For the first time, cannabis may be to blame for two deaths, according to researchers in Germany. The researchers from university hospitals in Frankfurt and Düsseldorf investigated 15 deaths that were potentially caused by cannabis; however, it appeared that 13 of those were caused by other factors.
The two cases are of two males, aged 23 and 28, who both appeared to be healthy before investigation. After performing an autopsy, however, the researchers discovered both men were suffering from underlying health problems. The 23-year old man suffered from heart problems that were never detected and the 28-year old had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Cannabis usually triggers an increased heart rate and a higher blood pressure right after use and researchers believe the two men’s underlying health problems, combined with a higher blood pressure and heart rate after using cannabis may be the blame for the two deaths in Germany.
Although the news triggers panic in times where legislation for cannabis is heavily discussed, Dr. Benno Hartung, one of the researchers, says, “After performing the research, we assume that these two deaths are very rare cases. It is difficult to make any further conclusions about the number of deaths related to cannabis use.” Cannabis is not known to be a toxic drug and even President Obama publicly admitted to thinking it is not any more dangerous than alcohol, but researchers now state that those with a high risk of cardiovascular diseases should be more cautious when using cannabis, as it may paralyze the breathing or the heart.
Researchers of the new study say the results are noteworthy, as this is the first time cannabis may have triggered deaths, but critics of the study say it exaggerates the dangers of using cannabis. Jost Leune, head of the German Association for Drugs and Addiction, says, “There is no actual proof that cannabis paralyzes the heart or the breathing and I certainly do not think that cannabis may cause a death due to the substance itself. I do think that the circumstances of the use may play a role.”
Dr. David Nutt, chairman of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs in the U.K., says, “The researchers have presented a very detailed collection of evidence to support the theory that cannabis may have triggered the two deaths of these young men.” Nutt added that alcohol and tobacco remain responsible for a large part of deaths in Europe.
A previous study on cannabis has shown that the substance does not affect mortality in any way. In addition, the study showed that cannabis might even prevent cancer, as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) shrank tumors and increased life span in mice and cannabis smokers still had a reduced risk of cancer, compared to tobacco smokers. Another study showed that cannabis use at a young age does not have a significant impact on physical or mental health. For this study, researchers studied identical twins in which one twin had used cannabis at a young age. The study proved that the effects of cannabis are present only shortly after the use.
Studies on cannabis continue to be conducted every day, as new legislation is being approved worldwide, including in the U.S. Although the study, performed by the German researchers, may show that cannabis is the blame for two deaths, further studies will be conducted to find out if deaths in other countries may be related to cannabis as well.
By Diana Herst