April 3, 2014
Months into state experiment, first death officially linked to marijuana legalization in Colorado
As reported in this Denver Post article, headlined "Denver coroner: Man fell to death after eating marijuana cookies," it appears that at least one fatality can now be directly linked to "legalized" marijuana use and abuse in Colorado. Here are the basics:
A college student visiting Denver jumped to his death from a hotel balcony after eating marijuana-infused cookies, according to a coroner's report that marks the first time authorities have publicly linked a death to marijuana since legal sales of recreational cannabis began in Colorado.
Levy Thamba, a 19-year-old student at Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., died last month at a Holiday Inn in northeast Denver. On Wednesday, the Denver coroner released a report concluding that Thamba's death was caused by "multiple injuries due to a fall from height." The coroner also listed "marijuana intoxication" from cannabis-infused cookies as a significant condition contributing to the death. The report classifies the death as an accident.
A brief summary of the investigation that was included in the autopsy report says Thamba, also known as Levi Thamba Pongi, traveled to Denver with three friends on spring break. On March 11, the report says, Thamba consumed "marijuana cookies" and "soon thereafter exhibited hostile behavior (pulling items off the walls) and spoke erratically."
"The decedent's friends attempted to calm him down and were temporarily successful," the report states. "However, the decedent eventually reportedly jumped out of bed, went outside the hotel room, and jumped over the balcony railing." Thamba and his friends were staying on the hotel's fourth floor, according to the report.
Michelle Weiss-Samaras, a spokeswoman for the coroner's office, said the office often lists alcohol intoxication as a significant contributing factor in a death — for instance, in an alcohol-related car accident. She said the office also has seen cases involving apparent marijuana-impaired driving, but she said she believes this is the first time it has listed marijuana intoxication from an edible product in such a way.
Weiss-Samaras said Thamba had no known physical or mental-health issues, and toxicology tests for other drugs or alcohol came back negative. "We have no history of any other issues until he eats a marijuana cookie and becomes erratic and this happens," she said. "It's the one thing we have that's significant."
According to the autopsy report, Thamba's marijuana concentration in his blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. In impaired driving cases, state law sets a standard of 5 nanograms per milliliter at which juries can presume impairment.
In January, Colorado became the first state in the country to allow people 21 and over to legally buy marijuana for any purpose from regulated stores. Weiss-Samaras said investigators believe a friend of Thamba's purchased the cookies in a recreational marijuana store. "We were told they came here to try it," she said.... It remains unclear how much of the marijuana-infused product Thamba consumed or how long after consuming it that he died.
Marijuana edibles — which account for 20 to 40 percent of overall sales, industry experts estimate — have been controversial in Colorado, and the legislature will likely take up the issue again this session. Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said he and Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, plan to introduce a bill as early as this week that would further cap the potency of edibles and prohibit them from being made in forms that might appeal to children.
This story is already getting coverage in national newspapers, and it will now be interesting to see whether and how opponents of marijuana reform might actively use this sad development in support of their arguments against reform efforts. Notably, at age 19, Levy Thamba was technically underage and thus his recreation marijuana use was not legal. But that fact itself reinforces the arguments of opponents of marijuana reform that legalization makes it easier and more likely that underage persons will have access and be eager to try marijuana products.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
April 3, 2014 at 06:52 AM | Permalink
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And the Darwin goes to ...
Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 3, 2014 8:37:56 AM
I thank Doug for his honesty and forthcomingness in putting up this article.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 8:55:53 AM
// A college student visiting Denver jumped to his death //
// On March 11, the report says, Thamba consumed "marijuana cookies" and "soon thereafter exhibited hostile behavior (pulling items off the walls) and spoke erratically." //
Wonder why this doesn't happen after consuming rum balls,
or smoking a Camel?
Could it be that among the psychoactive properties of cannabis, hallucinogenic is present?
Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 3, 2014 9:08:25 AM
This is a sad story. While I am a firm supporter of marijuana legalization, and I maintain that marijuana is much safer than alcohol, I do think that it is important to encourage responsible use. I am concerned by the danger posed by "edibles," which are much more potent than smoked product and make it much more difficult for a user to control his dose. I am glad that the state legislature is looking into this important issue.
Posted by: Curious | Apr 3, 2014 10:54:15 AM
Adamkis, if you don't think that people sometimes exhibit "hostile behavior" after consuming rum, then I suspect you have a very limited experience with alcohol (or alcoholics).
Posted by: Curious | Apr 3, 2014 10:55:31 AM
Rum /balls/ as in wee variations of rum cake,
as contrasted with marijuana cookies.
Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 3, 2014 12:47:45 PM
Adamakis, I'M betting that during the same time period that Marijuana has been legalized that there has been quite a few more "Rum Ball" related deaths (Sadly).
Posted by: Anon | Apr 3, 2014 12:51:23 PM
Christmas rum balls
| Ingredients |
175g plain chocolate, chopped
200g caster sugar
3 tablespoons golden syrup
450g crushed vanilla wafers
125g chopped walnuts (optional; mandatory if Greek)
5 tablespoons icing sugar
|-| Serves: 24 |-|
Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 3, 2014 12:51:49 PM
These edibles are really dangerous specifically because of how easy it is do mess up the dose by a *lot*. It's like if some rum balls had the equivalent of a quarter shot of rum, and some rumballs had the equivalent of half a bottle, and it was hard to tell the difference by looking at them... you'd get some people falling over railings if they accidentally/negligently/recklessly ingested a bottle of rum...
Posted by: anon | Apr 3, 2014 12:57:24 PM
Adamakis, I didn't realize you were taking about a cake, rather than a drink. If your argument is that non-intoxicating substances do not produce intoxicating effects, then I agree, although I think the point is so stupidly self-evident that I wonder why you bothered to make it at all.
Posted by: Curious | Apr 3, 2014 1:02:18 PM
//"I maintain that marijuana is much safer than alcohol"\\
Surprisingly, marijuana biscuits are not much safer than rum biscuits.
//"Adamakis, I'M betting that during the same time period that Marijuana has been legalized
that there has been quite a few more "Rum Ball" related deaths"\\
Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 3, 2014 2:02:41 PM
Adamakis, I will cede the profoundly obvious point, which I never contested in the first place, that marijuana edibles are more dangerous than non-intoxicating pastries. I maintain that smoking marijuana is safer than drinking alcohol. Do you disagree?
Posted by: Curious | Apr 3, 2014 2:14:58 PM
"Wonder why this doesn't happen after consuming rum balls"
Well take a look at your rum ball recipe. It calls for 125 ml of rum. Divide that by 24 and you get .176 ounces of rum in each ball before they are cooked and much of the alcohol evaporates. At that point it is probably more appropriate to call them near rum balls similar to near beer. Let's set up 1/20th of an ounce shots of 80 proof rum and see how many it takes to get a buzz.
Maybe that is why it doesn't happen after consuming rum balls.
Posted by: ? | Apr 3, 2014 4:04:32 PM
Just saw this:
"By a wide margin, Americans believe that alcohol is more dangerous to a person's health and to society in general than marijuana, according to a Pew study released Wednesday.
When asked whether marijuana or alcohol would be more harmful to personal health, if marijuana were as widely available as alcohol, 69 percent of Americans said alcohol is more dangerous, while only 15 percent said that marijuana is more dangerous. Fourteen percent said both or neither are more dangerous.
Respondents showed more trepidation when asked to consider marijuana's potential effects on society as a whole, but a strong majority still believed that alcohol is the more harmful substance. Sixty-three percent of those polled said alcohol is more dangerous, with 23 percent saying marijuana is more dangerous and 11 percent responding that both or neither are more harmful."
