Over the past few weeks, you might have seen some media reports proclaiming a Colorado infant has become the “first marijuana overdose death” ever recorded. If that got your “fake news” radar tingling more than the President's morning read of his Twitter feed, then you might have been onto something. Here are the facts and context behind those headlines.
The original reports were based on a case study from earlier this year by two doctors, Dr Thomas Nappe and Dr Christopher Hoyte, from Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, Colorado.
The 11-month-old boy died in 2015 at a Colorado hospital after suffering a seizure followed by a cardiac arrest. A post-mortem diagnosed the boy with myocarditis, inflammation of the heart tissue, and discovered traces of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, in his blood. The concentrations suggest it was a “single, acute high-potency ingestion”, perhaps of an edible product.
The child was reportedly living in a motel room with parents who abused illicit drugs and smoked marijuana. Nothing else, in terms of the boy's health, appeared to be out of the ordinary.
“A possible relationship exists between cannabis exposure in this child and myocarditis leading to death… This is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure,” they wrote in the study.
The doctors have come out to say their words have been misinterpreted, since claiming that the early news reports were “totally overblown” and “sensationalized”. They argue that the possible "association" or "relationship" between cannabis exposure and the boy's myocarditis does not indicate there was a "cause and effect" relationship. In fact, there was no direct evidence to suggests this at all. Perhaps their choice of words was heavy-handed, but they now stringently deny any direct causality between the marijuana and the death.
“We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child,” Dr Nappe told the Washington Post.
Dr Hoyte also tweeted this response to the media reports:
The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) openly acknowledges that there has never been a single reported fatal overdose of marijuana. Considering humans have been using this drug for over 10,000 years, that’s not a bad track record.
In terms of recreational drugs and their effect on your physical health, marijuana is one of the safest out there, especially in comparison to tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. A 1988 ruling from the DEA claimed a lethal dose of marijuana is 20,000 to 40,000 times more than the amount found in a single spliff. In other words, you’d need to smoke “nearly 1,500 pounds [680 kilograms] of marijuana within about 15 minutes.”
There's actually not many recent scientific studies on the toxicity of marijuana. However, this is precisely what the controversial study wanted to achieve – to reopen an avenue of inquiry into the possible relationship between colossal amounts of cannabis and the inflammation of heart muscles. Other reports and case studies have hinted towards this association before but as for a mechanism behind this foggy link, there's scant evidence so far.