Happy Weedsday, everybody!
Let’s take a quick trip into some brain science today! No, I’m not a brain scientist or anything like that, but it sure is fascinating to know about. So here we go!
I hear at least everyday a question about overdosing and dying in relationship to cannabis. And of course, there are a lot of misinformed people out there so I thought I would write about this for this issue.
I have watched the opioid crisis spread like the plague. People drink and die and kill others over alcohol consumption and street drugs. People overdose on pharmaceutical pills, as well. There is a lot of stuff people can overdose and die from.
But cannabis acts on the body and mind in a way that’s very different than opioids or alcohol and all this other stuff.
I’m sure in the course of your life heard, as I have in mine, the tragic phrase, “so-and-so died of an overdose.” But when opioids like fentanyl, OxyContin or heroin are the cause, there’s a specific mechanism that causes that death.
As Oxford University anesthesiology professor K.T.S. Pattinson has observed, “In drug addicts, respiratory depression is the major cause of death.” In other words, during an opioid overdose the victim falls unconscious and the body forgets to breathe.
The body forgets to breathe!
So these opioids that are in heroin, fentanyl and the oxys don’t just suppress pain and increase feelings of pleasure, they also depress something in the brain called the pre-Bötzinger complex. This is where many opioid receptors are found and this is a major reason why opioid overdoses are so deadly.
In an overdose, this complex is flooded with opioids and they attach to these receptors, which causes the breathing to become slow and irregular. Eventually, without intervention, breathing shuts down completely and death occurs due to lack of oxygen. That’s it.
Also, an opioid overdose can depress the brain’s mechanism that regulates the heart and blood circulation, leading to a drop in blood pressure and heart failure. Hence, a heart attack and death.
It’s a sad way to go, really. It’s a tragic spot to be in in life, especially when cannabis can help so much.
Now, regarding alcohol. Alcohol poisoning can become lethal when the alcohol overwhelms the liver’s ability to clear it, and alcohol in the blood anesthetizes those same brain systems that regulate breathing and blood pressure. They shut down, which leads to death.
Cannabis, however, is not one of those things you can die from.
Cannabis still has caused zero deaths. Yes, that’s right. Zero. Cannabis does not affect the body in the same manner as anything else you put in your body. It lacks the ability to kill you.
Here is why it’s impossible for cannabis to kill you. The cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant act on specific receptors that are not concentrated in the brain stem, where breathing and the heart rate are controlled.
Cannabinoid receptors are most highly concentrated in the basal ganglia, hippocampus and cerebellum, which is where cognition and movement are controlled.
Those same receptors appear in scant numbers in brain stem areas like the pre-Bötzinger complex. Cannabis does not affect the pre-Bötzinger complex as opioids and alcohol and other drugs do. There are virtually so few cannabinoid receptors there it isn’t physically possible to effect it enough to make a difference, much less cause a death.
In a 1990 study of cannabinoid receptors, researchers with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that “sparse densities (of cannabinoid receptors) in lower brain stem areas controlling cardiovascular and respiratory functions may explain why high doses of THC are not lethal.”
So rest easy, my friends. Cannabis doesn’t kill.