Posted by: pothead | Apr 3, 2014 6:45:42 PM
Prohibition advocates must be thrilled. After some 10,000 years of human use of marijuana, they finally found someone who might have died from it. But I'm skeptical. This story sounds an awful lot like those apocryphal "kid takes LSD and thinks he can fly" stories that people used to tell in the 60's and 70's and which were more urban legend than actual truth. For one thing, outside of Reefer Madness or Dragnet, I've never heard of somebody flipping out after using cannabis and just going on an uncontrollable rampage. I especially like the comment that he was "speaking erratically". I'd like to know what that means and whether his friends were also from the Congo and spoke the same native language as he did. Still, I suppose it's possible that at least one of the billions of people who have used cannabis throughout history might react the way he did. On the other hand, the amount of THC in his blood seems really small. Confirmatory tests aren't even considered positive at lower than 15 ng/ml, though there might be a difference in testing methods between the coroner and the usual drug tests.
Still, congratulations to the prohibitionists. Looks like you can say you got one. At least he only killed himself.
Of course, since that little incident, approximately 39,000 people died from tobacco-related diseases in the United States, according to CDC figures, and their figures show a little more than 7,000 died from alcohol. But by all means, let's keep spending billions of dollars a year trying to lock people up for marijuana.
Posted by: C.E. | Apr 3, 2014 7:43:05 PM
Could you please give your source for your claim that "billions of people" have used pot?
I don't think there is a source, because I think the claim is false. Even if a single experiment with pot were to count as "use" of it, the following Time magazine story strongly suggests that nothing close to "billions" of people have used it.
The most telling paragraph is this:
"Researchers found that 42% of people surveyed in the U.S. had tried marijuana at least once, and 16% had tried cocaine. About 20% of residents surveyed in the Netherlands, by contrast, reported having tried pot; in Asian countries, such as Japan and China, marijuana use was virtually 'non-existent,' the study found. New Zealand was the only other country to claim roughly the same percentage of pot smokers as the U.S., but no other nation came close to the proportion of Americans who reported trying cocaine."
Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 8:02:05 PM
One more thing I was wondering about. You say, "Of course, since that little incident [the student's death, which occurred on March 11], approximately 39,000 people died from tobacco-related diseases in the United States, according to CDC figures..."
So in 23 days, 39,000 people in the USA have died of tobacco-related diseases???
I'm sorry, I just don't believe that. Do you have a cite?
Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 3, 2014 10:07:54 PM
I exaggerated. Probably the number of people who have used marijuana over the span of humanity is more in the hundreds of millions, but lets just say it's in the high tens of millions for argument's sake. So, 1 possible death out of tens of millions of people.
The CDC says that 480,000 deaths in the United States each year are caused by tobacco-related illnesses. Because I initially tried to calculate deaths per hour from tobacco and then decided to extrapolate from there back up to monthly deaths, rounding errors resulted in 39,000. Obviously, the number is very close to 40,000 per month, depending of course on which month we're talking about. The alcohol numbers also come from the CDC. Here are some links:
Posted by: C.E. | Apr 4, 2014 2:34:21 AM
OK. I will see your one uncertain marijuana anecdote, and raise you, half of suicides being legally drunk, along with half he murderers and half the murder victims, over 20,000 unnatural deaths a year.
Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 4, 2014 4:48:01 AM
The Denver Post uses fell and jumped as though they are synonymous .
Decades ago , a group of folks assembled at a one story residence to smoke hash .
There were no guns , knives , nor driving . Many sat on the floor , so there was no falling out of or jumping from chairs or sofas .
No one was hurt ; no one became ill.
To knowledge , no one had a "hangover" .
PS: Uncooked candy balls made with chocolate and slivovitz are tasty and the alcohol from the beverage remains in the candy .
Posted by: Docile Jim Brady - Columbus OH 43209 | Apr 4, 2014 7:05:11 AM
| Obama says marijuana 'no more dangerous than alcohol' – CNN ...|
| “I've now been in fifty .... seven states? I think one left to go. One left to go.” |
The relativistic defence of cannabis is unpersuasive and desperate, aiming variously at tobacco, alcohol, &ct.; nonetheless, you I shall indulge.
Alcohol variants have many potential dangers, from overdose and chronic overuse,
yet is less hazardous that marijuana in many more than these ways:
51) MJ increases cases of schizophrenia.
