A Louisiana woman appears to be the first person on record whose death has been ruled a marijuana overdose — but some medical experts are skeptical that was the true cause.
The 39-year-old woman was found slumped on her couch dead in her La Place apartment in February, but an autopsy found she had healthy organs, no illnesses, and no elevated traces of alcohol or other drugs in her body — but high levels of THC, the active ingredient in pot.
“It looked like it was all THC because her autopsy showed no physical disease or afflictions that were the cause of death,” St. John the Baptist Parish coroner Christy Montegut told the New Orleans Advocate.
“There was nothing else identified in the toxicology — no other drugs, no alcohol,” Montegut said.
THC is the main mind-altering component of marijuana which at high levels can cause heart palpitations, extreme anxiety and, according to Montegut, heart failure.
The woman’s boyfriend told investigators she used a marijuana vaping pen, and had been to the ER three weeks before she died because of a chest infection and said doctors sent her home with over-the-counter medication.
The level of THC in her blood was 15 times the detection threshold which led him to rule the death as a THC overdose.
“For marijuana to show up positive on our toxicology test, the level has to be greater than 0.5,” Montegut told the paper. The woman’s THC level was 8.4 nanograms per milliliter of blood.
“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,” he continued.
There have been no recorded deaths attributable to a marijuana overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal government research institute.
But doctors and medical experts immediately disagreed with Montegut’s finding, with one calling it “incredibly unlikely.”
“That number is not very high,” Bernard Le Foll, an addiction professor and scientist at the University of Toronto said of the amount of THC in the woman’s blood.
Dr. Noah Kaufman, an ER doctor in Colorado, told CBS affiliate WWL he was skeptical after reviewing the woman’s autopsy but added he has seen more pot-related illnesses in the emergency room.
“THC is becoming so powerful these days that we are kind of playing with fire a little bit, and there may be more and more and more people that start to have some kind of an adverse reaction,” he said.