Let me start by saying what we all know: Cannabis cannot kill you by itself. Sure, if you mix it with all kinds of opioids and liquor and downers and other stuff you might die. That’s not because of cannabis though, it’s because you’re an idiot and you took way too many drugs together. It isn’t dangerous that way, period. That’s one of the advantages of cannabis use; it is the safest psychoactive drug known to man.
Let us now look at the case of Gemma Moss. The Daily Mail has published an article by Sam Webb about the inquest concerning her mysterious death. It seems Gemma, a healthy 31 year old woman, died in her sleep for reasons unknown. She went to bed one night and simply didn’t get up, quietly slipping into the hereafter while she slept. She had used a “moderate to heavy” amount of cannabis, according to toxicology reports. The problem here is that she did not have a lethal dosage of the drug in her system. In fact, no threshold of lethality has ever been established for any cannabinoid. Guess work puts that dosage so high that you couldn’t hope to consume so much in a lifetime.
In toxicology there is something known as LD50. That means “lethal dosage for 50% of the population”. It is the dosage at which half the human population would die. In the case of alcohol the lethal dose is somewhere in the range of twice the active dose. That means if you have twice the blood alcohol content it takes you to get drunk then you are likely to die. In the case of cannabis that ratio is guessed to be in the range of 5000 times the active dose.
This dosage information was determined during a study where scientists attempted to kill small rodents with THC. They failed to kill rats at all. While they managed to make them extremely inactive, and a few of them even grew tiny dreadlocks, the rats simply couldn’t be killed with cannabis. Smaller rodents like mice succumbed to extreme depression of the nervous system (likely cause of death there would be respiratory failure) at magnificently high doses. Essentially you would have to eat about ten pounds of cannabis in an hour or so to kill yourself. If you were smoking it then you would need more than twice that.
Did Gemma Moss eat ten pounds of weed? Of course she didn’t. They found half a joint near her body, suggesting she didn’t even smoke a whole doobie before she went to bed. She was trying to help herself sleep, according to friends, having recently broken up with her boyfriend. For most of the people reading this the idea of smoking only half a joint without finishing it is not the norm; she must have had a low tolerance.
Dr Kudair Hussein, the pathologist who made the determination of death, actually presents no evidence whatsoever to support his claim. He found no organ damage of any kind. There was no obvious cause of death. The presence of cannabis in her system was the only anomaly he had to work with, at least within the scope of the investigation he was willing to undertake, and so he blames cannabis.
It’s terrible science. It’s basing a conclusion on an untested assumption which flies in the face of all available data on the subject. Absolutely no study anywhere has demonstrated potential lethality from cannabis. In fact, only two deaths have been recorded as the result of cannabis and somehow on a planet of seven billion people both of those people were in the UK. This tells me that we are dealing more with an issue of culture than of science. Pot isn’t too popular amongst many in Britain, the upper classes in particular, and so there are doctors willing to stake their reputation on such an audacious claim, secure in the knowledge that their colleges won’t call them on their bullshit.
Well I am doing it now. Dr Kudair Hussein quite simply did not do his job properly here. There is obviously some underlying cause for the untimely and peculiar death of Gemma Moss. Perhaps there is an undiagnosed cardiac defect; perhaps she had a neurological condition. There are a million different things that can just rub you out without warning, and generally those causes are so unlikely we don’t test for them. On very rare occasions people just drop dead for no reason anyone can establish.
Did the good doctor test for every known toxin and pathogen? Of course he didn’t. That would have taken an enormous amount of time and resources that his bosses would never approve the expenses for. I know we like to think that in the event of a mysterious death that the authorities will leave no stone unturned until they know the answer. While that is the case in television detective shows, the fact is that these organizations have budgets to adhere to and Gemma Moss just isn’t so important they are going to break the bank to discover her cause of death.
This leaves Dr Kudair Hussein in a bad position. He’s facing questioning at an inquest into this woman’s death and he has no good reason she died. Some people don’t like to admit what they don’t know, and the medical profession is notorious for this particular brand of hubris. Rather than admit ignorance and throw his hands in the air this pathologist decided to save face by blaming the only thing he could find that wasn’t completely ordinary and mundane about the autopsy of Gemma Moss.
Dr Kudair Hussein blamed the cannabis. It demonstrated remarkable professional dishonesty.
This is where the Daily Mail gets extra stupid. They published this article to illustrate what they frame as the very real danger presented by cannabis. Are they being rational? Not even close. When 5000 people die in England and Wales alone every year from alcohol toxicity, screaming in support of prohibition on the basis of one nebulous death by cannabis is beyond hyperbole. It’s the lowest form of hysterical trash reporting. Worse than that, it is intentionally misleading propaganda. The Daily Mail is entirely written with a hyper-conservative narrative in mind, and they plug in “facts” where required to fit that narrative. All other information is discarded as “liberal bias”.
Absolutely nowhere in the piece does the article actually address the science involved. The “reporter” in question didn’t investigate LD50, what that might be for cannabis, or even what exactly a drug overdose is. In most cases a “drug overdose” is actually respiratory failure caused by nervous system depression. That’s how you die during a heroin overdose; your lungs stop expanding because your diaphragm relaxes too much and you suffocate. That can’t happen with cannabis according to all the best science available, and a decent professional journalist would have taken the time to find that out.
The Daily Mail is a dirty rag I wouldn’t wipe my ass with, to be more succinct.
Should we be concerned about this kind of story? I say we shouldn’t. I say that this is further evidence of the collapse of prohibition. In the waning years of any defective policy the voices in support of that position become more outrageous and ridiculous with time. They did it with the labor movement, and women’s suffrage, and with the civil rights movement. Every one of those developments was going to be the end of the world according to those that opposed progress. The world didn’t end; in fact it improved with each of those developments.
Prohibition is on the ropes and this latest flood of veritable satire is the best evidence of it. The prohibitionists are punch drunk and desperate for a win, so they’re swinging haymakers blind and hoping to land one last blow before they go down in a heap of twitching muscles and spilling blood. I say we all have a good chuckle and enjoy a sigh of satisfaction as that beast breathes its last fetid breath.
By James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.