In early 2014, the BBC reported that a 31-year-old woman, Gemma Moss, “died as a result of cannabis poisoning.” The real shocker, however, isn’t Moss’ death, but rather the fact that she had smoked only half a joint.
One of the most ambiguous, yet frequently lobbed criticisms of cannabis is the fact that it is “dangerous.” Despite this fear mongering, until more robust research is conducted, the long-term effects of cannabis on the human brain and nervous system will remain in debate.
A 2009 study from American Scientist regarding the toxicity of recreational drugs provides some interesting numbers. The study revealed that using only 10 times the “effective” dose of alcohol can be fatal. However, in the case of cannabis, 1,000 times the effective dose is necessary to achieve a fatal dose (a ratio 100 times greater than that of alcohol).
One of the most common methods by which the “danger” inherent in a particular drug is objectively measured within the medical community is the rate at which it kills those who consume it. This is measured by something called the LD-50 rating, which indicates the dosage necessary to kill 50 percent of test animals “as a result of drug induced toxicity.”
In a 1988 ruling, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young detailed the amount of cannabis necessary to achieve a level of toxicity that might cause death in humans:
“At present it is estimated that marijuana’s LD-50 is around 1:20,000 or 1:40,000. In layman terms this means that in order to induce death a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette. A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.”
Not convinced? According to the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health,
“Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.”
More recent research has indicated additional reasons why humans don’t die from marijuana poisoning. In 2014, the journal Science published the results of French researchers who have discovered the presence of a natural hormone that reverses marijuana intoxication — in rats, at least. According to the researchers, “When the [rat] brain is stimulated by high doses of THC, it produces pregnenolone — a 3,000 percent increase — that inhibits the effects of THC.”
It’s sad when an otherwise reputable media outlet like the BBC succumbs to the ignorance of decades of global cannabis prohibition. Regardless of a reader’s stance on medical or recreational marijuana, a firm grasp of the facts is necessary to overcome an abundance of misinformation — sometimes even from mainstream media.
In the words of the DEA’s own Judge Young: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”