Coroner claims Louisiana woman is the first to die of a marijuana overdose

The coroner of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana has ruled the cause of death for a 39-year-old woman as an overdose of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. If true, this would be the first recorded case of a person dying from an overdose of cannabis.

That’s a big if. Experts are reacting to the findings with a healthy dose of skepticism. While not impossible, Colorado physician Dr. Noah Kaufman told a local CBS affiliate that it’s incredibly unlikely.

The woman was found dead on her couch in a La Place apartment in February. With no obvious signs of a cause of death, an autopsy was ordered. The lungs were healthy, there was no illness, and no other drugs or signs of alcohol poisoning were present.

“I was kind of surprised that the only thing we found was elevated levels of THC,” the coroner, Dr. Christy Montegut, said.

The woman, who had reportedly been using a cannabis vaping pen, had 8.4 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in her system. That’s 15 times higher than what it takes for THC to be detected.

“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,” according to Montegut.

Dr. Kaufman acknowledged that cannabis is becoming more powerful, resulting in more adverse reactions and ER visits. But he also thinks it’s possible an underlying condition or substance wasn’t picked up by the tests. In fact, the woman’s boyfriend said she had recently suffered a chest infection that required her to seek emergency medical help. She was only given a prescription for Mucinex and Robitussin D.

Montegut is certain of his findings.

“I'm 100 percent sure of the readings we've found,” he said. “I definitely did some research before I came to the conclusion that this was the cause of death."

Read more about the first purported case of a fatal marijuana overdose here