Busting The Myth Marijuana is Harmless

A popular, spurious claim circulates on the Internet that not a single person has ever died as a result of marijuana, and therefore marijuana should not be a regulated drug.

The statement itself is misleading, as most of the time those offering it actually mean, “It has never been documented that a person died as the result of a marijuana overdose.” However, credible scientific evidence coupled with information gathered by the Food and Drug Administration and others begs to differ.

FDA: Marijuana Linked to Nearly 300 Deaths

According to Freedom of Information requests submitted by the group ProCon.org, from 1997 to 2005 the Food and Drug Administration recorded 279 deaths to which marijuana contributed. 187 of these deaths were listed as being directly related to the use of the cannabis plant itself.

These people may not have died from a marijuana overdose, but if they had not used marijuana, they might still be alive today.

Some doctors have also stated they believe the actual number of marijuana-related deaths is probably much higher because marijuana is often dismissed as a cause of death due to its “harmless” reputation, the appearance of other substances in the deceased’s toxicology reports, or routine omissions in coroners’ reports.

This assessment was substantiated by an estimate published on ProCon.org linking marijuana to as many as 296 preventable deaths in the year 1990 alone.

Marijuana Causes Strokes and Deaths

A 2004 report in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics examined three case studies in which otherwise-healthy adolescent boys were admitted to hospitals due to strokes following heavy marijuana use.

The study concluded that smoking an amount of marijuana to which the user was unaccustomed (i.e. going on a marijuana “binge”) could cause a drop in blood pressure, which in turn leads to a very uncommon type of stroke known as a cerebellar infarction.

These three case studies were backed up by additional case studies illustrating similar principles, going back to the 1980s:

1987: http://pmj.bmj.com/content/63/740/511.full.pdf+html?ijkey=a5d6c7bf52b0bf3c9c2748298647346c91f72a26&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

1991: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/22/3/406.full.pdf+html

1996: http://pmj.bmj.com/content/72/853/692.abstract?ijkey=738b3bd528c88317a7b9947931ecf14e7057273a&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

Other Deaths Caused By Marijuana

Conclusion

The assertion that marijuana is somehow harmless or that no one has ever died from using it is 100% untrue. At best it is inconclusive as to whether or not anyone has actually overdosed on marijuana (some sources indicate yes, while others say no). Marijuana’s contributions to fatalities from strokes, cardiovascular failure, and others, however, are indisputable.

Moreover, it is widely believed marijuana-related deaths are under-reported for a variety of reasons.

Some people will try to dismiss these figures and estimates as somehow being “inconsequential” when compared to deaths from other substances. I find nothing inconsequential about hundreds of people dead from an illegal drug.

A lot of adjectives can be used to describe marijuana. “Harmless,” however, is simply not one of them.

3 Responses to “Busting The Myth Marijuana is Harmless”

  1. I can’t believe that you are still trying to spread ignorance, these claim that you are using are the same lies that they spread in the 1930′s, and all have been disproven through the years after. All you have done was to repeat the lies of the past and claim that you are soooo smart, you are a joke, a sad little joke, but I am sure you are going t find some old ladies that can’t think for themself to listen to you but if they even attempt to check your facts, they will see the truth, and see through your lies. What a bunch of bafoons.

  2. You’ve failed to fully or accurately represent the data that you’re using to support your beliefs.

    The page you linked to (http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000145) is comparing Marijuana to other drugs specifically prescribed in place of Medical Marijuana. Their direct, primary cause-of-death total: 10,008.

    So, for the exact same symptoms (nausea, spasms, etc)—
    Marijuana = 0
    FDA approved equivalents = 10,008

    For indirect, secondary causes (for the same symptoms, remember)
    Marijuana = 279
    FDA approved equivalents = 11,687

    To summarize, currently FDA approved drugs prescribed to treat the same symptoms are literally 4189% more deadly than Medical Marijuana.

    Let’s give patients the choice between toxic chemicals over 4000x more likely to kill them, and a safe and effective plant with decades of well-recorded use.

  3. After reading Mr. Cox’s letter regarding medical marijuana, I am compelled to share some statistics with other readers. As a local physician, I have been concerned about the enormous overuse and abuse of prescription pain medications, which occur both locally and on a national level. According to The National Center for Health Statistics reported in 2011 that deaths from drug overdose now outnumber those from car accidents. Prescription pain medications accounted for 40 percent of the fatalities. This is supported by a Centers for Disease Control vital statistic published in July of this year, which reports that prescription painkiller overdoses were responsible for more than 15,500 deaths in the US in 2009. The number of overdose deaths is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. A big part of the problem is nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, i.e., taking them for the “high” they cause. According to the CDC, nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers. Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs heath insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs. The DEA reports that Arkansas had a drug overdose death rate of 12.4-14.8 per 100,000 total population in 2008, so that calculates to over 400 people per year in our state who die from prescription drug overdose. These are direct deaths, attributed to overdose, not including all the fatal car crashes and other accidents caused from adverse influence on people who take them.

    The CDC National Vital Statistics Report, published December 2011, reported the number of alcohol-induced deaths in 2009, excluding accidents and homicides, to be 24,518. Tobacco-related deaths are estimated to number 443,000 annually.

    According to published FDA Adverse Events reports, there were no reported deaths from primary use of marijuana. As there has been no documented case of a human fatality from overdosing on THC in its natural form, it is difficult to find a documented lethal dose of marijuana. Animal studies suggest that a person would have to smoke 1/3 of his weight within 15 minutes to overdose. The FDA AE reported 279 suspected secondary deaths, for which it was thought marijuana was a contributing cause, in the US from 1997 to 2005. That equals roughly 33 deaths per year reported nationwide in which marijuana potentially contributed to a death, which was primarily caused by another reason. Thus, from a safety standpoint, one would have to conclude that the drug itself is very innocuous compared to tobacco, alcohol, or prescription narcotics, all of which are legal.

    There are thousands of references available, which show proven, as well as potential, medical indications for medical marijuana. Unlike tobacco, it has not been linked to cancer, and smoking marijuana has not shown to cause lung damage nearly to the extent of tobacco. Unlike alcohol, it does not cause liver disease or bleeding in the GI tract.

    Thus, Mr. Cox’s argument against medical marijuana is flawed. It doesn’t take a statistician to appreciate the difference between 300 possible marijuana-related deaths in 9 years in the US versus over 220,000 alcohol-related deaths. Yet, alcohol is legal, and a small amount is recommended to be consumed regularly due to known health benefits to the general adult population.

    The Arkansas Family Council, a Christian-based organization, is barking up the wrong tree, in my opinion. Perhaps they should focus their politicking against medical marijuana on the immorality of substance abuse, and while they are at it, they can oppose liquor, narcotics, and tobacco. Our votes on medical marijuana need to be based on issues of public safety versus medical benefits, not some unsubstantiated claim that marijuana kills.