Fact vs. Fiction: Can Marijuana Kill You?

By Laura Stack

One of the most common questions that people ask marijuana experts, advocates, and opponents alike is the one posed in the title of this blog: Can marijuana kill you? It’s an excellent question, and during my research for this and other blogs, I’ve read as many articles that concluded “Absolutely not!” as those concluding, “Absolutely!”

Deaths Directly Cause by Cannabis Are Very Rare

Marijuana toxicity is NOT a myth. However, the “acute toxicity” of the drug appears to be quite low, since marijuana works by attaching to and stimulating existing cannabinoid receivers in the brain, rather than by directly harming your gray matter or other portions of your body. So while a few deaths have been attributed directly to cannabis use by medical professionals, deaths directly caused by marijuana are exceedingly rare. In fact, the death rate is still the lowest of any Schedule 1 or former Schedule 1 narcotic tracked. However, it’s not zero, and there are indirect causes of death in using marijuana.

  1. It has killed people from non-stop vomiting.
  2. It has killed people from house explosions.
  3. It has also killed people from driving while high.
  4. It may also kill people from burns

Dr. Aaron Weiner, a member of Johnny’s Ambassadors Scientific Advisory Board, says, “Saying that it hasn’t killed anyone and thus it’s OK to use is a really, really low bar. There’s a lot of things that won’t kill you, and you still definitely shouldn’t do, particularly as a teenager. Eating your shoelaces. Hugging a wild badger. Going into a room alone with R Kelly. The argument doesn’t make logical sense.”

FACT: Deaths Indirectly Caused by Cannabis Are Not Rare

An August 2020 study, said, “Many of the concerning health implications of cannabis include cardiovascular diseases.” It should also be noted the severe and acute harm caused by vaping anything with EVALI last year and now this year with COVID, pulmonologists are seeing even more problems for those who vape.

The American Journal of Clinical Pathology cites dabbing as one of the official CDC screening criteria for acute lung injury. The American Thoracic Society has come out with a warning about the use of any kind of vaping product, including marijuana concentrates. It took many years to recognize the dangers of cigarettes—we could be on a similar path with vaping. It’s not worth the risk!

Furthermore, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), or cyclical vomiting, has led to death by dehydration in several cases. CHS, which can occur in regular users, presents as vomiting, abdominal pain, and nausea.

I can’t stress often enough that regular marijuana use can have devastating effects on the developing brain of an adolescent. I’ve discussed its dangerous side effects many times in this blog: the permanent drop in IQ among long-term users, the loss of ambition, damaged judgment, depression, psychosis, paranoia, schizophrenia, and suicidal ideation, among others. All those things have contributed to deaths, accidental and otherwise, usually in which something else has been recorded as the primary cause. Often, such deaths result from side effects like lapses of judgement, poor coordination, and mental illness brought on by marijuana use.

We’re starting to see more and more of these negative effects more and more often as marijuana use becomes increasingly common among young users, and increasingly erodes brain development, often stunting it so they never achieve their potential even if they do survive. Teens often engage in riskier behavior than most adults, either simply because they’re teens, or they believe the negative news about pot is propaganda, or they feel they need the marijuana and have no choice but to take risks getting it.

Marijuana is more likely to lead to chronic psychosis than any other drug studied. About half of those who experience a marijuana-induced psychotic break will eventually develop a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

Some observers point out that ingesting too much of anything can kill you, even water, but that’s a diversionary argument, if not totally specious. Humans don’t require marijuana for survival, and no one ever drowns in it. And yes, one can always blame the user, claiming they knew what they were doing. But that argument doesn’t wash when uninformed teens are involved—teens taught by society that marijuana is safe and “cool” rather than actively dangerous.

Think of marijuana as a loaded gun. While you can’t blame a dumb hunk of metal for killing someone, the death probably wouldn’t have happened if the gun wasn’t easily available—or if the person who fired the gun had received proper education about gun safety.

Even when it doesn’t kill outright, marijuana can prove deadly when mixed with other drugs or alcohol to increase or prolong the high. Users call this “crossfading.” Crossfading deaths in which pot plays a part are often missed due to failure to include all contributing facts, or what the CDC refers to as “multiple causes of death.” If nothing else, combining marijuana, a depressant, with other potential depressants can slow a user’s breathing so far that they suffocate. Alcohol, barbiturates, and many prescription drugs, especially opioids, can depress your breathing rate. These effects can be cumulative. For some people, crossfading marijuana may provide a tipping point that kills them.

There are good, solid reasons why the legal usage age is 21 even in states where recreational use of marijuana has been approved. That’s about when the brain finishes maturing. Until then, kids shouldn’t have access to marijuana; unfortunately, they don’t agree. A teen who’s serous about getting it will.

The Sad Fact

Proponents may prefer to decouple the indirect deaths from the marijuana equation. But medical studies and statistics show that long-term marijuana use results in a decline in quality of life that can in fact kill you, even if the likelihood is small.

I’m certain my son Johnny never expected marijuana to truly hurt him, at least not until near the very end. But it did contribute to his death by suicide. Some may call that his cause of death, but it all started with marijuana use.

Neuroscientist Christine L. Miller, Ph.D., says, “I would say that marijuana containing THC is one of the most dangerous drugs for mental health out there, a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

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