A U.K. woman did not die of “cannabis poisoning,” despite inaccurate reports in the British press.
How does one die from “poisoning” when the substance in question is one of the most non-toxic substances known to man? That’s a very relevant question to be asking today, as a British story of a woman dying supposedly of “cannabis poisoning” went viral on the web. Doctors and cannabis experts tell us that someone “overdosing on marijuana” is ridiculous, and virtually impossible.
The nonsense apparently first ran in The Telegraph, then it quickly spread to other British tabloids, such as The Daily Mail and the Mirror. Gemma Moss, a 31-year-old “devout Christian” and mother of three, “is believed to have become the first woman in Britain to die directly from cannabis poisoning,” The Telegraph‘s Sam Webb (who shall never again dwell in the land of factual journalists) gravely reported. Even Moss’ local paper, the Bournemouth Daily Echo, did her the disrespect of reporting her death as “the first woman in Britain to die of cannabis poisoning.”
Coroner Sheriff Payne reportedly found that Moss had “moderate to high levels of pot in her system” (remember, marijuana is non-toxic), thus attributed her death to “cannabis toxicity” (which is patent nonsense) after consulting with one Dr. Kudair Hussein, a pathologist. Since the postmortem could find no natural cause for her death, Payne claimed “with the balance of probability that it is more likely than not she died from the effects of cannabis” — thus launching a new pot myth and worldwide media firestorm.
“I looked through literature and it’s well known that cannabis is of very low toxicity,” Dr. Hussein said. “But there are reports which say cannabis can be considered as a cause of death because it can induce a cardiac arrest.”
According to a Bournemouth inquest, Moss smoked half a joint every night, to help her get to sleep. Her friend, Zara Hill, said the smoked about £20 worth of cannabis together in the week before her death, reports Steven Smith at the Daily Echo.
“In 40 years I have never come across deaths from cannabis alone,” said David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance. “There have been cases where it has been combined with other drugs or alcohol.”
On the night of October 28, Moss went to bed after rolling a joint. She was found unresponsive the next morning by Chloe Wilkinson, girlfriend of Moss’ teenage son.
“One doctor’s note should not take precedence over decades of research demonstrating it is impossible to die from a marijuana overdose,” Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Toke Signals Thursaday afternoon. “The fact that this is ‘news’ is telling, as it’s only novel because there is no significant evidence that it has ever happened before. That raises a lot of questions about it’s validity and the doctor’s competence.”
“According to all available studies, there has never been a death linked directly to cannabis use in human history,” agreed MPP’s communications manager, Morgan Fox. “We can blame cannabis prohibition and the stigma attached to the study of the plant’s effects for the relative ignorance of physicians when it comes to cannabis and the endocannabinoid system,” Fox told Toke Signals.
“The pathologist involved really needs to do more research on the subject instead of brushing off the cause of this young woman’s death on the first available explanation,” Fox said. “Her family and the general public deserve better.”
“That’s either inaccurate or the worst satire article I’ve ever read,” MPP’s director of federal policies, Dan Riffle, told us Thursday afternoon. “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.”
“It is highly unlikely that Gemma Moss died from smoking marijuana,” Lisa Roche-Kuprian, RN, CCRC, CRNI told Toke Signals. “It is my professional opinion that additional toxicology testing and a full autopsy be performed to rule out underlying medical conditions before placing blame on marijuana as a cause of death.”
“Reports out of the U.K. that a woman has died from cannabis use appear wildly assumptive,” Americans for Safe Access (ASA) spokesman Kris Hermes told Toke Signals. “Given that there are no known fatalities as a result of cannabis use anywhere in the world, it seems implausible, to say the least, that Gemma Moss died from her moderate cannabis use.
“Officials seemed to quickly accept Dr. Hussein’s assessment without scrutiny, which disregards the established science on cannabis — that its therapeutic benefits are widely known, while reports of fatalities due to cardiac arrest or any other medical condition are nonexistent,” Hermes said. “Indeed, millions of people around the world have used cannabis in far greater quantities than Ms. Moss with little to no adverse side effects.”
“The headline indicating this woman was ‘poisoned’ by marijuana is misleading,” Sabrina Fendrick, director of woman’s outreach for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told us. “What the doctor in the article actually says is that this woman died from cardiac arrest, not overconsumption, which means marijuana was not the direct cause — as opposed to alcohol poisoning.
“Decades of research have shown that it is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana, and unfortunately some doctors refuse to accept this fact and seek to push their own agenda,” Fendrick told us. “More likely than not, there were other factors at hand such as the use of other drugs, pharmaceutical narcotics, or alcohol.”
Fendrick makes a good point. Since Moss was reportedly taking prescription antidepressants — and deaths from antidepressants aren’t uncommon, while deaths from cannabis just don’t happen — it’s quite possible that her death was due to pharmaceuticals and was simply (and conveniently) blamed on marijuana. Gemma Moss was under the care of Big Pharma, and taking their products, when she died — and now, sadly, her death is being used as an excuse for benighted drug warriors to claim “cannabis can kill you.”
New York Daily News Gets It Right
To its credit, the New York Daily News didn’t jump on the bandwagon, as did so many other news outlets. “The coroner who said ‘cannabis poisoning’ killed a British mother-of-three is likely blowing smoke,” wrote reporter Michael Walsh.“From half a joint? That’s ridiculous,” reacted Dr. Yasmine Hurd, professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Dr. Bradley Flansbaum, a hospitalist at Lenox Hill Hospital, agreed; both physicians said it was possible for a person to die after smoking pot if it had been laced with another drug. But the person would have died from the other drug — not from cannabis.
“It would be very, very, very unlikely to get a lethal dose of marijuana if it wasn’t adulterated with something,” Dr. Flansbaum said.
Both doctors also agreed that smoking could aggravate an existing heart condition, which could result in a person’s death. But again, the heart condition — not the marijuana — would be responsible for the person’s death, the physicians agreed.
“You would need to literally consume a third of your body weight in marijuana,” Tvert said. “There are no acute marijuana deaths.”