Skeptics Abound After Coroner Says Pot OD Killed Woman

Experts doubtful as Louisiana coroner makes his case
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2019 12:00 PM CDT
A Mystery Death—or First-Ever Pot Overdose?
A woman takes a puff off a cannabis vape pen during a party in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 22, 2018.   (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

"No one has ever overdosed on marijuana," is a common defense of the drug slowly becoming legal across the US. But one coroner says it's no longer accurate. Christy Montegut of Louisiana's St. John the Baptist Parish believes he's recorded the first death caused solely by the active ingredient in marijuana, reports the Advocate. A toxicology report showed high levels of THC in a 39-year-old woman found dead on her couch in February with no apparent affliction and no other drugs or alcohol in her system. The woman's boyfriend said she'd been using a vaping pen three weeks after visiting the emergency room with a chest infection, for which she was told to take Mucinex and Robitussin D. But Montegut says her "lungs were totally healthy," per WWL.

"I'm thinking this lady must have vaped this THC oil … and (it) made her stop breathing, like a respiratory failure," Montegut says, per the Advocate, which references plenty of skeptics. Keith Humphreys, formerly of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, says it's not unusual for coroners to attribute death to a drug when no other indications of death can be found. But even if the risk of death from THC was one in a million, there would be "a couple thousand cannabis overdose deaths" in the US each year, he says. THC can likely kill, says an addiction researcher, but he estimates only at levels 100 to 1,000 times higher than the 8.4 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood detected during the autopsy (though her THC level would have quickly decreased after death). Still, a doctor does note more users are experiencing "an adverse reaction." (Read more marijuana stories.)

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