Keeping Cannabis away from kids
Monroe County Community College recently hosted an education session aimed at helping prevent marijuana use by Michigan’s youth.
Vicky Loveland, Development Coordinator for the Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition, recently presented “Cannabis Overview: Protecting Our Youth” via Zoom. Loveland is a licensed social worker, and she said that the coalition works to reduce abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs, underage substance use, and more in Monroe County.
Loveland began the presentation by offering Michigan’s history with legal marijuana, starting with the state’s legalization of medical marijuana sales in 2008.
According to data provided by Loveland, average THC levels in marijuana increased dramatically over time, meaning that the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana has been more prevalent, thereby making the substance more potent.
Loveland also noted that the process to get a medical marijuana card is very easy for Michigan residents. She also offered a list of debilitating conditions that warrant medical marijuana card. Most cases cited were “severe and chronic pain.” Loveland said the original intent of the state passing medical marijuana use was to help cancer patients.
However, according to her data, less than 5% of cardholders were using THC products to relieve cancer symptoms, as of 2017. Loveland also described the different strains of marijuana – indica and sativa – as well as their intended effects on the user.
“For the Indica, it’s really about if you’re looking for something to help you sleep at night,” Loveland said. “Sativa is the one they talk about to use during the day and to be creative.”
There are also hybrid versions that combine both strains. Loveland then shifted focus to discuss different ways in which THC products are consumed, such as dabbing, which utilizes an extracted concentrate from the marijuana plant.
THC extracts come in the form of honeycomb, wax, oil, shatter, budder, or amber, and the name typically refers to the texture after extraction, which can differ based on factors such as temperature during the process.
Loveland explained how THC is extracted from the plant flower using butane gas, which can be a dangerous process for those who are not trained and are not using proper safety equipment and precautions. She cited an incident in 2017 during which a Monroe resident was injured from an explosion caused by an attempt to extract cannabis oil.
Loveland moved on to discuss edibles that contain THC, which are popular among adult users. The THC concentrates that are used for edibles are considerably higher in THC than the marijuana flower, Loveland said.
Additionally, some edibles are packaged like real candies. Loveland showed an example from Colorado for an edible called “Pot Heads” that resembled Air Heads candies. Loveland said that a small child in the home might mistake the edible marijuana for traditional candy.
“If we do have a 3- or 4-year-old who is not able to read at this point, they’re going to see that image and might think it’s Air Heads, when in fact it’s an edible that has THC in it,” she said.
Loveland also discussed the levels of THC in edibles and how easy it can be for people who do not know better to consume more THC than they should.
“If you’re not seeing anything about a serving size, then start low and go slow,” Loveland said.
Moving toward the main topic of THC use among youth, Loveland described how some marijuana retailers accept Bitcoin and even offer incentives for buying with Bitcoin, which she suggests puts the focus on a younger consumer base.
Additionally, Loveland said parent should keep an eye out for where young people might hide marijuana products. She listed some concealment items that parents should look for, such as “slick balls,” which look like toy balls but are actually used as storage containers.
Loveland discussed and showed examples of clothing that is specifically designed to conceal marijuana, such as hats and waistband pouches that have hidden compartments. Other containers that young people may use to conceal extracts include lip balm jars and contact lens cases.
One slide of the presentation showed examples of shirts and hats that feature marijuana slang and terminology that adults might not recognize as overtly drug-related. Loveland said that this can help parents know if their children might be using marijuana.
“If you see a child or your child wearing this, just ask them additional questions,” she said. “It can be affiliated with substance misuse by our youth.”
Loveland said that “dab rigs” – which are focused on getting more THC in a shorter amount of time – also present problems for parents and schools trying to prevent youth usage.
She warned that it can be difficult to tell the difference between nicotine and THC vaping products, especially disposable products that are prefilled with liquid. Loveland said that school officials may have a hard time knowing whether a confiscated vape device contains nicotine or marijuana extract.
“They have to determine what is in the liquid that is inside,” she explained.
Loveland also presented the question: Why have marijuana concentrates become so popular?
She said that the average THC content of marijuana flower is around 15 to 20 percent, while concentrates contain anywhere from 40 to 90 percent. She also cited easier concealment, little to no odor, and ease of use in public as reasons for concentrate popularity.
Loveland asserted that some people may perceive concentrate forms like edibles as safer because there is no inhalation and therefore no risk of lung damage. She explained that while that may be safer on the lungs, the perspective does not consider the higher concentration in its “safer” assessment.
“Is it really safer in regard to the THC and what it’s causing in impairment?” she asked.
Loveland discussed the possibility of marijuana overdosing, which she said is a controversial topic.
“I get a lot of pushback on this,” she said. “It’s not a fatal overdose, but it’s a temporary overdose of marijuana.”
Symptoms of a “marijuana overdose” may include paranoia, nausea, increased heart rate, and disorientation. Loveland said that this makes it difficult for school officials to understand what is happening with a student who is experiencing these symptoms
“I think the scary part for our schools is that they might not necessarily know what they’re dealing with,” she said.
Loveland also stated that law enforcement has a difficult time dealing with drivers who may be impaired by THC, noting that it is not always easy to tell if a person is under the influence of marijuana as opposed to alcohol.
Loveland said that Michigan has made some regulatory efforts to combat marketing marijuana products to youth. For example, edible marketing and packaging materials may not include cartoon characters or other images that may appeal to those under age 17.
Loveland and the Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition have been reaching out to the community to help educate people about cannabis use and its youth-related risks. For example, the coalition hands out locking bags that can be used for responsible cannabis storage.
“I’m proud to say that we’ve given out over 2,000 bags,” she said. “We want to reduce the access by our youth and (educate) their perception of risk when it comes to marijuana.”
“It’s really about educating at this point.”