52) MJ “damages the brain's memory and learning capacity --Obama?-- … white matter in the brain's hippocampus and commissural fibers …
Australian researchers have showed for the first time that the earlier
people start their marijuana habit, the worse the brain damage.”
53) long-term study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of 8 points in IQ ...
54) MJ highly psychoactive and moderately hallucinogenic:
“cannabis exhibits a mix of all properties, perhaps leaning the most towards hallucinogenic or psychedelic properties”—from Drugs & Behavior, 2002
55) Drugs are being sought for marijuana withdrawal, such as dronabinol, and nefazodone.
56) MJ does not lower cholesterol, improve blood circulation and clotting, or have heart-healthy features of some forms of alcohol, e.g.
“Red wine, antioxidants and resveratrol - Mayo Clinic”.
57) MJ (smoking) has shown severe damage to lung function, and increases cases of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke, as does tobacco.
“One left to go.”
58) MJ potency is erratic but has risen to unnatural levels: “ In 2012, THC concentrations in marijuana averaged close to 15%, compared to around 4% in the 1980s.”
▼ “Two years after young adults (early twenties) quit smoking marijuana, researchers found changes in the sub-cortical regions of their brains
associated with memory and reasoning, indicating the long-term effects of chronic use. They were also found to perform poorly on memory tests.”▼
Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 4, 2014 8:59:44 AM
Thank you for your direct answer. The "high tens of millions," say, ninety million, is a far cry from "billions."
And, having done the math, using the figure of 480,000 tobacco-related deaths per year, you would come up with 30,247 such deaths since the victim died on March 11. That is 77.5% of the 39,000 number you used.
Exaggerations weaken arguments. You can easily make the same point without them.
Personally, my own view is that the fact that we allow considerable damage from two harmful substances is a reason to be more circumspect, not more carefree, in making a third more readily available.
Again, I appreciate your direct answer.
Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 4, 2014 11:22:00 AM
Curious stated: "This is a sad story. While I am a firm supporter of marijuana legalization, and I maintain that marijuana is much safer than alcohol, I do think that it is important to encourage responsible use. I am concerned by the danger posed by "edibles," which are much more potent than smoked product and make it much more difficult for a user to control his dose. I am glad that the state legislature is looking into this important issue."
So, you admit that pot legalization was passed on faulty/incomplete knowledge of its short and long-term effects?
Government at its best!
The best part is that your continued support illustrates perfectly that the legalization movement was always about "getting high" and not scientific. Pass the law by politics (and say ANYTHING to get it done) and worry about the science later!
But here is the problem. You NOW want the legislature to "look into" the problem of edibles, after it is passed. As if anything meaningful will be done after you spent the last 50 years convincing the people of Colorado that marijuana is harmless fun.
The obvious truth of the matter is that the legalization proponents fall into three camps. 1) Those miserable souls who need to get high. 2) The more miserable politicians who need a revenue stream to "tax." 3) The most miserable useful idiots of 1 and 2.
Thus, what will happen as more cases like this come to pass is those in category 2 (in the interest of public safety) will tax those in category 1. The genie is out of the bottle there.
Posted by: TarlsQtr | Apr 4, 2014 11:23:08 AM
"So, you admit that pot legalization was passed on faulty/incomplete knowledge of its short and long-term effects?"
It is impossible for the government to know for certain the short- or long-term effects of any policy, but that shouldn't stop us from trying to pass good laws. This is one reason why laboratories of democracy in the states are so wonderful. I don't expect the end of marijuana prohibition to be perfect from the get-go, and edibles are a new area of concern. If I was a state regulator implementing the will of the people of Colorado re: marijuana legalization, I may have been a bit more Burkean, starting only with smoked marijuana and then moving more slowly to address edibles. But this is a new initiative and some trial-and-error is inevitable.
I've never called marijuana "harmless fun" (and I'm much younger than 50), so its strange of you to lay the blame for this on my feet. And your fatalism about the impossibility of addressing the dangers of marijuana edibles is quite strange. Do you really think its impossible to increase regulation on existing industries?
