Did Marijuana Kill This Young Marijuana Advocate? Um, Nope

TODAY.com's report flies in the face of modern science

Marijuana Mecca
Photo by StayRegular via Pixabay

The headline from TODAY.com was alarming. It was equally odious. “Did marijuana kill this young man? Doctors may never know for sure” screamed the NBC-owned website known for its clumsy muchie jokes and outdated Cheech and Chong references.

The story details the death of Michael Ziobro, a 22-year-old New Jersey marijuana advocate. The story shares that Michael’s parents found medical-grade marijuana in his room, and the medical examiner found evidence of cannabis in his blood. Kristina and her husband are convinced the highly active marijuana caused Michael’s heart to go into arrhythmia and killed him.

‘He was such an advocate,’ Kristina Ziobro told TODAY.com. ‘He thought it was wonderful. He thought it was safe. He just thought it was natural and organic and it ended up killing him.”

Ending up killing him? There is no doubt that the parents are upset and grieving over the tragic loss of their son and they are grappling to understand how it could happen.

The 1,600-word story is chock full of somber quotes and cherry-picked studies, but nowhere in the story does the reporter provide these helpful informational nuggets:

  • Earlier this year, the DEA published its 2017 resource guide Drugs of Abuse. The report states: “No deaths from overdose of marijuana have been reported.” The guide goes on to warn that cannabis may cause “merriment,” “happiness,” “enhanced sensory perception,” “increased appreciation of music, art and touch,” and “heightened imagination.”
  • In 1988, a DEA judge wrote that a user would have to ingest somewhere between 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount of THC contained in a single joint to approach lethal toxicity. “A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response,” wrote Judge Francis Young.
  • Every single day, the opioid epidemic kills 146 Americans.
  • Every single day, alcohol poisoning kills 6 people every day. This does not include alcohol deaths due to accident or disease. Just alcohol poisoning.

The click-baiting headline does not match the facts in the story. Nowhere in the story is there any data that would suggest that the young man died from cannabis.

Even the medical examiner says so:

Michael Ziobro’s death certificate does not list cannabis as the cause of death and Union County Medical Examiner Dr. Junaid Shaikh said he cannot say what caused the young man’s heart to start beating so erratically that it stopped.

Victor and Kristina Ziobro are unhappy with the explanation and asked state legislators, as well as the police, to investigate.

“Although there is scarce research that indicates smoking cannabis can evoke cardiovascular complications, one is unable to attribute the ‘Cause of Death’ was due to smoking cannabis,” Shaikh wrote in a letter to New Jersey state senator Thomas Kean after an inquiry.

“In my opinion, it is highly warranted that family members consult a geneticist and possibly consider cardiovascular genetic testing for hereditary causes of cardiac arrhythmia,” Shaikh added in the letter, which the Ziobros provided to NBC News. His office did not immediately respond to NBC’s request for further comment.

In this case, the alarming headline simply does not jibe with the 1,600 words below it. Perhaps a more accurate headline would read: “Did marijuana kill this young man? Grieving parents say yes, but science says no.”

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