It's Easier to Die from Drinking Too Much Water Than Smoking Too Much Pot


Editor's Note: This article was provided by our partner, RealClearScience. The original is here.

In February, reports filtered in from Germany that two men died of cardiac arrhythmia triggered by marijuana intoxication. At a headline's glance, the tragic deaths seemed to spoil cannabis' unblemished track record: Until that point, no cases of fatal overdose were known to science.

It should be noted, however, that these two men -- aged 23 and 28 -- did not overdose. The researchers who reviewed their deaths in the journal Forensic Science International reported that "the younger man had a serious undetected heart problem and the older one had a history of alcohol, amphetamine and cocaine abuse." Since all other causes of death were ruled out, the researchers assumed that marijuana spiked their heart rates and blood pressures, causing their hearts to fall out of rhythm.

In the absence of underlying health conditions, it is practically impossible to die from smoking marijuana. The LD50 -- the dose required to kill half the subjects in a test population -- of marijuana's active chemical THC is somewhere between 15 and 70 grams for the average human. As the University of Michigan's Mind the Science Gap described, that's "absurdly high":

"To put that in perspective, the casual user (once a month or so) generally only needs about 2-3 mg of THC to become intoxicated, while habitual users might need between five and ten times that amount. Since 3 mg = 0.003 g, a casual user would need to smoke about 5000 times their normal amount to approach a potentially lethal dose."

What chemicals are deadlier than THC? Quite a few actually. Cyanide, arsenic, and strychnine obviously top THC, but so does nicotine, caffeine, ethanol, and table salt! A convincing case can even be made that it's easier to overdose on the very essence of life on Earth: water.

Though water has a vastly higher LD50 compared to any other chemical -- roughly 90 grams per kilogram of body weight -- humans are surprisingly able to slurp down too much of it, especially when competition, peer pressure, exercise, or the drug ecstasy are involved.

In 2007, a California woman died from water intoxication after drinking six liters of water -- roughly 25 glasses -- in three hours. Writing in Scientific American, Coco Ballantyne recounted other noted deaths and issues associated with excessive water intake:

In 2005 a fraternity hazing at California State University, Chico, left a 21-year-old man dead after he was forced to drink excessive amounts of water between rounds of push-ups in a cold basement. Club-goers taking MDMA ("ecstasy") have died after consuming copious amounts of water trying to rehydrate following long nights of dancing and sweating. Going overboard in attempts to rehydrate is also common among endurance athletes. A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that close to one sixth of marathon runners develop some degree of hyponatremia, or dilution of the blood caused by drinking too much water.

Water, of course, is easier to access than marijuana. If THC ubiquitously flowed from taps and showerheads, doubtless somebody would have found a way to overdose. As it is, you'd be hard pressed to find an average person with enough marijuana to kill himself. Thus, water's body count remains higher.

(Image: AP)

H/T Improbable Research

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

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Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

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University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

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