Earlier this month, there were reports about a woman in Louisiana whose death was officially classified by the coroner as a THC overdose. This, they said, was the first ever reported and confirmed case of direct cannabis-caused death. As such, it was a big story — one that the cannabis industry couldn’t ignore.
We did publish that story on CannabizDaily as it circulated in the news. However, we decided to take it down because we felt that the story should be accompanied by more information.
Scientists are calling the coroner’s report “BS” and experts are saying it does not hold water. And here’s why.
What’s the story?
A 39-year-old woman died in February. The coroner who did the autopsy on her said that her death was caused by an excess amount of tetrahydrocannabinol in her system.
In his toxicology report, Christy Montegut, the coroner for St. John the Baptist Parish, explained that he found no afflictions or physical disease in the unnamed woman. There were also no traces of alcohol and other drugs. The only thing he found was 8.4 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in her body.
The woman apparently died after vaping THC oil. Montegut suspects that she must have vaped a highly concentrated THC oil, which made her stop breathing and experience something like a respiratory failure.
The woman’s boyfriend did say that she had been to the hospital three weeks before she died to seek treatment for a chest infection. According to him, the doctors sent her home with over-the-counter medicine.
Montegut said that he was a hundred percent sure of his findings. He added that he did some research before coming up with his conclusion.
Experts are skeptical
A woman dies from THC overdose. The headline alone made many people in the cannabis industry go “Really?”
Drug experts weighed in on the matter and cast doubt on Montegut’s claim.
TNW explained that 8.4 nanograms of THC means that the woman would have consumed enough weed to put her at over four times the amount needed to impair her ability to drive.
The writer said that vaping 8.4 nanograms of cannabis is not a Herculean effort for heavy pot users. It isn’t something extraordinary like smoking a hundred joints in a row.
Keith Humphreys, a former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told The New Orleans Advocate that it would be an astounding statistical anomaly. He said that really good survey data shows that Americans collectively use cannabis billions of times in a year. This, according to him, means that if the risk of cannabis death was one in a million, there would have been a couple of thousand cannabis overdose deaths each year.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse disputes the coroner’s findings, too, saying that there has never been an adult death attributed to THC.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also wrote that a fatal overdose on marijuana is unlikely. The signs of using too much weed are similar to the typical effects of getting stoned, only more severe. These signs may include anxiety, extreme confusion, paranoia, fast heart rate, panic, delusions, hallucinations, severe nausea, vomiting, and increased blood pressure. Some reactions can sometimes lead to unintentional injury like fall, poisoning, or motor vehicle accidents.
The Independent cited Professor David Nutt, the UK’s former drugs czar, as speculating that the woman could have died from increased heart rate and blood pressure, which is a phenomenon that can be caused by THC through a mechanism that is yet to be understood.
Nutt said that using THC is not advised for people who have angina and other heart problems for this very reason.
What are your thoughts about THC overdose?