DENVER -- A Wyoming college student who jumped to his death at a Denver hotel had eaten more of a marijuana cookie than was recommended by a seller, police records show -- a finding that comes amid increased concern about the strength of popular pot edibles after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, consumed more than one cookie purchased by a friend -- even though a store clerk told the friend to cut each cookie into six pieces and to eat just one piece at a time, said the reports obtained Thursday.
Pongi began shaking, screaming and throwing things around a hotel room before he jumped over a fourth-floor railing into the hotel lobby March 11. An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a "significant contributing factor" in the death.
Marijuana cookies and other edibles have become increasingly popular since Colorado allowed people 21 and over to buy recreational marijuana this year at regulated stores. Federal authorities don’t regulate the edibles because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
After voters approved recreational pot, Colorado lawmakers tasked regulators with setting potency-testing guidelines to ensure consumers know how much pot they’re eating. Those guidelines are expected to be released next month.
Lawmakers also required edible pot to be sold in serving sizes of 10 milligrams of THC, marijuana’s intoxicating chemical.
The cannabis industry tries to educate consumers about the potency of marijuana-infused foods. But despite the warnings -- including waiting for up to an hour to feel any effects -- complaints by visitors and first-time users have been rampant.
Investigators believe Pongi, a native of the Republic of Congo, and three friends from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., traveled to Colorado on spring break to try marijuana.
At their hotel, the group of four friends followed the seller’s instructions. But when Pongi felt nothing after about 30 minutes, he ate an entire cookie, police said.
Within an hour, he began speaking erratically in French, shaking, screaming and throwing things around the hotel room. At one point he appeared to talk to a lamp.
Pongi’s friends tried to restrain him before he left the room and jumped to his death, police said.
One of his friends told investigators it may have been his first time using the drug -- the only one toxicology tests found in his system. All three friends said they did not purchase or take any other drugs during their stay.
"The thing to realize is the THC that is present in edibles is a drug, and as with any drug, there’s a spectrum of ways in which people respond," said Michael Kosnett, a medical toxicologist on the clinical faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
He said a person’s genetic makeup, health issues and other factors can make a difference, and first-time users might consume too much, unaware of how their bodies will react.
"The possibility for misadventure is increased," Kosnett said.
The marijuana concentration in Pongi’s blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado law says juries can assume someone is driving while impaired if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter.
In the days that followed the death of Pongi, Denver police confiscated the remaining cookies from the pot shop to test their levels of THC. The wrapper of the cookies bought by the students said each contained 65 mg of THC for 6 1/2 servings. Tests showed the cookies were within the required THC limits, police said.
However, the wrappers also cautioned that "this marijuana product has not been tested for contaminants or potency." One of Pongi’s friends became sick to his stomach after eating part of the cookie, but the others felt no negative effect.
Colorado law bans the sale of recreational marijuana products to people under 21, and adults can be charged with a felony for giving pot to someone under the legal age.
Authorities, however, said they would not press charges against Pongi’s 23-year-old friend who told police she bought the cookies while he waited outside the store.
Denver district attorney’s spokeswoman Maro Casparian said investigators determined there was no crime. She declined to elaborate.