Doctors Refute Baby Died of ‘Marijuana Overdose’
The tragic death of an 11-month-old baby recently spawned headlines about “the first marijuana overdose death.”
The story sounds convincing enough: An ailing infant is taken to a hospital where he becomes unresponsive and eventually dies. The only thing out of place, doctors find, is THC present in the system of the child, who lived in motels with itinerant parents who were drug users.
Case closed? The Washington Post talked to the authors of the original research report upon which the stories were based to find out.
So what does the science say?
Authors of the original report, Thomas Nappe and Christopher Hoyte, of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, said that they never concluded the infant’s unusual death was caused by cannabis.
“We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child,” said Nappe, director of medical toxicology at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania.
The autopsy found the boy died of myocarditis – inflammation of heart muscle – but Nappe and Hoyte rejected that marijuana was definitively responsible for the condition.
“All we are saying is we didn’t find any other reasons. So we need to study this further,” Hoyte told reporters.
Nappe and Hoyte’s observations surged to the public in August through an edition of the internationally recognized journal, Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine. Based on their case report, the child was living in a motel room with his parents who used illicit drugs and smoked marijuana.
The two authors not only advise parents to be vigilant and keep cannabis out of reach of children, but they also recommended physicians consider cannabis toxicity in unexplained pediatric myocarditis and cardiac deaths as a basis for urine drug testing.
In their report, Nappe and Hoyte emphasized that the infant’s death was “associated” with cannabis exposure.
However, other experts decided to give the report the brush-off. An emergency medicine specialist in Northern Colorado said the report was “not based on reality.”
“It’s based on somebody kind of jumping the gun and making a conclusion, and scientifically you can’t do that,” Noah Kaufman said.
There are not a huge number of scientific studies on marijuana toxicity. Statistically, according to National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among millions of American regular pot consumers, cannabis virtually has no risk of death.
There is no report of lethal overdoses from marijuana, stated the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Addiction treatment researcher Keith Humphreys, who used to serve as a senior adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said even if the child’s death was proved to be caused by a marijuana overdose, the event is still “very unusual.”
“It would not be correct to go from this to a generalized panic about the lethality of cannabis. It’s just not there,” Humphreys said. “This is not an omen of a disaster to come.”