Doctors Believe They Have Uncovered the First Child Death by Marijuana

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
November 17, 2017 Updated: October 5, 2018

A little boy’s heart stopped beating in Colorado some two years ago. Doctors said he suffered an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), but they couldn’t figure out what caused it.

Earlier this year, however, two doctors published a case study saying the 11-month-old’s heart condition was induced by a high concentration of THC, the active chemical of marijuana, in his body.

While marijuana sends hundreds of thousands every year to emergency rooms, its deadly dosage is estimated to be so high, overdosing is nearly impossible.

That doesn’t mean, however, that ingesting the drug doesn’t kill in more indirect ways.

Marijuana has been linked to a number of heart conditions, including myocardial infarction, tachycardia, and hypotension.

“There is now compelling evidence on the growing risk of marijuana-associated adverse cardiovascular effects, especially in young people,” said Emilie Jouanjus of Paul Sabatier University in Toulous, France, in 2014.

Her research revealed almost three dozen cardiovascular complications related to marijuana use reported in France between 2006 and 2010. Nine of them resulted in death.

Now it seems myocarditis could be associated with marijuana too, say Dr. Thomas Nappe and Dr. Christopher Hoyte of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, Colorado.

“As of this writing, this is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure,” the authors wrote.

The boy, who was not identified, was normally developed, well-fed, and had no medical history. He suddenly turned irritable and less active, and two days later woke up lethargic and went into a seizure.

He was rushed to a hospital with a central nervous system depression and cardiac arrest caused by myocarditis.

Toxicology reports revealed a high concentration of THC in the boy’s blood. The doctors learned there were marijuana products in the boy’s home, though they couldn’t uncover exactly how the boy was exposed to it.

Myocarditis can be caused by a number of infections, but the autopsy revealed none.

“We just wanted to make sure that we’re not going to call this a marijuana-related fatality if there was something else that we could point at. And we looked and looked and couldn’t find it,” Hoyte told 9NEWS.

The doctors say myocarditis has been linked to marijuana use before, in at least three cases, but none of them resulted in death.

Some experts said the link between marijuana and myocarditis still isn’t strong enough to definitively say the drug caused the boy’s death, 9NEWS reported.

In some cases, myocarditis has an unknown cause, so it is possible the heart inflammation was caused by something doctors couldn’t test for.

Still, Nappe and Hoyte believe the link to marijuana is plausible and should be studied further.

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Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.