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I'm sure we've all heard the saying you can't overdose (and die) on marijuana. Is this true? Have people died from smoking marijuana?

Some notable claims (out of thousands)

  • Leaf Science

    In fact, studies suggest it is impossible to die from smoking too much marijuana. But indirect deaths are possible — and documented.

  • Business Insider

    it’s important to remember how many fatally overdose on [marijuana]. Zip. Zero. That’s according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which collects data on a range of other substances, both legal and illicit, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

  • Healthline

    “It is well-established in the world medical literature that cannabis is incapable of causing death by lethal overdose,” Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told Healthline.

    He cites, among others, one study that concluded, “There are no cases of fatal cannabis poisoning in the human medical literature.”

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  • Would pets having a vetinary emergency due to eating a stash count?
    – Golden Cuy
    Feb 12, 2018 at 1:04
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    Every one of the links you provide references a study or an appropriate authority confirming the claim. What further evidence would it take to convince you that it was true or untrue?
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 12, 2018 at 2:05
  • I had a book on the science of marijuana awhile back, and it talked about scientists that developed a way to administer THC through an IV, and it was theorized that with enough concentrate at a high enough rate, it may be possible, but it was never tested. It depends on if you're including nonsense ways where you're only doing it with the intent of trying to die. Then there's also (this)[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28438101/], but that's probably considered "indirect". Feb 12, 2018 at 2:15
  • You need to define overdose. My first reaction was, is it only an overdose if you die?
    – RedSonja
    Feb 12, 2018 at 11:22
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    You gave a green tick to an answer that linked to a fact sheet that was also linked to in the very paragraph quoted from the Business Insider article. This backs up my previous concern: that it would be hard to give better evidence than you started with.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 13, 2018 at 6:37

3 Answers 3

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From the DEA drug factsheet for marijuana:

No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.

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There have been no deaths definitively caused by an overdose on cannabis.

There is a "possible relationship" between cannabis and myocarditis, and myocarditis can be fatal, especially in children.

The authors report an 11-month-old male who, following cannabis exposure, presented with central nervous system depression after seizure, and progressed to cardiac arrest and died. Myocarditis was diagnosed post-mortem and cannabis exposure was confirmed. Given the temporal relationship of these two rare occurrences – cannabis exposure and sudden death secondary to myocarditis in an 11-month-old – as well as histological consistency with drug-induced myocarditis without confirmed alternate causes, and prior reported cases of cannabis-associated myocarditis, a possible relationship exists between cannabis exposure in this child and myocarditis leading to death. In areas where marijuana is commercially available or decriminalized, the authors urge clinicians to preventively counsel parents and to include cannabis exposure in the differential diagnosis of patients presenting with myocarditis.

Pediatric Death Due to Myocarditis After Exposure to Cannabis

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Yes, at least one person has overdosed on marijuana and died, according to the scientific literature.

Can cannabis kill? Characteristics of deaths following cannabis use in England (1998–2020) published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2022, and using data reported to the UK's National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths reports:

Death following use of cannabis alone was rare (4% of cases, n = 136/3455). In these cases, traumatic injury was the most common underlying cause of death (62% of cases, n = 84/136); the majority of which were due to self-inflicted injuries (e.g. hanging, traumatic injury following intentional fall from a height) (55% of cases, n = 47/84) or RTCs (41% of cases, n = 35/84). In the remaining two cases the intent of the injury could not be determined, with the coroner returning an open verdict. Cannabis use itself was deemed the underlying cause of death in only 14 cases: in 13 of these cases cannabis use preceded immediate cause of death by cardiac failure (n = 9), aspiration (n = 1), cerebral haemorrhage (n = 1) or traumatic injury (n = 1). Cannabis toxicity was attributed as the sole underlying and immediate cause of death in one case. Here, the consulting pathologist noted a level of THC between 100 and 150 μg/L detected in the blood, with no medical illness or trauma evident upon post-mortem examination, although the decedent was reportedly a heavy cannabis user.

(Emphasis mine)

As the paper itself points out, this is a very unusual case. But zero risk and very low risk are not the same thing. I'd also note that the claim made in the third of your quotes, this one from Paul Armentano:

It is well-established in the world medical literature that cannabis is incapable of causing death by lethal overdose

Is a truly ridiculous claim, regardless of the rarity of Cannabis overdose, almost everything can be lethal in sufficient dose, including many things that you consume daily. Lethality is typically measured using the LD50 dose, which is defined as the dosage at which 50% of subjects will die. For reasons that should be obvious this is rarely measured in humans, but based on experiments in other organisms it is estimated that the LD50 for THC in humans is around 30 mg/kg. Which is a lot but certainly not "incapable of causing overdose" levels of a lot.

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    One can overdose and die on effectively anything, even water: "Water is considered one of the least toxic chemical compounds, with an LD50 exceeding 90 ml/kg in rats; drinking six liters in three hours has caused the death of a human." — Water intoxication - Wikipedia Apr 4 at 15:47
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    Is there a rationale for why this fairly low dose was attributed as the sole cause of death? 150ug/L is perhaps an order of magnitude higher than a typical dose, but still less than 0.1% of the estimated LD50. I think it's reasonable to say one is incapable of reaching the LD50 through anything resembling normal consumption - you'd need to consume thousands upon thousands of servings in a very short time. Not saying death at a lower concentration isn't possible, but the human LD50 is in practice unreachable by a wide margin. Apr 4 at 15:55
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    @NuclearHoagie: Nothing is given in the report, I guess you'd need to track down the original pathologist for a definitive answer to that question. I don't think you can really compare the measured post-mortem THC to the LD50 in that fashion; apart from anything else we don't know whether THC is present in other tissues, we don't know the peak THC blood concentration, and we don't know whether toxicity is produced directly by THC or by (unmeasured) THC breakdown products. Apr 4 at 16:12
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    @RayButterworth The MSDS sheet on water lists several hazards. It should not be released into the environment and you should remediate after exposure, possibly by flushing with water.
    – doneal24
    Apr 4 at 16:19
  • @doneal24 and apparently I need to go to the hospital every time I drink water.
    – Nelson
    Apr 5 at 8:54

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