Source: The Western Mail
Date: 20 January 2004

Cannabis poisoning kills Welsh addict

Paul Carey, The Western Mail

A WELSHMAN is thought to have become the first in Britain to die directly from cannabis poisoning.

Lee Maisey, 36, smoked more than 25,000 reefers during his 11-year addiction to the drug, which is due to be reduced to a Class C drug later this month.

Mr Maisey had complained of a headache but the next morning he was found dead on the lounge floor.

Coroner Michael Howells said Mr Maisey was free from disease and had not drunk any alcohol for at least 48 hours before his death in August last year. Post-mortem tests revealed a high level of cannabinoids in Mr Maisey's blood. The cause of death was registered as cannabis toxicity.

Mr Howells, the coroner for Pembrokeshire, recorded a verdict of death by misadventure because Mr Maisey had died while taking part in an illegal activity.

The death brought a warning from medical experts about the changing strength of cannabis, which is being reduced to a Class C drug on January 29.

Dr Philip Guy, a lecturer in addictions at the University of Hull, said, "Cannabis has changed. Nowadays it is a lot stronger than it used to be.

"It is not like the nice hippy drug it used to be. It is a distinct possibility that someone could die from extreme toxicity. It has been experimented with to produce stronger varieties."

Dr Guy said death was more likely if the drug had been eaten instead of smoked.

"If you eat a large amount of it, it can be deadly. I would not be surprised if in this case the deceased had ingested a fatal amount of cannabis."

Dr Guy, who has researched cannabis-related deaths, said he had never come across such a case.

He said, "A lot of things can harm and even kill in the right quantities. I recall a man who ate two packets of regular tobacco and that almost killed him. To die from smoking cannabis is unheard of."

Cannabis has been associated with deaths in the past, particularly suicide and accidents, but not as a direct cause.

Mr Maisey died at his home in the Pembrokeshire village of Summerhill, where he shared a house with friend Jeffrey Saunders.

Mr Saunders said MrMaisey had taken cannabis for 11 years and smoked around six cannabis cigarettes a day.

Dyfed-Powys Police said yesterday they would soften their approach to cannabis in line with its reduction to Class C status.

PC Alan Thomas, the force's drug prevention officer, said, "It signals a change in the way the police will deal with adults caught in possession of small amounts of the drug for their own personal use.

"Possession will remain a criminal offence, and those who choose to flout the law by openly smoking cannabis in public will still face arrest, as will those who use the drug in places where children are likely to be.

"Officers have been asked to use their discretion and only consider making an arrest in these aggravated situations."

Some coroners claim that up to one in 10 deaths have a significant link to the drug.

In the autumn, police warned that Britain was being targeted by gangs smuggling high strength cannabis from Africa, leading to a massive influx of the drug.

Simon Burns, the Conservative MP for West Chelmsford, said, "I am deeply disturbed by this case.

"If cannabis is used for medicinal purposes like helping to alleviate MS, it is worth considering, but relaxing rules on public use of cannabis is surely ill thought out.

"It contributes to other problems. This highlights that it is obviously more dangerous than people think.

"To pander to fashionable trends is very dangerous."

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