Thanks to a coroner’s diagnosis in Louisiana, the debate around THC overdoses has resumed once more in full force. Concern trolls like Danny Kannell have flocked in full force to point, emphatically, that marijuana has “side effects” of usage, while cannabis advocates have referenced empirical data and statistics to push back against such claims. So which is it — have we just witnessed the first recorded marijuana death in the United States or is something else going on here?
According to the New Orleans Advocate, coroner Christy Monegut diagnosed a 39-year-old woman, found dead in her apartment, as having died from vaping THC oil after viewing the woman’s toxicology reports.
“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,” Montegut told the Advocate. “There was nothing else.”
For the record, the National Institute of Drug Abuse — a federal government research institution — reports there’s never been an adult death due to THC. In addition, The National Center for Biotechnology Information, an offshoot of the National Institutes of Health, also said there’s been “no known cases of fatal overdose from cannabis use in the epidemiologic literature,” according to Newsweek.
In the original Advocate report, Keith Humphreys, the former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, also pushed back against claims of marijuana overdose. Due to how much cannabis is consumed in the United States each year, we should see more cases of marijuana overdoses happening if consuming cannabis caused such a deadly reaction, even if the chances are only 1 in 1,000,000.
“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,” Humphreys told the Advocate. “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.”
And while Montegut has asserted “100% certainty” in her assessment of marijuana overdose, Noah Kaufman, a Colorado-based emergency room doctor wasn’t so sure of such claims. Kaufman urged caution in using edibles or high-potency concentrates like shatter, but after viewing Montegut’s autopsy and toxicology report, he remained skeptical.
“Everything looked above the board, and the only thing they found was the THC in the blood and so they made an association,” Kaufman told 4WWL.
While we emphasize to new and old marijuana users alike to practice care and safety when using cannabis, especially any high-potency products as Kaufman mentioned, the evidence seems overwhelming that we don’t know the full story of how this Louisiana woman died. Otherwise, you’d have to believe one Louisiana coroner is correct in her assessment and federal institutions and doctors are wrong in theirs.