Learn about the chances of dying from marijuana use — both directly and indirectly. Review the physical and mental health risks associated with weed use and read about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.

how many people died from weedThe likelihood of dying from marijuana alone is extremely remote, although marijuana use can lead to death because of the activities people engage in when high.

What the research says:

  • A study conducted in California involving 65,177 men and women aged 15-49 found after 10 years, marijuana users died no sooner than those who did not smoke it.
  • Another study looked at 45,450 Swedish army conscripts aged 18-20 and found after 15 years, both users and nonusers had a similar life expectancy.
  • According to a 1988 ruling from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount of THC in a joint in order to risk dying.
  • A 2009 study in American Scientist on the relative toxicity of recreational drugs indicated one would have to use more than 1,000 times the effective dose of marijuana in order for it to be potentially fatal – not even a certain death.

How Does Marijuana Impact Health?

Marijuana may not be deadly like other drugs, but it can impact physical and mental health. Health consequences of marijuana abuse include:

  • Chronic cough and frequent respiratory infections.
  • Mental and cognitive issues, including problems with learning and memory, hallucinations, anxiety, panic attacks and psychosis, especially in youth.
  • A 2012 study indicated people who smoked marijuana before age 17 were 3.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who started smoking marijuana later in life.
  • Those dependent on marijuana had a higher risk of experiencing major depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  • Subsequent research published in 2014 indicated daily adolescent users were 18 times more likely to become dependent on marijuana, seven times more likely to attempt suicide and eight times more likely to use other illegal drugs in the future.
infographic on symptoms from marihuana use

Has Anyone Ever Died From Marijuana?

A German study published in Forensic Science International in February 2014 is the first known documented case of somebody dying from marijuana use alone, other than car accidents in which marijuana was implicated, or polydrug use.

Other research on marijuana deaths:

  • Researchers found the drug was to blame in two isolated cases out of 15 analyzed, in two seemingly healthy people, aged 23 and 28.
  • Autopsies revealed the younger man had a serious undetected heart problem, suggesting people with cardiovascular issues should be aware of marijuana risks, and the older man had a history of alcohol and drug use.

“To our knowledge, these are the first cases of suspected fatal cannabis intoxications where full post-mortem investigations … were carried out,” study researchers wrote. “After exclusion of other causes of death we assume that the young men experienced fatal cardiovascular complications evoked by smoking cannabis.”

Can You Die of Cannabis Poisoning?

In late January 2014, British media reported the tragic death of a 31-year-old mother of three named Gemma Moss, who reportedly “died as a result of cannabis poisoning.” Here are the details:

  • Medical science was skeptical that marijuana was the cause of death.
  • Moss was reportedly a pot smoker for many years, had stopped using two years before her death, but recently began smoking just half a joint at night to help her fall asleep.
  • Although no organ damage was found during her autopsy, medical examiners suggested she may have suffered cardiac arrest triggered by what they deemed “moderate to high” levels of the drug in her system. The BBC reported she suffered from “cannabis poisoning” but the findings were controversial.

Medical Marijuana Doctor’s Take on The Moss Case

“There’s been no history of any verified reports of a death from cannabis ever,” said Dr. Alan Shackelford, a high-profile, Harvard-trained Colorado physician who evaluates individuals for medical marijuana prescriptions. He questioned the medical examiner’s diagnosis when interviewed about this case.

“Cannabis can cause an increased heart rate, and there’s a possibility that it could cause a problem with someone with a pre-existing heart disease – for example, somebody with an elevated heart rate. But there’s no known dose of cannabis that could kill a human.”

“After exclusion of other causes of death we assume that the young men experienced fatal cardiovascular complications evoked by smoking cannabis.”

What Are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Widely referred to as synthetic marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids (e.g., spice, K2 and kush) are unfortunately marketed as safe alternatives to genuine marijuana.

  • They include a growing number of manmade mind-altering chemicals either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material to be smoked (herbal incense) or vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices (liquid incense).
  • More than 150 different types of synthetic marijuana compounds currently exist.
  • Chemical tests show the active, mind-altering ingredients are cannabinoid compounds made in laboratories.
  • They may affect the brain far more powerfully than marijuana and the actual effects can be unpredictable, severe and even life-threatening.

Can People Die from Synthetic Cannabinoid Use?

To date, hundreds of people across the U.S. have overdosed on synthetic cannabis and 20 deaths have been linked to its use.

Massive overdose outbreaks caused by bad batches of synthetic cannabis led to nearly 70 people being hospitalized over a brief period in June through July 2016.

  • On June 23,16 people in Houston’s Hermann Park overdosed on K2 and were hospitalized.
  • On July 12, 33 people on a single block in Brooklyn, New York, were suspected of overdosing on K2.
  • A few weeks after the Brooklyn episode, 20 people in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were treated for kush overdoses in a two-day period. Kush is unlike heroin, where people overdose and generally die quickly.
  • People on kush wander into traffic, have seizures or strokes not easily traced back to the drug or are left paralyzed and fighting for their lives.
  • Emily Bauer, a teenage girl in suburban Houston, suffered five strokes related to her 2013 overdose. Doctors said 70 percent of her brain tissue was dead and she would never recover. However, as of 2016, she was slowly regaining some functioning.
  • One of the newest banned synthetic pot substances, MDMB-CHMICA is thought to be responsible for 42 overdoses and 29 deaths in Europe.

Does Marijuana Use Contribute to Car Accidents?

The devastating effects of driving drunk are well-documented, but studies show marijuana is catching up. “If a driver is under the influence of alcohol, their risk of a fatal crash is 13 times higher than the risk of the driver who is not under the influence of alcohol,” said Dr. Guohua Li, a researcher involved in a study analyzing drivers who died in crashes. “But if the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increases to 24 times that of a sober person.”

That study also found:

  • Drugged driving caused more than 28 percent of deaths in 2010, compared to 16 percent in 1999.
  • Marijuana was the primary drug responsible for this increase, contributing to 12 percent of 2010 crashes versus 4 percent in 1999.
  • Most tests look for delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana, and 11-OH-THC, its active metabolite.
  • Combined use of alcohol and marijuana dramatically increases a driver’s risk of death.

Driving High on Weed Facts and Stats

  • A report by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that the percentage of drivers who were high on pot during fatal accidents in Washington state more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, with 85 deaths involving THC in 2014.
  • In 2007, 8.6 percent of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for THC versus 12.6 percent of drivers in 2013 to 2014, a 48 percent increase.
  • Utah officials said the number of fatal car wrecks in the state in which drivers tested positive for marijuana rose from 11 in 2012 to 38 in 2015, an increase from 6 percent of crashes to 15 percent. Analysts said the uptick in marijuana-related crashes may be tied to legalization in nearby states. Concurrently, the percentage of drivers in fatal crashes tested for drugs increased from 42 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in 2015.
  • Seven of nine analyzed research studies showed the risk of a motor vehicle collision increased when drivers had consumed cannabis a few hours before the crash.
  • The same meta-analysis showed acute cannabis consumption nearly doubled the risk of a driver being involved in a motor vehicle collision resulting in serious injury or death.

Proponents of recreational marijuana legalization point to its relative safety and the fact medical marijuana has some therapeutic benefits.