“There’s no known dose of cannabis that could kill a human,” Dr. Alan Shackelford said.
Controversy has once again ensued over whether a person can die from consuming too much marijuana, after British pathologist Dr. Kudair Hussein ruled that 31-year-old Gemma Moss died this past October from “cannabis poisoning” after smoking half a joint.
According to local news reports, friends of Moss said she smoked half a joint every night to help her get to sleep.
If the story is true, Moss would be the first to die from a marijuana overdose. Since the drug has such low toxicity levels, advocates claim you would have to smoke a third of your body weight in order to overdose.
Though some international news outlets are reporting a 36-year-old died from marijuana in 2004, many experts say the validity of those autopsies and the doctor’s competence should be questioned.
In Moss’ case, Hussein reported that he found nothing wrong with Moss’ vital organs, specifically her heart and liver. But since the woman had “moderate to heavy” levels of marijuana in her system, the drug could have caused her to have a heart attack.
But as Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project said, “It is estimated that someone would have to consume upwards of 1,500 pounds of marijuana in a sitting to induce a lethal overdose.
“According to the DEA’s own administrative law judge, it’s impossible to lethally overdose on marijuana.”
“Users usually pass out before they can take enough cannabis to kill them,” added David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance.
Dr. Bradley Flansbaum, a hospitalist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, agreed that it’s only possible for a person to die after smoking marijuana if the drug had been laced with another drug. Flansbaum made sure to clarify too, that if a person did die, it would be from the other drug, not marijuana.
Still, despite protests from legalization advocates, medical professionals and scientists, news of Moss’ death is being used by anti-drug groups to talk about the dangers of marijuana. Lucy Dave of Cannabis Skunk Sense, for one, said that “People think because cannabis is a plant it won’t be dangerous, but it gives people a false sense of security.”
However, marijuana legalization advocates such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law’s UK chapter said that “cannabis poisoning” is “no more a valid cause of death than say a lollypop overdose or fatal rainbow exposure.
“It’s just simply a fantasy,” the group said. “Were cannabis to have been involved with her death there would have to be other underlying causes which went undetected during the autopsy. That happens; lots of people go to their grave with ‘unknown’ written in the cause section of their death certificate. Not all puzzles will be solved.”
Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, agreed that the autopsy was inaccurate and said it was concerning that officials accepted Hussein’s assessment without scrutiny, despite the fact that reports of marijuana-related fatalities due to cardiac arrest or any other medical condition are nonexistent.
“Indeed, millions of people around the world have used cannabis in far greater quantities than Ms. Moss with little to no adverse side effects.”
Despite all of the backlash, Hussein maintains that his report is accurate.
“I looked through literature, and it’s well known that cannabis is of very low toxicity,” he said. “But there are reports which say cannabis can be considered as a cause of death because it can induce a cardiac arrest.”
Dr. Alan Shackelford, founder and principal physician of Amarimed of Colorado, which evaluates patients for medical marijuana usage, opined that it can cause an increased heart rate, which could be problematic for those with pre-existing heart disease conditions, but stressed, “there’s no known dose of cannabis that could kill a human.”
“We see unexplained deaths not infrequently,” Shackelford said. “The cannabis is a red herring and an incidental finding. It’s most likely some sort of cardiac arrhythmia that was not caused by a physical abnormality that would have been observable at autopsy. But there have been no reports that I’m familiar with of cannabis causing any cardiac arrhythmia.
“I have no idea what caused her death, but I can say with near-100-percent certainty that it wasn’t the cannabis that killed her.”
Since Hussein is a public employee, member of the National Health Service and a board member at England’s Poole Hospital, NORML’s U.K. chapter said the doctor should be held accountable for straying from scientific evidence to rule that Moss died of “cannabis poisoning” and has encouraged the whole country to file a complaint against Hussein.
“His findings have the potential to harm the reputation of the deceased, negatively affect the family she has left behind and creates an unscientific precedent in the determination of death in the cases like these,” the group said. “It is no more appropriate than a physician claiming they can cure cancer with baking soda. Professional standards must be adhered to in public institutions.”