Did a 4-Year-Old Boy Really Die Because He Ate Weed Gummies?

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Did a 4-Year-Old Boy Really Die Because He Ate Weed Gummies?


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Left: Tanner Clements (Image courtesy of family) Right: Dorothy Clements (

A four-year-old Virginia boy who died after allegedly eating “a large amount of THC gummies” may be one of the only known cases of a child dying after consuming a cannabis product—but medical experts say some pieces of the story don’t quite add up. 

Tanner Clements died on May 8, two days after his mother Dorothy said she found him unresponsive after he had eaten part of a weed gummy. More than five months later on Oct. 17, Dorothy, 30, was charged with felony murder and felony child neglect.

Dorothy said she called poison control on May 6, after Tanner ate part of a CBD gummy and was told “Tanner would be fine,” according to a search warrant executed by the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office and obtained by VICE News. She said she’d been watching TV on her phone when she noticed he was unresponsive. It’s not clear how much time elapsed before authorities were called to the scene, performed CPR on Tanner, and took him to the hospital, but he was taken off life support two days later. It’s also not clear who called them.

Police said they seized an empty jar that had contained THC gummies, not CBD. (THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in weed.) Dorothy told police there was only one gummy left in the jar when Tanner got a hold of it. The search warrant quoted a pediatrician at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center saying that the level of THC in Tanner’s body was “extremely high” and that if Dororthy “had sought medical attention for Tanner, his death could have been prevented.” 

Police seized Dorothy’s phone, believing it may show that she’d sought advice on what to do after her son ate THC gummies. 

But two doctors told VICE News the metric used in the search warrant to indicate that Tanner had high levels of THC in his body doesn’t actually mean that. 

“We have seen, unfortunately, kids overdose at this age on THC edibles. What we have not seen is kids stop breathing and die or have their heart stop beating.”

The warrant said Tanner had a carboxy-THC level of more than 14,286 nanograms of THC per milligram (of either blood or urine) in his system when he died. While that number sounds high, carboxy-THC is a metabolite that the body produces after someone consumes weed—but it doesn’t indicate how intoxicated they were. 

“It confirms that THC was introduced into the kid’s body prior to death,” said Dr. Andrew Stolbach, an emergency physician and medical toxicologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “But in isolation, it doesn’t strike me as terribly high. And it doesn’t strike me as insignificant either.”  

Dr. Sherry Yafai, an emergency room physician and medical director of medical cannabis clinic the Releaf Institute, said the level of carboxy-THC in Tanner’s body could have been detected either soon after he took the gummy or hours later when it was being degraded by the body. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that he took a lot of gummies. 

“A typical five milligram gummy could result in this level carboxy-THC in a child,” she said, adding, “I think this is horrific on all levels that even THC was available to a four year old.” 

But she said, based on the information available, she doesn’t understand how Tanner died. 

“We have seen, unfortunately, kids overdose at this age on THC edibles. What we have not seen is kids stop breathing and die or have their heart stop beating.” 

The idea of someone dying from consuming weed is highly controversial, and there are very few examples where authorities have claimed it has happened. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “while a fatal overdose caused solely by marijuana is unlikely, marijuana is not harmless,” and the National Institute on Drug Abuse says “there are no reports of teens or adults dying from marijuana alone.” 

Two Colorado doctors, however, claimed to have documented the first-ever case of a child dying from weed in a case study published in the Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine in 2017. They said an 11-month-old baby died due to heart inflammation. The doctors said there were high levels of THC in the baby’s system and that they eliminated other causes for the heart damage. But many other doctors said their conclusion was a leap. 

Stolbach said kids who’ve consumed THC can suffer from seizures, which can cause someone to aspirate and die if they’re in the wrong position. But it’s not clear what happened to Tanner. 

Before she was charged, Dorothy told local outlet WUSA9 that her son suffered from a “cardiac episode” and that after he died it was determined that something was ​​”odd with his heart.”

Yafai said anything from a child’s weight, to pre-existing health conditions, to other things in their system could play a role in a situation like this. She said THC can cause atypical cardiac rhythms, which could lead someone’s heart to stop beating if they already had a bad heart rhythm. 

Due to privacy laws, VICE News couldn’t obtain Tanner’s autopsy report. However, the medical examiner’s office said his death was an accident caused by delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol toxicity. 

Delta-8, a cannabinoid like THC, adds yet another complication to the case. 

Delta-8 can cause a psychoactive effect, but unlike THC it’s federally legal because it’s derived from the hemp plant. Because of its unregulated status, it’s cropped up as a grey market alternative to THC in many places in the U.S. 

Yafai said delta-8 products have been chemically modified to achieve the desired effects because there’s not enough delta-8 that naturally occurs in cannabis plants. She said delta-8 hasn’t been studied the same way as THC.

“When you chemically manufacture items, things go wrong.” 

In May, the FDA put out a warning about delta-8 products, noting that none of them have been inspected or regulated by the agency. 

The FDA said it received 104 reports of adverse events in people who consumed delta-8 products between December 2020 and March 2022; eight percent involved minors. Negative side effects included hallucinations, vomiting, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. At least 20 states have banned or restricted access to delta-8. 

“We need the FDA to get with the program and start regulating,” Yafai said. “You can’t make hemp legal in all 50 states and then just let everyone at it. Because what happens is bad players and people who are looking to make a buck are going to take advantage of the unregulated marketplace.” 

An obituary for Tanner said that he was “an amazing, energetic, fun loving little boy. He loved superheroes, being outside, playing hide and seek and making everyone laugh.” His family asked everyone who attended his funeral to wear a superhero shirt, “because Tanner not only loved superheroes but was a superhero himself.” 

More details about Tanner’s death will likely unfold if his mother’s case goes to trial. The felony murder charge is another unusual aspect of this case. 

Nazgol Ghandnoosh, senior research analyst for the Sentencing Project, said felony murder charges are invoked when a person is committing a felony and somebody dies in relation to that felony. It’s most commonly used in robberies—for example, if a robber is pointing a gun at someone and the gun goes off, killing the robbery victim. 

“An intentional homicide is considered the worst thing that you can do, and it gets the highest level of punishment. The problem with felony murder is that it’s sort of an escalator ride up to that level of penalty for people who did not intend to kill somebody,” Ghandnoosh said. 

In Virginia, felony murder can lead up to 40 years in prison. 

Ghandnoosh questioned whether Dorothy should even be tried criminally for Tanner’s death. 

“If she is criminally negligent, the question that that everyone should ask about felony murder laws is,” she said, “is she as negligent as if she intentionally killed her child?” 

Prosecuting Dorothy so harshly could also prevent other parents in similar situations from asking for help.

“If people realize that they’re going to face these extreme penalties, it doesn’t make sense to bring these problems to the attention of authorities,” Ghandnoosh said. 

Media reports about drug-induced homicide cases, where people are charged with murder for sharing drugs that lead to fatal overdoses, have resulted in fewer people calling for help during overdoses, a Health in Justice Action Lab report found. 

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