A case report came out recently about an 11-month-old baby in Colorado who suffered from a seizure and died after exposure to cannabis. Media outlets were quick to jump in with reports of the case headlined as “the first death from marijuana overdose.”
This is not a good thing for the proponents of cannabis, who have been proudly saying that there are absolutely zero deaths attributed to weed – so far.
So, is it really a case of marijuana-related fatality?
What happened in 2015
In the August issue of the journal titled “Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine,” Dr. Thomas Nappe and Dr. Christopher Hoyte wrote that the boy’s death in 2015 was the first pediatric death to be associated with cannabis. Both doctors worked on the baby’s medical team at the time.
According to the case report, the child was rushed to the hospital emergency room after suffering from a seizure. The child’s guardian told the attending physicians that the boy had been retching and had been lethargic and irritable in the days prior to his hospitalization.
Nappe, Hoyte, and the rest of the child’s medical team had examined the boy but found that he was healthy otherwise. However, the child soon became unresponsive while still in the hospital, and was then given a breathing tube as his condition took a turn for the worse.
The boy’s heart eventually stopped and he died, despite the doctors’ best efforts to resuscitate him.
The case report stated that after a review of the child’s history, it was found that he had an unstable motel-living situation, with the parents admitting to drug possessions, which include marijuana.
It was also later discovered that the boy’s urine and blood contained THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main psychoactive ingredient contained in marijuana. The doctors also found out that the boy had myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle, which is rare in children but is worse in infants and newborns. Most cases of myocarditis are caused by a virus making its way to the heart muscle. The doctors, however, ruled out viral infection as cause of the heart ailment.
Is it or is it not cannabis that caused the boy’s death?
Hoyte, who is now connected with the Mountain Poison & Drug Center in Colorado, said that they would not be calling the case a “marijuana-related fatality” if they had found something else they could point at. According to him, they looked and didn’t find it.
However, Nappe, who is now the medical toxicology director at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania, clarified that they are “absolutely not saying that cannabis killed the child.” He explained that they simply observed the unusual sequence of events regarding the case, documented it, then alerted the medical community.
According to Nappe, they just wanted to emphasize that a possible relationship between marijuana and the cause of the baby’s death, which is myocarditis, is worth studying.
Nappe also argued that their use of the word “associated” shouldn’t be interpreted as an indication of a cause-and-effect scenario.
The report recommended that in states where marijuana has been legalized, it is important for doctors to not only counsel parents on how to keep their children from being exposed to cannabis, but to also consider marijuana toxicity in unexplained cardiac deaths and pediatric myocarditis as basis for urine drug screening in this setting.
Do not generalize and do not panic, experts say
Experts on drug policy and health warned against reading too much into the report.
For one, addiction treatment researcher and Stanford University psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys said that consumption of cannabis has “virtually no risk.” Even if it turns out that the boy’s death was indeed caused by a cannabis overdose after further studies, it was still “a very unusual event.”
According to Humphreys, it would not be right to go to a generalized panic with regard to the lethality of the substance. He added that this is not a sign of a disaster to come.