In what would be the first case of its kind, a Louisiana woman allegedly died from a THC overdose after vaping a large amount of cannabis oil.
The New Orleans Advocate reports that the otherwise healthy 39-year-old collapsed and died in her La Place apartment in February due to high levels of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, according to St. John Baptist Parish Coroner Christy Montegut. The woman had healthy organs and no symptoms of illness or elevated traces of alcohol and drugs in her body.
The coroner told the 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.
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.”
The woman’s boyfriend informed investigators that she used a marijuana vaping pen to imbibe of THC, and had been to the hospital three weeks prior to her death for a chest infection. The level of THC in her blood was 15 times the detection threshold for the compound, which led the coroner to conclude that her death was the result of a THC overdose.
While THC can cause heart palpitations and extreme anxiety in some users, the federally-funded National Institute on Drug Abuse has said that no recorded deaths have been attributable to marijuana overdose.
Various experts have also cast doubt on the coroner’s claims, describing his conclusion as highly unlikely.
Keith Humphreys, a former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, noted that if such overdoses were possible, the growing amounts of cannabis consumption in the U.S. would have likewise risen. Humphreys said:
“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 every year.
There’s always some imperfection in these kinds of assessments.”
According to an official from the state Department of Health, this is the first death attributable to THC alone, with other recorded deaths mentioning THC being in reference to combinations with other drugs.
According to past estimates, a person would have to smoke over 20,000 joints to reach potentially lethal level of THC toxicity, the paper reports.
The coroner, however, claims that the woman’s death should give legislators pause when considering lifting the prohibition on recreational marijuana. Cannabis is still not yet legal in Louisiana for medical use. Montegut argued:
“If you’ve got a 30-day supply of THC in there with an inhaler, you can just keep puffing away.”
But for the former White House senior policy adviser, the woman’s death may well have been just a fluke. Dismissing any need for concern, he explained:
“Let’s assume [that the woman died from THC] is a fact. What do you conclude from that? It doesn’t justify really anything from a policy viewpoint. It’s just so incredibly unlikely.”