This article was produced by Susan Visser, Prevention Program Manager at Community in Crisis in October 2022.
5 THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT MARIJUANA
- IT’S STRONGER AND CHEMICALLY DIFFERENT FROM 25 YEARS AGO
When I graduated from high school in 1995, marijuana contained around 4% THC, the part of the plant that produces the ‘high.’ Today’s growers have cultivated plants that are up to 40% THC! The range of THC strengths is similar to alcohol; light beer has as little as 2% alcohol content whereas grain alcohol can exceed 95% alcohol content. To give you some context, marijuana is considered a high concentration if the product contains over 10%-15% THC.
- ‘BIG MARIJUANA’ IS A RUNAWAY TRAIN
In New Jersey’s new regulatory environment (unlike states like Colorado farther down the legalization path) there are no potency guidelines, no strong regulatory infrastructure to enforce laws, and no required responsible seller training. As a result, the marijuana industry is pushing boundaries and responding to demand for higher THC products that are increasingly dangerous. This makes sense from marijuana sellers’ perspective: the higher the THC, the stronger the possibility of addiction, and the more marijuana that customer buys.
- IT’S NOT JUST THE BUD
While marijuana used to be synonymous with a plant, today’s marijuana bears little resemblance to their distant botanical cousin and have much more serious health impacts. In addition to growing a plant that contains more THC, labs can extract THC from marijuana plants to create concentrated products containing almost 100% THC! These liquid, oil, wax, or solid concentrates can be vaped using e-cigarettes, dabbed, or consumed in edibles or tinctures. Kids who vape nicotine can use the same device to vape high THC marijuana oils.
- IT CAN LEAD TO PSYCHOSIS AND SUICIDE
In addition to the immediate effects of marijuana use, including problems with anxiety, memory, and attention (to name just a few), marijuana can cause long-term harm. High THC marijuana use increases the risk of psychosis2 which can lead to irreversible mental illness, including schizophrenia. Marijuana use also increases the risk of suicidal ideation. In the Somerset Hills, high school students who use marijuana are 1.8 times more likely to think about dying by suicide ‘often’ or ‘a lot’ than those who do not use marijuana. To compound the problem, as the THC in marijuana plants increases, the plant’s capacity to produce CBD decreases. CBD reduces the negative effects of THC, particularly in terms of its ability to produce paranoia and psychotic experiences. These risks are especially acute in young people because marijuana changes the anatomy of the brain as it is developing.
Scientists studying marijuana are bound by ethical guidelines, so most of the research conducted uses a far lower level of THC than marijuana dispensaries actually sell. This means the effects of high THC marijuana may be even more severe than we realize. While researchers have struggled to keep up with the pace of innovation from the marijuana industry, it is clear that the higher the THC, the more damaging the mental health effects.
- TIPS FOR PARENTS:
Stay informed. There is a lot of buzz about the benefits of marijuana but, for people under the age of 21, no amount of marijuana is healthy. Find reliable sources like Community in Crisis that base their information on scientific research.
Know what’s new. The marijuana industry works hard to develop novel ways to use marijuana. Vape devices can look like USB drives or pens and edibles look like candies. Inform yourself so you can recognize marijuana paraphernalia.
Talk about marijuana. Initiate conversations with your children and teens about substance use on a regular basis. Partnership to End Addiction provides a free online toolkit to help you prepare for a conversation with your teen about marijuana.
Thanks for reading!
Sincerely, Susan Visser. Prevention Program Manager.
Comments? Questions? Email Susan here.
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