In the history of human existence there isn’t a single scrap of peer-reviewed, verified evidence supporting the idea that it’s possible to overdose on cannabis. Yet, somehow, a coroner from Louisiana claims to be 100-percent positive that a 39-year-old woman’s become the first to do so.
His reasoning? She had THC in her system and his team couldn’t come up with any other explanations for her death.
The doctor in question, Christy Montegut, told The New Orleans Advocate:
It looked like it was all THC because her autopsy showed no physical disease or afflictions that were the cause of death. There was nothing else identified in the toxicology — no other drugs, no alcohol. There was nothing else … I’m thinking this lady must have vaped this THC oil and got a high level in her system and (it) made her stop breathing, like a respiratory failure.
Let’s start with how much THC the woman consumed. The coroner‘s report indicates she had 8.4 nanograms of THC in her system. In technical terms, that means she would have consumed enough cannabis to put her at more than four times the amount experts say would impair her ability to drive.
For comparison, Author David Schmader’s book “Weed: The User’s Guide” explains why concluding a THC overdose was the sole cause of death is actually a silly notion. He wrote:
Even aspirin can kill you if you take too much, but a fatal dose of marijuana would require ingestion of fifteen hundred pounds in fifteen minutes — a physical impossibility for any human, even Snoop Dogg
And, let’s be clear here: vaping 8.4 nanograms of cannabis isn’t exactly a Herculean effort for heavy cannabis users. We aren’t talking about someone doing something extraordinary like smoking 100 joints in a row or eating a kilo of leaf.
So, even a cursory glance at the myriad studies both old and recent should inform any reporting physician that it’s ridiculous to make a “100-percent positive” declaration that someone’s the first person in recorded history to OD on cannabis.
But let’s pretend, just for a second, that someone could die from an overdose of THC. What would that actually mean?
According to Keith Humphreys, a former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, it would be an astounding statistical anomaly. He told The New Orleans Advocate:
We know from really good survey data that Americans use cannabis products billions of times a year, collectively. Not millions of times, but billions of times a year. So, that means that if the risk of death was one in a million, we would have a couple thousand cannabis overdose deaths a year.
This isn’t the first time someone’s claimed that cannabis is deadly – this type of rhetoric pops up every few months or so. But usually, it’s the media sensationalizing a small claim made by a research group. In others, scientists try to pass off research on synthetic cannbanoid compounds as authentic studies on natural cannabis. And the scientific community immediately debunks each and every claim. Because actual scientific rigor matters.
It’s beyond the pale that this coroner basically guessed that THC “must” have been responsible for this woman’s death because it was the only drug present in her system. The Advocate reports she’d visited an emergency room to treat a chest infection in the days before her death.
Whether the infection contributed to her death remains unknown. Instead of investigating further, Montegut’s turned this woman’s death into a controversial story claiming he’s discovered a historical medical first. He hasn’t.