Marijuana is stronger than ever, but don’t get too excited

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Surgeon General Jerome Adams raised eyebrows when he warned that cannabis was getting stronger two weeks ago. He added that, as a result, developing adolescents and pregnant mothers should avoid using today’s cannabis, due to the possible long-term damage. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar went as far to call cannabis “a dangerous drug.”

“This ain’t your mother’s marijuana,” Adams added. “Not enough people know that today’s marijuana is far more potent than in days’ past.”

In some circles, it could be easy to dismiss Adams’ comments. They recalled similar language used by FOX News host Tucker Carlson when he tried to link mass shootings with marijuana usage. Or it reminded others of Alex Berenson’s Tell Your Children book, which connected weed use with psychosis and reinvigorate the “Reefer Madness” movement. (Most scientists and researchers have discredited Berenson’s work.) But was Adams comments so hyperbolic? Studies have linked adolescent cannabis use with memory problems later in life. The science remains mixed at best about using marijuana while pregnant, with researchers suggesting not doing so until we know more.

The truth is marijuana is getting stronger. You don’t think almost a decade of legal marijuana growing being conducted under optimal settings wouldn’t improve the plant’s potency? What matters, of course, is the degrees of its increased potency. This is where comments like the Surgeon General’s can get out of hand. Canadian author and marijuana advocate Dana Larsen recently analyzed on Twitter how, if you used statements from public health officials, you’d arrive at cannabis being 12,600 times stronger than it was 60-70 years ago.

But the problem, as VICE columnist Maia Szalavitz astutely points out, is marijuana’s chemical balances have changed. We know that THC is responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive component, and that CBD, in addition to other wellness benefits, tends to mellow out THC’s buzz. Somewhere between 1994 and 2005, the typical ratios of CBD to THC became out of whack. Researchers discovered that whereas marijuana strains previously had 14 times the amount of THC as CBD, cannabis found on the street today has 80 times the amount of THC.

One Dutch study found that first time admissions for cannabis use disorder were more likely when consuming higher THC marijuana. Meanwhile, Dr. Julie Holland, The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis as well as a psychiatrist, told VICE, “Higher THC strains are more likely to cause problems in people at risk for psychotic illness.”

This is yet another argument for marijuana legalization. Just like with the vape crisis, these problems are the direct result of allowing the market to decide how marijuana will be crafted and marketed, instead of policy and regulations. Black market retailers are driven to mess with THC:CBD ratios to ensure their product makes stoners say “they got the good shit, man.” But that attitude ultimately creates more problems than it solves. Bring marijuana out from the dark and we might soon be instead saying, today’s cannabis is more balanced, healthy, and safe for consumers than your momma’s marijuana. Who doesn’t want that?

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