The reported cannabis-related death of an 11-month-old child, which went viral early this week, turns out to be a misunderstanding, according to the doctors who authored the case report.
Tagged as the first recorded pediatric death as a result of marijuana exposure, the death of the child is not due to the cannabis.
A Case Report Not An Evidence-Based Study
"We are absolutely not saying that marijuana killed that child," said Thomas Nappe, one of the authors of the heavily cited case report first published in March in the Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine.
Nappe explained that their report simply noted the sequential occurrence of the case, reported it, and encouraged the medical community the possibility of conducting an in-depth study about myocarditis and cannabis. The report is not meant to establish a causal relationship between cannabis and myocarditis, which caused the death of the child.
In the report, the authors recommended doctors to conduct urine drug screening and counsel parents on the toxicity associated with cannabis exposure.
"As of this writing, this is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis exposure," reads the report.
However, Nappe said the statement should not be misconstrued to mean a cause-and-effect relationship.
Can Marijuana Indeed Cause Myocarditis?
Professor Jonathan Caulkins from the Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College admitted that marijuana could have caused the child's death, saying that cannabis can cause tachycardia or acceleration of the heart beat and should be kept out of children's reach. Caulkins is not a medical doctor but he extensively studies drug policy and markets.
Still, many experts believe that the report should not be made the sole basis of such claim. University of Florida's director of forensic medicine, Dr. Bruce Goldberger said that while marijuana has the potential to cause impairment, it cannot cause myocarditis or even death. Goldberger recommend both medical examiners and coroners to make a thorough investigation of a possible cause of death before concluding that it is secondary to a drug ingestion.
"I don't know if they did any genetic testing to verify that the child was genetically OK or normal. There weren't any details in there that I could see in the report," Goldberger said. "You have to rule out all metabolic and genetic causes."
Goldberger also pointed out the absence of fungal infection screening done on the child. Myocarditis, while rarely seen in young children, can also be due to a fungal infection.