each individual case may vary, there are several common warning signs of an oncoming greenout. These include headache, nausea, rapidly elevated heart rate, and increased feelings of anxiety or panic. In some cases, individuals may experience shaking, seizures, or become unresponsive. 

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