ASU Writing Instructor Describes Her Cannabis "Overdose"

Elizabeth Ferszt, an Arizona State University English instructor, writes in a recent blog post how a small dose of THC edibles reduced to her to babbling, convulsing mess one afternoon a few weeks ago in Los Angeles.

The short, dramatic narrative is peppered with information she researched afterward and concludes that not only are warning labels with dosage information needed, but also "a warning for first time, legal users: Beware of use! Do not use if unsure of tolerance to THC extract! Dosage not exact per amount consumed!"

"I saw myself below myself, and felt a nothingness and a whiteness."

tweet this
Ferszt, a New Times fan who uses the paper's covers as wall art in her ASU office, says she wanted to bring attention to her October 10 experience after reading New Times' November 24 article about the alleged harms of cannabis.

Her bad trip was akin to a poisoning: The 50-something Ph.D from Wayne State University in Detroit didn't know she had consumed cannabis. She recovered the same day and published her blog post eight days later. But at the time, as she told New Times, she thought she was having "a heart attack, stroke, or other catastrophic physical event."

Ferszt had been visiting one of her adult sons and his girlfriend in California, and they had decided to tour the Getty Villa museum of ancient Greek and Roman art. When she complained of a headache, her thoughtful son handed her a tin of dark-chocolate coffee beans. He told her the only active ingredient was caffeine but to just take one. She took two. Now, she says, their relationship isn't quite on "functional" terms.

Strolling among the gardens and marble statues on a hot day about noon, perhaps a touch dehydrated after having had a few drinks the night before, Ferszt wrote in her blog post that she began sweating and trembling. Her son brought her out to a bench to lie down. She claims she had several seizures, was rambling incoherently, and passed out at least twice during the ordeal. But that wasn't all. She wrote in her post:

"Eventually, after a few more episodes of convulsive twitching and jerking and passing out, including one period of unresponsiveness where I thought I might have died, I saw myself below myself, and felt a nothingness and a whiteness. I thought it might be good to die at the Getty. I heard my son say, “She’s okay, she’s still breathing.” Then several people lifted me onto something and the next thing I knew I was in the back of an LAFD [Los Angeles Fire Department] ambulance. It was here that I heard that I had likely overdosed, unknowingly taking a double dose of edible marijuana, thinking it was just chocolate covered coffee beans."
Her son persuaded the paramedics to unload his mom, and the three drove away. She suffered a final freak-out at the sight of the Petersen Auto Museum, she wrote, momentarily confusing the building's stylized exterior for a roller coaster in Cedar Pointe, Ohio. The delusion was followed by "a brief period of hilarity in the car, where I apparently thought everything was funny and I could speak lucidly."

As New Times' feature article explained last week, in the last couple of years, millions of THC-infused edibles have been consumed in pot-friendly states such as Arizona, which has a medicinal program with 80,000 patients. Problems have been relatively minimal and certainly don't add up to the the disaster predicted by pot prohibitionists. But in July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a bulletin about the death of 19-year-old college student Levi Pongi Thamba, who jumped from a fourth-floor Colorado hotel balcony on March 11, 2014, after eating a THC-infused cookie. Colorado authorities told New Times the case remains the only death directly linked to the consumption of marijuana.

The article mentioned that "intense paranoia and scattered thoughts can occur in novice users with ingestion of a relatively small amount of cannabis" and that calls to poison-control centers and hospital visits in Arizona and Colorado concerning marijuana have increased in the last few years. The difference between marijuana and other substances, though, is that none of the calls — whether about babies, toddlers, teens or adults — resulted in a reported death or serious injury. That's not even true of caffeinated drinks.  

Without question, caution is warranted with edibles because of their innocuous appearance. Ferszt's experience was unusual, not just in her reaction but because of the minuscule serving that sparked it. 

Each of the coffee beans Ferszt ate contains a mere 5 milligrams of THC. A dose of 10 milligrams is considered standard. Thamba's 65-milligram cookie, for instance, contained 6.5 servings, according to the label. But Ferszt says she's proof that an "overdose" can occur with just 10 milligrams.