Did Tainted CBD Contribute to this Woman’s Death?

April 7, 2020

A middle-aged woman with underlying conditions died from septic shock after taking an untested CBD product.

CBD’s meteoric rise in popularity has seen the compound move from medical marijuana dispensaries into national chain drugstores and high-end beauty and wellness products. From epilepsy to anxiety to pain, people have found it helpful for what ails them.

Because it’s non-intoxicating, it has served as an introduction to cannabis medicine for people who otherwise might avoid the long-maligned plant.

Studies have found CBD to be generally safe in animals and humans alike. The one lingering worry is how CBD is metabolized in the liver. The liver enzymes that break down the compound are also responsible for metabolizing 60-70% of pharmaceuticals. Some drugs don’t play nice with others, and can cause stress on the liver when taken with high doses of CBD. But these interactions can be easily avoided with medical supervision. Studies that over-emphasize CBD’s liver toxicity have been torn apart for everything from their methods to their analysis.

All of that safety data about CBD makes a recent case study out of New York especially surprising and troubling.

A troubling case

In February, a team of doctors from New York and Florida published a case report about a 56-year-old woman who developed a fatal case of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome/toxic epidermal necrolysis (SJS-TEN) two days after starting to use a sublingual CBD oil.

SJS-TEN is a poorly understood condition that involves severe rash on the skin and mucous membranes, and has a mortality rate of 10-50%. About half of SJS-TEN cases are thought to be caused by negative drug interactions. The other half, however, don’t have a clear cause.

The patient was on a number of medications to treat chronic pain, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. The only change she made before the onset of a painful rash that developed into SJS-TEN was the consumption of the CBD oil. When she was admitted to the hospital, her doctors took her off of all of her medications. One month later she died of septic shock, a fatal reaction where blood pressure becomes dangerously low due to stress from systemic infection.

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The curious case of the contaminated CBD oil

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