World’s First Death by THC Overdose?

The world’s first death caused by an overdose of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, was recently recorded in Louisiana. The coroner of St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, determined that an unnamed 39-year-old woman died due to an overdose of vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil.

The coroner came to this conclusion based on the lack of signs of any other physical disease or afflictions during the autopsy. Because the high level of THC was the only abnormal result from the autopsy and toxicology reports, the coroner determined that the THC inhalation caused the deceased to suffer respiratory failure.

Other experts, however, are skeptical of the coroner’s conclusion, based on the statistical likelihood. These experts estimate that 250 million people use cannabis globally, making one death in 250 million a very low mortality rate. If it was possible to overdose on THC, these experts posit, it is likely that many more than one out of the hundreds of millions of consumers would die of an overdose in a year.

Whether the cause of death actually resulted from a “THC overdose” is likely to be debated for some time. However, this incident brings into sharper focus the potential need for manufacturers of so-called THC “concentrates” – including oils, “waxes” and high-THC edibles – to warn of the foreseeable side effects of their products and to include on their products specific dosing information to avoid product liability claims.

Beveridge & Diamond's Industrial Hemp & Cannabis industry group assists cannabis-based businesses with state-level environmental compliance, product liability, project planning, environmental risk avoidance, and, where appropriate, litigation services and defense against state-level environmental enforcement actions. For more information, please contact the authors.

Possession, use, distribution, and sale of cannabis may be a federal crime. This alert is not intended to provide any guidance or assistance in violating federal law, or in providing guidance or assistance in complying with federal law.