My husband recently got into an argument with a co-worker about marijuana. His friend was of the opinion that marijuana should be legalized and available like alcohol and tobacco. His sole reason for this change was that “marijuana has never killed anyone.” According to him, no one has ever overdosed and died on this plant. My husband was rather incredulous and called me at lunch to ask me to check the internet and find out if this was really true. I had my doubts as well. Marijuana has to be illegal for a reason, right? So I began researching. As with many controversial issues, everyone seems to have an opinion about whether marijuana is dangerous or not. However, I wasn’t looking for opinions, I was looking for evidence.
Oftentimes for marijuana it seems that the evidence you find depends on which side of the argument you identify with. For example, Schaffer Library of Drug Policy and the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) Drug Task Force are both proponents of legalizing marijuana. Both cite the lack overdose deaths as a verification of their cause. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) which is against marijuana published a report in 2002 citing two overdose deaths from marijuana, one in Atlanta and one in Boston. However further research turned up no information about these two deaths. From this data, it seems that my husband’s co-worker was right; marijuana hasn’t killed anyone from an overdose. As I delved further into this issue though, I discovered that to stop at this point is misleading at best.
While there are disagreements about the dangerousness of marijuana, the American Psychology Association and other medical experts all agree that, like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is an addictive drug and as such has certain symptoms associated with overdose and withdrawal. Symptoms for marijuana overdose include: a rapid heart rate, breathing difficulty, paranoia, disorientation, delirium, hallucination, panic attacks, and a “handover feeling during recovery.” Like alcohol, it takes a different amount for each person to become “drunk” on marijuana and if a person takes too much an overdose can result. While death is not likely, a marijuana overdose is still a serious medical situation and should be treated accordingly.
The problem with saying that marijuana hasn’t killed anyone is the frequency with which marijuana is combined with other drugs. For the thirty one cities that were included in DAWN’s marijuana report, only twenty-three percent of the reported marijuana deaths involved marijuana alone. The other seventy-seven percent were deaths where the deceased had used marijuana in combination with another drug or alcohol. Even proponents of marijuana suggest that it is not good to mix the drug with anything else because of health risks. It may be true that no one has ever overdosed and died on marijuana alone. However the health risks associated with marijuana use, especially if you have other medical conditions, and the frequency with which marijuana is combined with other drugs makes this a poor argument for legalization.