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UK/Switzerland: Death was not caused by cannabis

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On 20 January 2004 the newspaper Daily Telegraph reported that
cannabis was blamed as cause of death of a 36 year old British
man. However, a review of the toxicological data and autopsy
report by a Swiss expert revealed that there is no reason to
assume that the sudden death of Lee Maisey in August 2003 was
due to cannabis.

Mr Maisey smoked six cannabis cigarettes a day for 11 years,
which was reported in some newspapers to be "excessive". He
had complained of a headache on 22 August last year and was
found dead at his home next morning. Michael Howells, the local
coroner, who led the investigation of the death cause, said Mr
Maisey was free from disease and had not drunk alcohol for at
least 48 hours. "High levels of cannabinoids" had been found in his
blood. The report led to new warnings about the dangers of the
drug. Dr. John Henry, a professor of toxicology at Imperial
College, London, said: "I have not seen anything like this before.
It corrects the argument that cannabis cannot kill anybody."

The Federal Health Ministry of Switzerland asked Dr. Rudolf
Brenneisen, a professor at the department for clinical research at
the University of Bern, to review the data of this case. Dr.
Brenneisen said that the data of the toxicological analysis and
collected by autopsy were "scanty and not conclusive" and that
the conclusion death by cannabis intoxication was "not legitimate".

According to the toxicological analysis of a British laboratory
(Forensic Alliance) Mr Maisey's blood contained 130 nanograms
per milliliter (ng/ml) of the THC metabolite THC-COOH. THC
could not be detected due to analytical problems. Dr. Franjo
Grotenhermen of the nova-Institute in Cologne said: "A
concentration of 130 ng/ml THC-COOH in blood is a moderate
concentration, which may be observed some hours after the use
of one or two joints. Heavy regular use of cannabis easily results
in THC-COOH concentrations of above 500 ng/ml. Many people
use much more cannabis than Mr Maisey did, without any
negative consequences."