Researchers in Düsseldorf, North-Rhine Westphalia, claimed to have discovered the first cannabis-related deaths after performing a post-mortem examinations on 15 people whose deaths were linked to the drug.
They believe two of those deaths could not have been caused by anything other than cannabis, according to a study published in Forensic Science International this month under the title “Sudden unexpected death under acute influence of cannabis”.
But on Wednesday the German Association for Drugs and Addiction (FDR), which is based in Hannover, told The Local the study did not help educate people about the dangers of the drug.
“Cannabis does not paralyze the breathing or the heart," head of the FDR Jost Leune said. "Deaths due to cannabis use are usually accidents that are not caused by the substance, but to the circumstances of use.”
Leune added the dangers of marijuana were “exaggerated” and it was less harmful than alcohol or tobacco.
It estimated that three million people in Germany used cannabis.
According to the study, one of the men who died was an athletic 28-year-old found dead by his girlfriend next to an ashtray containing cigarette paper and marijuana. The autopsy found that there were no pre-existing medical conditions.
The second case was a healthy 23-year-old man.
Benno Hartung from the University Hospital in Düsseldorf said he and his colleagues performed autopsies and toxicological tests to rule out other causes of death such as liver disease and alcohol use.
“It’s a diagnosis of exclusion so you have to rule out all other possibilities,” Hartung told New Scientist.
Hartung claims that the two deaths from cardiac arrhythmia were directly the results of cannabis use, with marijuana apparently causing a sudden change in heartbeat.
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The 36-year-old admitted it was “a very rare event” but recommended that other researchers now investigate deaths involving marijuana.
“Even though it may be rare, I hope others investigate death by cannabis intoxication in other cities. Particularly in light of the increased use of cannabis for pain relief,” he told New Scientist.