Posted by: Curious | Apr 4, 2014 1:42:01 PM
I do not see the causal link between marijuana reform and this person's death. The article even states: "It remains unclear how much of the marijuana-infused product Thamba consumed or how long after consuming it that he died." Unless Thamba would never have tried a marijuana product but for legalization, and unless it is shown that the marijuana used in the cookies was purchased legally (or that the cookie was purchased legally), and unless it is shown that there was nothing else that contributed to Thamba's death, then one cannot say that the death was "linked" to marijuana legalization. Reefer madness, continued. . . .
Posted by: DHMCarver | Apr 4, 2014 2:18:02 PM
Curious stated: "It is impossible for the government to know for certain the short- or long-term effects of any policy, but that shouldn't stop us from trying to pass good laws."
I agree with this statement on its face but this case is somewhat different. Legalization of any drug will have an almost irreversible impact on the culture of this country. It negatively impacts general health, employability, and happiness of those who use it. They become dependent on government and become part of a system that rewards each other. Drug users get their "draw" and the politician gets voters. Neither side will break that cycle. Because this is such an important issue, yes, I do believe that the science should have been looked at a lot more closely than the "Just pass it and fix it later" mentality of the current administration and the idiots in Boulder.
You stated: " I don't expect the end of marijuana prohibition to be perfect from the get-go, and edibles are a new area of concern."
New? In what way? People have not been eating pot since forever? It's "new" only in that people like you ignored the additional dangers posed by it to get the law passed. You did not want to put passage in jeopardy, the health of this kid (and others) be damned. It is now egg on your face, so time to "fix" the law!
You stated: "If I was a state regulator implementing the will of the people of Colorado re: marijuana legalization, I may have been a bit more Burkean, starting only with smoked marijuana and then moving more slowly to address edibles."
Obviously you are an individual, but this flies in the face of every argument by the legalize pot crowd against prohibition for the last 50 years. Don't you know that prohibiting edibles will make the drug dealers in Mexico rich?
You stated: "I've never called marijuana "harmless fun" (and I'm much younger than 50), so its strange of you to lay the blame for this on my feet."
Not you specifically, but the pro pot crowd, yes. They have lied consistently for 50 years about the negative impact of pot usage.
You stated: "And your fatalism about the impossibility of addressing the dangers of marijuana edibles is quite strange. Do you really think its impossible to increase regulation on existing industries?"
Once you open the cultural pandora's box to such a substance, it is extremely difficult to put it back in. Will they tax it? Yes. Will they try to regulate it in some way? Sure, but it will only be a fig leaf and unenforceable. Granted, many of our drug laws are unenforceable but what keeps many away from such substances is the stigma of a "crackhead" or "pothead." Once that stigma is removed because it is legal, the stigma is dead. There is no resuscitation of the corpse.
Posted by: TarlsQtr | Apr 4, 2014 2:31:15 PM
"Because this is such an important issue, yes, I do believe that the science should have been looked at a lot more closely than the 'Just pass it and fix it later' mentality of the current administration and the idiots in Boulder."
It doesn't seem to me that the problem posed by highly-potent marijuana edibles is one of science. As you note, people have been eating pot forever. The problem is that the regulators charged with implementing the marijuana referendum (I wouldn't expect the referendum itself to be so specific as to address the distinction between eaten and smoked marijuana) failed to anticipate the innovation of highly-potent marijuana edibles. Its hard to blame them, given the scale of the task they were assigned and the lack of existing models to copy from. Anyway, this is something Colorado can easily address via regulation, just like states limit the alcohol content of liquors sold within their borders, Colorado can do the same with THC. What concerns me is highly potent, edible forms of marijuana, sold to potentially inexperienced users. A regulation to outlaw, or limit, such products seems to me relatively straightforward, and I expect we'll see one before too long.
"Obviously you are an individual, but this flies in the face of every argument by the legalize pot crowd against prohibition for the last 50 years. Don't you know that prohibiting edibles will make the drug dealers in Mexico rich?"
