On Jan. 1, 2014, Colorado legalized the sale of marijuana to individuals over the age of 21. Since then, there has been a steady influx of marijuana-geared tourism in the state. Now, only a mere four months into the year, Colorado has seen possibly the first case of a death attributed to the effects of the drug. A 19-year-old student leaped to his death from the fourth floor of his hotel building after eating marijuana cookies, and the coroner has listed "marijuana intoxication" as a factor in his cause of death.
Levy Thamba, a foreign exchange student from the University of Wyoming, had visited Colorado with friends for spring break. The group had eaten an unknown amount of pot-laced cookies when Thamba allegedly became "very agitated and upset" and ran off a fourth story hotel balcony, according to the NY Daily News. Thamba’s friends claim it was the first time the 19-year-old had ever consumed marijuana and that the cookies were bought legally from a local supplier. “He got up and just started running and hits the railing. I’m not really sure that he knew what was going on. … The kids were pretty traumatized,” Chief Deputy Coroner Michelle Weiss-Samaras told the NY Daily News.
In her toxicology tests, no other drugs or alcohol were found to be in Thamba’s system. He did, however, have a record of impaired driving cases, with the THC per milliliter of blood in his system well over the state limit. Weiss-Samaras recorded the official cause of death for Thamba to be from the fall, but listed "marijuana intoxication" as a factor. To the coroner’s knowledge, this is the first death to be related to marijuana consumption since its legalization in January.
According to Dr. Scott Bentz in an interview with CBS Denver, edible marijuana can be easily overdosed. “I think with edibles, we are in a bit of a danger zone. Effects of edible marijuana are not as predictable as the inhaled marijuana,” the doctor explained to the news station. Benz claimed to see a number of patients each week who have overdosed from marijuana in its edible form. They suffer from symptoms of marijuana intoxication such as shortness of breath and, anxiety, panic, and hallucinations. “We haven’t fully explored the symptoms of edible marijuana. It’s not typical for marijuana to affect impulse control, but the research is mostly on smoked marijuana, not eaten,” Bentz concluded.
Another risk not fully explored with edible marijuana is its increased chances of causing addiction. “The clearest risk would probably be developing dependence on the drug, meaning that people would find it hard to stop if they chose to do so,” Wayne Hall, an addiction researcher at the University of Queensland told Live Science. This is because THC takes longer to reach the brain when the chemical is absorbed through the stomach and intestines, as opposed to the lungs. This may make it difficult to control your dosage when eating marijuana. Many users take more than they intend to as they wait to feel an effect. Those who are not experienced marijuana users may feel negative side effects. Hall believes that more use of edibles may increase unpleasant experiences with THC.
Among the celebrations for marijuana’s legalization, this tragedy once again reminds us that pot is a drug that can have adverse side effects when abused. Education on the safe use of marijuana will hopefully prevent any further deaths linked to the drug.