ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, La. (CBS Local) — A 39-year-old Louisiana woman was the first person to have ever died from a marijuana overdose, according to local officials.
The victim was found deceased laying on a sofa in her LaPlace apartment in February. An autopsy showed she had relatively healthy organs and no signs of illness.
“I knew this was very unusual because I was expecting maybe elevated alcohols or some other drug,” St. John the Baptist Parish Coroner Christy Montegut told CBS affiliate WWL. “I was kind of surprised that the only thing we found was elevated levels of THC.”
THC or Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the main active ingredient in marijuana. The woman’s boyfriend told investigators that she used a marijuana vaping pen. He also said she had gone to the ER three weeks before she died because of a chest infection and was sent home with over-the-counter medication.
“For marijuana to show up positive on our toxicology test, the level has to be greater than 0.5,” Montegut said. The woman’s THC level was 8.4 nanograms per milliliter of blood, 15 times the detection threshold.
“At high levels, marijuana can cause respiratory depression, which means a decrease in breathing, and if it’s a high enough level it can make you stop breathing,” Montegut said.
While research is limited, there are no cases of people dying from Marijuana on record. The National Institutes of Health says there have been no direct deaths from marijuana overdose.
Dr. Noah Kaufman, an emergency room doctor in Colorado where recreational marijuana is legal, said it’s possible that other drugs weren’t picked up by the toxicology test. The woman’s body also might handle THC different than other people.
“THC is becoming so powerful these days that we are kind of playing with fire a little bit, and there may be more and more and more people that start to have some kind of an adverse reaction,” he said.