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Cannabis madness is back once more. And this time it’s deadly. News reports on January 31 into the death of Gemma Moss, 31, from Boscombe, Bournemouth, said explicitly that cannabis had killed her.

“Devout Christian mother-of-three, 31, becomes first woman in Britain to DIE from cannabis poisoning” said the Daily Mail. “Tragic proof cannabis can really kill…” said the Metro, owned by Associated Newspapers, who also publish the Daily Mail.

Next, the Daily Mail reported news from Germany that researchers had identified two men who died, it said, purely as a result of using the drug. The cases involved two apparently healthy young men, aged 23 and 28, who died unexpectedly after smoking cannabis. Benno Hartung and his team at University Hospital Düsseldorf in Germany said both had died of cardiac arrhythmia – when the heart beats too quickly or slowly, caused by cannabis. An open and shut case? Not quite.

“It’s a diagnosis of exclusion so you have to rule out all other possibilities,” Hartung told the New Scientist. In other words, he didn’t positively prove anything. What he did was to exclude all other possibilities. What if he missed one? Since the cause of death could not be established with complete confidence from examination or testing, the Dusseldorf team basically guessed. There is simply no hard, toxicological evidence that cannabis killed these men. Thee is no known mechanism of death for cannabis. The same flawed reasoning was used in Moss’s death: it was an assumption.

Adam Winstock, consultant in addictions psychiatry at King’s College London and director of the Global Drug Survey, said there is no lethal overdose level of cannabis and questioned reports that Moss’s death was due to cannabis toxicity.

“They could not explain the cause of her death, but they found cannabis in her system and so they blamed that. An overdose of cannabis will not kill you. It might leave you sick, paranoid and twitchy and wishing you hadn’t eaten the last cookie. The greatest risk from cannabis consumption is not toxic; it is behavioural – what you do and where you do it after you’ve smoked. People do drive stoned, and crash and die. It can, in very, very rare cases, trigger heart problems in people with pre-existing conditions,” he said.

Professor David Nutt said on his blog that connecting cannabis with these deaths was circumstantial and tenuous.

“Taking any amount of cannabis, like all drugs, like so many activities, puts some stresses on the body. Cannabis usually makes the heart work a little harder and subtly affects its rate and rhythm. Any minor stress on the body can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the butterfly’s wingbeat that triggers the storm. Ms Moss had suffered with depression, which itself increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. It is quite plausible that the additional small stress caused by that cannabis joint triggered a one-in-a-million cardiac event, just as has been more frequently recorded from sport, sex, saunas and even straining on the toilet.”

In the UK in 2011, the Department of Health, not the UK’s most renowned ganja stronghold, said, in its report: “A summary of the health harms of drugs’ that no cases of fatal overdose have ever been reported.” And if cannabis is deadly, the government might want to stop doctors prescribing Sativex – which contains nothing but the green herb in a liquid spray form.

So why this sudden slew of anti-weed propaganda? Could it possibly be connected to the quickening bongo drums of legalisation? Colorado and Washington have just relaxed the laws on recreational use, joining many US states where the plant is used medicinally. Add to that Uruguay’s 2103 decision to sell weed legally from specialist shops, Jamaica’s goal of decriminalisation within a year, as well as Mexico’s announcement that it, too will soon free the weed. One by one, the prohibitionist dominos are falling, and the conservative fightback will surely only increase as laws are loosened in more and more countries.

Meanwhile, hideous herbal smoking blends containing untested, unknown research chemicals sold as ‘legal weed’ continue to be sold without legal impediment in hundreds of headshops across the UK. These drugs, such as AB-PINACA, AKB-4B and 23-WTF? (OK, I made the last one up) can definitely trigger psychotic episodes, strokes, and worse.

By Mike Power