Doctors Debate Whether Colorado Child's Death Is the First Fatal Marijuana Overdose
A pair of physicians believes that a child’s consumption of cannabis edibles led to heart failure, while others call the claim “BS.”
Published on November 16, 2017

Lead image via Gwengoat

Two Colorado doctors have published a case report claiming that they have found the first cannabis overdose death to ever be reported. In the Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine journal, doctors Thomas M. Nappe and Christopher O. Hoyte from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Colorado describe the case of an 11-month-old baby that died from myocarditis an inflammation of the heart muscle in 2015. According to the report, the baby consumed an “unknown dose of THC” while living in “an unstable motel-living situation” with parents who admitted to “drug possession, including cannabis.”

Dr. Hoyte told Colorado NBC affiliate 9News that they detected “high concentrations of marijuana in his blood. And that’s the only thing we found.” Hoyte explained that he and his team “extensively ruled out almost every other cause that we can think of. We just wanted to make sure that we’re not going to call this a marijuana-related fatality if there was something else that we could point at. And we looked and looked and couldn’t find it.”

In the case report, the doctors stated that “as of this writing, this is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure.” Not everyone has accepted this bold claim as a given, however. Dr. Noah Kaufman, an emergency medicine specialist, told 9News that he was “going to have to call ‘BS’ on this one … [Hoyte] may be pretty confident, but I’m not. I think that it’s more likely that there’s not a relationship.” Kaufman noted that many children have reportedly consumed cannabis in the past, and none have died as a result, despite their young age.

Nappe and Hoyte believe that the child's myocarditis was caused by the consumption of cannabis, but the heart condition is usually caused due to infections by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. The doctors pointed to three other cases in which teenagers or young adults who used cannabis were diagnosed with myocarditis. These individuals were also using other drugs, however, and researchers were not able to specifically determine that cannabis was the sole cause of the inflammation.

Hoyte acknowledged to 9News that “a lot of the times [the cause of myocarditis is] infectious. Or unknown.” Kaufman explained that “there’s so many things that cause the problem that this poor baby had, that we’re not even close to saying it was definitively a marijuana overdose. Allergies can cause this. What if the kiddo was allergic to the carnauba wax, or whatever is in the gummy that’s not the marijuana?”

Regardless of whether or not cannabis had a role in the child's tragic death, it highlights the importance of keeping cannabis products out of the reach of children. “Even if I’m not convinced that it could kill your kid, you need to be really careful because it could make them really sick,” Dr. Kaufman told 9News. “It needs to be locked up away in a medicine chest because it can cause seizures. It can cause real big problems in kids that can lead to other problems.”

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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