New research indicates that it is possible to die as a direct result of smoking marijuana.
The research comes from German scientists, who have identified two people who died solely due to smoking the drug.
It was already known that marijuana use could be fatal if used in combination with other drugs. Heart conditions or cancer could result from such a combination. But whether the drug could kill on its own has remained uncertain. A 2011 report from the UK Department of Health claims that cannabis use has no association with cases of fatal overdose.
The researchers came to their conclusion by studying 15 people whose deaths were connected to marijuana use. In order to rule out other causes of death like alcohol use or liver disease, the researchers performed numerous tests including a toxicology exam, an autopsy, genetic tests and histological analysis of all organs. Their research indicated that the deaths of two men from that group were likely triggered directly by use of the drug. Both had enough THC (an active chemical found in cannabis) in their blood to indicate they used marijuana within hours of death.
Their findings indicated that the men, aged 23 and 28, died of cardiac arrhythmia, a condition where the heart beats either too fast or too slow. Their findings were published online this month in the journal Forensic Science International.
"To our knowledge, these are the first cases of suspected fatal cannabis intoxications where full post-mortem investigations... were carried out," the researchers said.
Among the two men studied, the younger had a serious undetected heart problem and the older had a history of amphetamine, alcohol and cocaine abuse.
"We assume that these are very rare, isolated cases," said Dr. Benno Hartung, one of the study's authors, in an email to The Associated Press.
It also remains unclear how marijuana use can trigger heart problems. It is possible that unknown channelopathies increase the risk of cardiac conditions triggered by use of the drug.
Some feel that the risk of death is not the biggest risk people take when smoking cannabis. Previous studies have shown a connection between smoking the drug and depression and schizophrenia.
Still, some are in favor of increased study on how marijuana use might directly cause death.
"Even though it may be rare, I hope others investigate death by cannabis intoxication in other cities," Hartung said, according to NewScientist.