An Indian Family Ended up in the Hospital After Eating Weed Thinking It Was a Vegetable

We asked experts why cooking with cannabis can sometimes lead to an ER visit.
July 2, 2020, 9:40am
cooking with weed Indian Family in Hospital Fenugreek
Image by Prianka Jain

A family of six in the Miyaganj village of the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh ended up in the hospital on June 27 after cooking cannabis leaves they mistakenly assumed to be fenugreek, an ingredient often used in Indian cuisines.

According to local news sources, a vegetable seller named Naval Kishore sold weed, as a prank, to a family member named Nitesh claiming it was fenugreek. Nitesh then brought the packet home, where it was cooked along with potatoes to make an Indian dish known as aloo-methi.

While reports don’t mention how long it took for the high to kick in, the family apparently began to experience dizziness, and asked their neighbour to call a doctor. Some of them even lost consciousness. The hospital is yet to give an update on their recovery, but the police have caught Kishore, who admitted to the prank.

“There are three things that matter when it comes to taking drugs: it’s onset time, or the time it takes to start the process, how potent it is, and the duration it lasts for,” Dr Prashant Punia, a neurosurgeon based in the western Indian city of Pune, told VICE.

Punia pointed out that the active component in cannabis known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) takes longer to break down when ingested orally through edibles, and is broken down by the liver to convert to 11-hydroxy THC, a more potent psychoactive molecule. “The intent and lack of mental preparation are also important factors that led to such a reaction,” he said.

Since the family was eating the cannabis as a meal to suppress their hunger, and not to get high, the amount ingested went beyond their bodies’ limits.

“They probably didn’t eat enough for the THC content to be lethal, but since they had never tried it before, it may have triggered an overwhelming reaction in the brain’s neural pathways. People who accidentally consume cannabis tend to react differently. In this case, the fear of doom and unnatural feeling of the high may have caused their heart rate to go up, leading to paranoia or anxiety,” said Punia.

He added they may have lost consciousness in this tense situation so that their brain could avoid going through the overwhelming anxiety and fear the high may have triggered.

“I think this was a case of over-consuming cannabis,” said Viki Vaurora, the founder of the Great Legalisation Movement, a collective based in the South Indian city of Bengaluru that works to raise awareness about the medical and therapeutic potential of cannabis. Having worked with thousands of patients using cannabis extract oil to relieve their pain and symptoms, Vaurora says that he has previously observed cases of patients panicking after ingesting more than the prescribed dose.

“While we don’t know all the details about the patients’ illness and recovery, from the reports we can assume that they were given really strong cannabis flowers of the indica strain of the cannabis plant, which is meant to make you feel relaxed,” he said, adding that if it was the cannabis plant’s sativa strain, their heart rate would’ve increased, and they would’ve felt energetic and anxious, instead of passing out.

Vaurora also said that this reaction probably wasn’t prompted by the weed being adulterated with rat poison or shoe polish, as it often is in India. That would have led to nausea and vomiting, and not a loss of consciousness.

Cannabis has been consumed orally for centuries, even as far back as 1000 BC. Many ancient Chinese and Indian scriptures mention marijuana as a herb to treat digestive issues and chronic pain.

However, research now suggests that cannabis - which is not water-soluble - should be cooked in a fat-soluble substance like butter or oil. It should ideally also always be decarboxylated, which is the process of activating the psychoactive THC by heating the cannabis leaves or flowers before infusing them.

Concentrations of THC vary widely depending on different factors, such as where the product was grown and its quality. The effects of edibles can last for many hours, based on how much was ingested, as well as other factors like body weight, metabolism, and gender.

Overeating any cannabis product can result in symptoms like paranoid delusions, extreme sedation, hallucinations, and confusion. However, an edibles overdose rarely ever leads to more tragic consequences, with symptoms usually resolving themselves without lasting damage.

When the stakes get so high, some cannabis connoisseurs recommend eating pistachios, which contain a chemical called alpha-pinene that boosts mental stability, or citrus fruits like lemons or oranges which contain a citrusy terpene called limonene that has the ability to reduce anxiety.

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