There has always been an understandable stigma associated with the use of recreational drugs. After all, for the longest time, the recreational use of many of these substances, including alcohol, was prohibited by federal laws.
A few years back, an accidental death occurred. At first, doctor’s believed that it was linked to something internal, but as they delved deeper, they found that the child’s death could have been prevented if only he hadn’t encountered one substance…
Doctors Thomas Nappe and Christopher Hoyte are both physicians on staff at the poison control center in Colorado. Though both of them are esteemed and distinguished doctors, their services are generally only called upon in the rare case of someone having ingested something they aren’t supposed to.
Every now and then, however, a case will come through that will test all of their considerable expertise. In 2016, that case involved an 11-month-old baby, whose accidental ingestion caused them to question everything they thought they knew about one of the world’s most widely-used recreational substances…
One Sad Loss
Sadly, despite the best efforts of both doctors, the 11-month-old patient perished. The original cause of death was thought to be the child’s weakened heart muscle. Yet a more thorough investigation into the baby’s bloodstream found that the real cause of death may very well have been the result of him having ingested something unusual.
Of course, before they could make a solid claim that the unusual substance had caused the infant’s demise, doctors Nappe and Hoyte first had to rule out a virtual laundry list of other possible explanations. After all, if what they thought to be the cause of death was indeed the culprit, it could seriously undo a great deal of the positive strides made in Colorado over the past few years…
Weed Out the Culprit
Despite themselves, the two poison control doctors had no choice but to admit that it seemed that the main cause of death for the 11-month-old may very well have been Marijuana. There seemed to be a significant amount of the herb in the boy’s system and though the drug is usually innocuous, it seemed hard to dispute.
“The only thing that we found was marijuana. High concentrations of marijuana in his blood. And that’s the only thing we found,” explained Dr. Hoyte. It was a long shot to make such a claim though and indeed many of the doctors’ peers believed that more investigation had to be done before they could overtly claim that “weed was the culprit”…
The case report was published in the journal Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine. The two doctors, Nappe and Hoyt co-authored the case itself while working at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. Yet even after publishing the case, they still had their doubts.
An investigation was made into the boy’s living conditions prior to his death, which were considered unstable at the very best. The 11-month-old’s parents admitted to drug possession, which included cannabis. The doctors also looked into the boy’s medical history, which revealed some interesting results as well…
It is a bold statement to say that the boy’s death is the “first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure” and indeed the ramifications of such a statement could prove devastating to the current movement towards nationwide legalization of Marijuana. Up until now, Colorado has had no issues whatsoever with legalization and has only seen positive results both socially and economically.
Dr. Noah Kaufman, an emergency medicine specialist based in Northern Colorado has come out as saying, “That statement is too much. It’s too much as far as I’m concerned…Because that is saying confidently that this is the first case. ‘We’ve got one!’ And I still disagree with that.” As expected, the skepticism of doctors like Kaufman has driven Hoyt and Nappe to consider other causes. This meant going back to square one: the infant’s heart failure…
The widely accepted belief is that there is no such thing as a fatal marijuana overdose. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration fact sheet on weed says simply that “no deaths from overdoses of marijuana has been reported.” Even if one overdoses on THC, and mind you that is a difficult thing to manage on it’s own, it won’t kill you.
The boy’s autopsy shows that the 11-month-old died of myocarditis, which is essentially an inflammation of the heart muscle. It is a rare condition with a number of known causes which range from bacterial, viral, parasitic, and fungal infections. Myocardis is what caused his heart to fail, but what caused the infection in the first place?
As we explained earlier, Myocarditis is rare in children, but when it does arise, it can prove fatal, even if it’s diagnosed on time. This strain of fatal myocarditis is usually caused by a virus called Coxsackievirus, though in the case of this unfortunate 11-month-old that virus was ruled out. There had to be another virus though.
Cause and Effect
“We extensively ruled out almost every other cause that we can think of,” said Dr. Hoyte. “Myself, our team, plus the primary team taking care of the patient, plus the coroner who did the post-mortem on the child. And we found no other reason why this young kid ended up having inflammation on his heart.” But was it marijuana that caused an exacerbation of the virus?
Finally, the doctors decided that the myocarditis was caused by cannabis overdose, which in turn caused the baby boy’s heart to fail. What they ultimately believe to be the cause of death though, is a heart condition that allowed the heart to be so weak in the first place.
“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…” said doctor Hoyte. What seems to be the most important part of this debate, seems to be that parents in Colorado have learned something very important about the legality of marijuana…
Keep Them Safe
The advice is elementary, or it should be anyway. No matter how much herb you take on your own, keep your marijuana away from kids. Dr. Noah Kaufman weighed in again on the case saying, “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. It needs to be locked up away in a medicine chest because it can cause seizures…”
“There’s so many things that cause the problem that this poor baby had, that we’re not even close to saying it was definitely a marijuana overdose,” added Dr. Kaufman. He continued to say that allergies to something like marijuana or cannabis wax could cause the same thing. The lingering question here remains, how will this affect further marijuana legislation?
The fact that the boy’s death happened in Colorado, a state where marijuana has only recently been legalized is of course unfortunate, but it is unlikely that this case, once it is finally given a reasonable conclusion anyway, will cause the steady march of legalization to falter. There’s no telling what the future will hold for everyone’s favorite weed.
Ultimately, this case may have long-standing ramifications for more research that may link myocarditis to THC consumption. So far though, all other cases in that study involved the presence of other drugs and don’t definitively answer whether or not marijuana brings about myocarditis.