Two poison control doctors in Denver say they have documented the first known case of death by marijuana overdose, according to KUSA.
KUSA on Thursday reported that the pair’s case report has inspired a medical debate over what killed an 11-month-old baby in 2015.
Doctors Thomas Nappe and Christopher Hoyte worked on the child’s care as part of their duties at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, which is housed at Denver Health.
The duo’s case report was first published in the journal Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine last March.
“As of this writing, this is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure,” the report states.
Hoyte and Nappe say that damage to the baby’s heart muscle – which was listed as the boy’s cause of death – was caused by ingesting marijuana.
“The only thing that we found was marijuana,” Hoyte said Thursday. “High concentrations of marijuana in his blood. And that’s the only thing we found.”
“The kid never really got better,” he added. “And just one thing led to another and the kid ended up with a heart stopped. And the kid stopped breathing and died.”
Both published accounts of the boy’s case clearly say that the autopsy determined he died of myocarditis – or inflammation of the heart muscle – causing the organ to fail.
Hoyte and Nappe’s case study theorizes that the myocarditis was caused by a cannabis overdose, which then caused the baby’s heart to stop.
Myocarditis is rare in children, and it can often prove fatal when diagnosed, with the lethal version usually caused by a virus known as Coxsackievirus.
Hoyte and Nappe ruled out Coxsackievirus in the boy’s case, and they also eliminated other many known causes of myocarditis.
“We extensively ruled out almost every other cause that we can think of,” Hoyte said of myocarditis, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
The pair’s report pointed to other research showing myocarditis as a symptom linked to THC consumption, none of which proved fatal.
The cases mentioned, however, involved the presence of other drugs and do not suggest a way by which marijuana might trigger myocarditis.
Hoyte and Napper wrote that the boy ate an “unknown does of THC” prior to death, adding that they estimated he consumed an unclear product two to six days before passing.
Marijuana is widely accepted not to have fatal overdoses, and several federal government agencies have cast doubt on the premise.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) fact sheet on marijuana says that “no death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) said there is “insufficient evidence” to link THC overdose to fatalities.