(Last American Vagabond) This week the news cycle was flooded with mainstream headlines suggesting doctors were claiming have discovered the first marijuana overdose.
“Doctors claim baby’s 2015 death was caused by marijuana overdose,” a Fox News headline claimed.
Local Colorado NBC affiliate 9 News headlined their article “Colorado doctors claim first marijuana overdose death.”
Except that wasn’t what the doctors who investigated the baby’s death said in their report.
According to the doctors, the baby had been lethargic and retching in the days leading up to his hospitalization. An autopsy found the baby had myocarditis, a condition that inflames the heart muscles and causes them to stop working.
The doctors did acknowledge the presence of cannabis in the baby’s system. “The presence of THC metabolites in the patient’s urine and serum, most likely secondary to ingestion, is the only uncovered risk factor in the etiology for his myocarditis,” they wrote.
They even documented the link between cannabis and the condition in other research:
“The link between cannabis use and myocarditis has been documented in multiple teenagers and young adults.”
Further, they urged research into the potential relationship, saying “we believe there exists a plausible relationship that justifies further research into cannabis-associated cardiotoxicity and related practice adjustments.”
Nevertheless, they also cautioned that there were limitations in their report, citing “the case study design, the limitations on interpreting an exact time, dose and route of cannabis exposure, the specificity of histopathology being used to classify etiology of myocarditis, and inconsistent blood culture results.”
In their discussion, they carefully explained that “As of this writing, this is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure.” In other words, there was correlation – not causation. They did not conclude cannabis caused the death, though media outlets reported they had.
As those headlines emerged, one of the doctors spoke out to clarify.
“We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child,” said Thomas Nappe, one of the co-authors. Nappe is currently the director of medical toxicology at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem, Pa, and is listed as affiliated with Denver Health and Hospital Authority’s Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in the report.
Christopher O. Hoyte of University of Colorado School of Medicine at Anschutz Medical Center, who also authored the report, was reportedly unavailable for an interview, according to the Washington Post.
According to the Post, “Nappe emphasized that the word ‘associated’ should not be interpreted as indicating a cause and effect.”
Even if cannabis did cause the death, explained Keith Humphreys, an addiction specialist and professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, it would be “a very unusual event.” He said cannabis poses “virtually no risk.”
Even so, the doctors were clear that more research is needed and cautioned parents to keep cannabis away from children.
“In states where cannabis is legalized, it is important that physicians not only counsel parents on preventing exposure to cannabis, but to also consider cannabis toxicity in unexplained pediatric myocarditis and cardiac deaths as a basis for urine drug screening in this setting.”
Based on media reports, Noah Kaufman, a Northern Colorado emergency room physician, disapproved of claims that cannabis caused the overdose.
“You just can’t make those statements because then what happens is lay people say, ‘Oh my God, did you hear a kid died from marijuana poisoning?’ and it can be sensationalized. It’s 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.”
Upon hearing the doctors hadn’t made those certain claims, he said “that’s more responsible,” though his previous assessment of jumping the gun does still apply to the media outlets that incorrectly covered the story.