Four Marijuana-related Deaths Reveal the Dangers of High Potency

Marijuana is a controversial subject any way you look at it. On one side, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and other pro-marijuana groups claim that the drug is pretty harmless. On the other side, prevention groups describe its dangers.

Some groups even say that the potency of marijuana hasn’t really increased all that much. Has it or hasn’t it?

Below are a couple of charts that show this increase.

marijuana potency 1972-2008

The first chart shows the average percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the primary intoxicating ingredient) of seized marijuana samples from the 1970s through 2008.

marijuana potency 1995-2013

The second chart shows the percentage in samples from the 1990s through 2013. (Because agencies recorded their information a little differently in those two eras, it’s hard to make one chart out of the information.)

So what do you think—is marijuana is getting more potent?

The other factor at work relating to potency is the medical marijuana industry. This rise of this industry has led to new agricultural methods that have boosted the potency even higher. In states with medical marijuana, it’s not difficult to find a medical dispensary that will sell you a product that’s in the 25% to 29% range. Source:

Do Users Really Adjust their Own Dosages?

On its website, NORML pooh-poohs any risk attached to this increase in potency because “greater potency is not necessarily more dangerous, due to the fact that users tend to adjust…their dose according to potency.” Source:

There’s plenty of evidence that not everyone wants to lower their dosage. Just do a quick search of YouTube for people intentionally trying to get wasted or even seeing if they can overdose on marijuana. And it seems that not everyone is capable of this adjustment. Check out this statistic from the Drug Awareness Warning Network (DAWN):

DAWN data show there was a 59 percent increase in marijuana-related emergency department visits between 2006 (290,565) and 2010 (461,028). Marijuana was second only to cocaine for illicit drug-related emergency department visits in 2010. Source: 2013 Drug Threat Analysis:

So in 2010, 461,028 people consumed so much marijuana they were affected by panic attacks, shortness of breath, vomiting, fast heart rate, disorientation, hallucinations and overall shaking. It seems that if they could have, they would have consumed a less hazardous dose.

Could High Potency Pot Have Contributed to Four Deaths?

States with medical marijuana have tried to determine what level of THC intoxication makes a person dangerous to drive, operate equipment and so on. For now, some states are using 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood (written as “ng/ml”) as an indicator of impairment. (Note: there’s not yet a scientific consensus yet on what this figure should be.)

In at least four cases, we know the THC levels of people who died after using this drug.

  • Tron Dohse died in 2012 after trying to climb onto the balcony outside his apartment. His THC level was 27.3 ng/ml.
  • Daniel Juarez of Colorado stabbed himself to death with a THC level of 38.2 ng/ml.
  • NASCAR driver Kevin Ward, who died after he got out of his wrecked car and walked down the track, had a THC level of 13.1.
  • Levy Thamba Pongi was visiting Denver and ate a cookie containing marijuana. He was new to marijuana. When he jumped off the balcony of his hotel to his death, his blood contained just 7.2 ng/ml.

Complicating matters is the fact that it doesn’t always take a high level of THC for a person to be incapacitated. In Alaska, Paul Frary, who managed to drive his truck into a ditch and a tree and was unable to speak coherently after being pulled from the vehicle, had a THC level of just 5.7.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while for experts to agree on this matter. In the meantime, it appears likely that some people may continue to be injured or even killed after consuming high potency marijuana. That’s a terrible way to find out the truth about a drug.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.