Not so. Prohibiting edibles does not stop individuals from buying smokable marijuana and cooking it into food on their own for personal consumption. Nor do I expect that marijuana users would buy illegally trafficked edibles (or that there would be much of a black market for such a product) if only smokable marijuana was legalized, or if edible marijuana products were strictly regulated.
"They have lied consistently for 50 years about the negative impact of pot usage."
The pro-pot crowd has insisted for 50 years that its impossible to get too stoned and do something stupid that might hurt you? I'd love to see a cite.
"Will they tax it? Yes. Will they try to regulate it in some way? Sure, but it will only be a fig leaf and unenforceable."
States do pretty well regulating the alcohol content of liquor sold within their borders, and I see no reason why Colorado can't do the same for the THC content of edible marijuana products.
Posted by: Curious | Apr 4, 2014 3:07:24 PM
sad yes but so what? headline could have read "drunk collage fool jumped to his death"
Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 4, 2014 4:26:37 PM
Okay, I don't always feel the need to weigh in on ridiculous internet battles of semantics and exact statistics, but when it's about the devil weed, ok. The fact that what's his nuts put a random exagerated number for tobacco deaths that turned out to be 77% of the actual number, is to me pretty impressive.
Moving on. Man eats hash cookie, speaks in afrikan accent, falls to death. I have seen people eat what is essentially an overdose of marihuana, (nonfatal). 2 ozs, (56 g) divided between 6-8 people via a cake. The majority of these miserable souls slept for two days. If Thamba had eaten a cookie, likely because he didn't want to smoke I'd imagine, and then almost immediately displayed this erratic behaviour, the cookie was too strong for a new user. It's the cannabis equivalent of having your first drink be five fingers of grain alcohol. Sounds funny, but could actually be terrifying, or as in this case, fatal.
To then say that all edibles are dangerous is a leap of logic I'm not prepared to take. Edibles have been successfully tested in a nursing home in Israel, resulting in a decrease of prescription drug use and weight stabilization in many patients. Edibles are a preferable method of medicinal administration for many conditions. Edibles should be labeled clearly with high potency warnings where applicable, like alcohol. Like alcohol, these warnings are liable to taken as a challenge anyhow. Young males do stupid things to themselves and to each other, whenever the opportunity arises. Having been one, I should know.
In this case, what I see as the most likely scenario, a group of kids ranging from we'll say 18-23, go on a pot tour to colorado, the of-age friends hit the beer store and the bud store for everyone else. Their african buddy doesn't want to smoke, so they give him one of the cookies they got, that is labelled chemo or something because the recipe is designed FOR chemotherapy patients. They're all "CHEMO, heh heh, that's hardcore, give it to Thamba." For someone unused to marijuana ingestion by smoke or orally, a super potent cookie could, much like five fingers of grain alcohol, be disorienting and uncomfortable enough to result in a jump from a 4th floor balcony. Much like vehicles, booze, powertools and anything else you can think of, idiots will do something stupid that makes everyone else look bad. Doesn't mean banning vehicles, powertools and booze is the answer, or sending users to jail, it means encouraging responsible use. Whoever bought this poor kid his chronic should be fined, hopefully not charged with manslaughter, but fined. If I know dispensary staff, the customer was doubtless informed as to the high potency of that particular edible, and probably responded with something stupid that ended in 'bro'.
Posted by: Thomas L | Apr 17, 2014 1:10:34 PM
And whoever said you can't get too stoned to do something stupid or injurious? I've often said "You're not gonna smoke two joints and go beat your wife", but in a world of infinite assholes, there will be at least one guy who will do just that. Being stoned CAN cause you to act stupid, it's one of the reasons no one is advocating to smoke weed while operating heavy machinery. But how is acting stupid justification for jailing a significant amount of the population for non-violent posession related offences? If we start jailing stupid they'll have to take CNN off the air.
Posted by: Thomas L | Apr 17, 2014 1:17:58 PM