My heart racing, nearly every part of my body twitching, and my brain exploding with an inner fireworks show that felt like being zapped by electrodes while trapped on an accelerating roller coaster, I kept coming back to this one thought: How was it possible that I survived a year-long pandemic, and this was how I was going to die?
Bobbing in and out of consciousness, I felt like I was in a dream, one in which you’re aware that you’re dreaming, screaming for help though no one can hear you. Unfortunately, there was no way to wake myself; I was all too awake.
About an hour before, I had wandered over to our fridge, seeking something sweet. In the freezer, I found a curious plastic bag and opened it. Inside, a Ziploc was filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. Exactly what I was hoping for.
My wife, a vegan who loves to bake, sometimes hides treats from me so I don’t devour them before she can give them away. I didn’t notice the words “no kids” scrawled in small print on the bag.
I popped one in my mouth. It tasted unusual, but I figured it was a vegan recipe. I focused on the chocolate, scarfing down at least three.
As we brushed the kids’ teeth and put them to bed, I started to feel off. I went to pour a glass of water, and my legs felt wobbly. Everything started spinning, and I became nauseated.
I lay down, and bolts of multicolored lightning started shooting through my brain, mixed with flashing images, as if I were watching TV and the channel kept changing without my control. Minutes felt like hours.
Flitting between a keen awareness and some hallucinatory otherworld, I somehow pieced together what was happening. The cookies, I realized, were infused with pot.
A friend had given them to someone in my family, but I had no idea. That family member claims to have told me, but I don’t recall that.
As my wife sought to soothe me — my heart pounding, body shaking, mind ablaze — I began thinking what would have happened if my young boys, ages 4 and 8, had gotten to them first. I wondered: How much is too much? Can you overdose on THC, the magic ingredient?
We found a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage that described all the symptoms I was experiencing. Reassuringly, it said dying from an overdose was “unlikely.”
There was nothing pleasant about the experience. I wasn’t comfortably numb or euphoric. It was what I imagine a psychotic break with reality might feel like, or descriptions I’ve read of bad acid trips.
For the next few days, I was in a fog. I wrote to my doctor, who called THC overdoses “a big problem,” especially in children, since cannabinoids became legal five years ago in Massachusetts.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that marijuana legalization puts children at greater risk. After weed became widely available in Colorado, in 2014, calls to the state’s poison control hotline about children being exposed to marijuana increased by 70 percent, the study noted.
In Massachusetts, the number of calls to poison control about children ingesting marijuana more than doubled in the four years after pot was legalized, compared with the previous four years, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. No deaths were reported, though two adolescents suffered heart attacks.
In 2019, the Globe reported that the number of calls about toddlers ingesting marijuana nearly tripled in the first seven months after recreational pot shops opened in Massachusetts, compared with the same period a year earlier. But those calls to the state’s poison control center probably represented a fraction of actual poisonings, since 911 calls aren’t tracked.
Last year, poison control received 351 marijuana-related calls, up from 84 the year before pot became legal. Of last year’s calls, 75 percent were for edibles — the vast majority of them children, at least 46 of whom were treated at health-care facilities.
A week after devouring the cookies, I still felt a low rumble in my head, quiet aftershocks, as if trains were passing in the distance.
I never had qualms with the legalization of marijuana, but my experience left me concerned that there are dangerous consequences of the new law.
Although the state’s Cannabis Control Commission has strict requirements about how retailers sell edibles, they can’t control what happens when those products are taken home.
Here’s the lesson I hope more people take from my experience:
If you bring home edibles, especially those disguised as desserts, everyone in your house needs to know about them, and if they’re forgetful, they should be reminded. The edibles should be labeled clearly.
Most important, if there are kids in the house, the edibles need to be locked away.
No child should experience what I did.
David Abel is a Globe reporter.