The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing chilling new details about a 19-year-old college student who leaped four stories to his death at a Holiday Inn in Denver after eating a pot cookie.
The case is Exhibit A in a stern warning about the dangers of edible pot that calls for clearer labels, better education and dosage guidelines that advocate limited portion sizes.
“Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time,” researchers wrote of Levy Thamba, an exchange student from the Republic of Congo on spring break with his friends in Denver in March 2014, “he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving.” Thama was “marijuana-naïve, with no known history of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, or mental illness,” the CDC said.
The warnings could further fuel the debate about legal marijuana use in the four states and the District that now allows anyone over 21 to legally purchase the drug, including in sweet products, such as cookies, brownies and candy. Colorado, along with Washington, were the first states to legalize marijuana use.
Denver coroners listed “marijuana intoxication” from cannabis-infused cookies as a significant condition contributing to Thamba’s death, which was classified as an accident.
The CDC gives us more detail: A police report indicated that at first he ate only a single piece of his cookie, as directed by the sales clerk.
But “approximately 30–60 minutes later, not feeling any effects, he consumed the remainder of the cookie. During the next 2 hours, he reportedly exhibited erratic speech and hostile behaviors. Approximately 3.5 hours after initial ingestion, and 2.5 hours after consuming the remainder of the cookie, he jumped off a fourth floor balcony and died from trauma,” the police report said.
Workers at the dispensary recommended eating only about one-sixth of the marijuana cookie, which was the recommended 10 mg serving of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, the CDC said. They told Thamba’s friend, who bought the cookie, that it could take 30 minutes to feel any effects. But after 30 minutes, not feeling any different, he ate the whole cookie, ingesting 65 mg of THC.
The police report did not indicate whether the sales clerk provided specific instructions for how long to wait between ingesting each serving, researchers said.
“Because of the delayed effects of THC-infused edibles, multiple servings might be consumed in close succession before experiencing the ‘high’ from the initial serving, as reportedly occurred in this case,” the researchers said.
Marijuana is the most commonly used recreational drug in the United States after alcohol, with an estimated 19.8 million past-month users during 2013, the CDC says.
Colorado enacted new rules for marijuana edibles on Feb. 1, 2015. The products must now have individual labels and contain no more than 10 mg of THC or have clear divisions that show the size of a 10 mg portion. According to the CDC, an estimated 45 percent of Colorado’s marijuana sales involve edible marijuana, including food products and drinks.
The CDC said that all states where recreational pot is legal — currently Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia — should have clear guidelines and labels. The concern is not just for people who eat substances containing pot, but also for others, including underage users, who may be attracted to the sweets without realizing they contain the drug.