With marijuana now legal in several states for medical and recreational use, it becomes increasingly important to consider the higher-than-ever potency of today’s cannabis. Many critics of marijuana legalization cite health concerns and addiction rates, especially among young people, as the major issues with making this drug legal and readily available. Among the Hispanic population in the U.S., as with other racial groups, marijuana is the most used illicit substance. Understanding this drug’s changing potency and how it affects users is more important than ever.
Marijuana and the Cannabinoids
Marijuana is a natural drug. It comes from the cannabis plant, and the compounds in the plant that make it a mind-altering drug are called cannabinoids. There are hundreds of these compounds found in cannabis, but the main one, the one that causes people to get high when they smoke it, is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. THC is the compound that medical researchers have been most interested in and which has become more concentrated in marijuana over the last few decades. THC and other cannabinoids may have some positive benefits in medicine, but they have their downsides, too. Receptors in the brain that cannabinoids target are associated with memory, concentration, perception of time and pleasure. When used regularly, especially by young adults, THC can impair thinking and memory. This impairment can be lifelong. Researchers have even documented significant IQ losses in young marijuana users.
Rising Potency of Marijuana
Although more research is needed, it stands to reason that the greater the concentration of THC in marijuana, the more harm it can do to young users. What studies have told us for sure is that concentration has been going up, by a lot. According to the University of Mississippi, which is home to the Potency Monitoring program, the average potency of the drug has risen from just over 3 percent in 1993 to 12 percent in 2012. This is a significant increase for average potency, but the researchers have seen individual samples in recent years with concentrations of THC as high as 36 percent. Legal sellers of marijuana in Colorado say that customer demand is a main driving influence causing potency to increase. Consumers come in to pot shops asking for the strongest product available. Those growing and developing the product are responding by creating varieties of the cannabis plant with extra-high potency. Competition to create the strongest pot is driving the increase even more.
The Dangers of Super Weed
Unsurprisingly, there are some serious risks with substance abuse and with using this highly concentrated product. All of the effects of marijuana, such as poor coordination, slow reaction time, increased heart rate, paranoia and anxiety to name a few, are intensified when THC concentration is so high. One of the biggest dangers with high-potency marijuana, say experts, is dangerous behavior. Accidents due to increased impairment will be more likely. Another big issue is with inexperienced marijuana users. With pot becoming legal in several states, people who have never used the drug before, or rarely used it, are now trying it. They are not familiar with the high and if they use a high-potency product, they could be in trouble. This problem is especially an issue for young people. Concentrated pot could cause them to have more accidents and do more permanent damage to their developing brains. The increased potency of marijuana is a reality and one that we all need to face. It is especially crucial for parents of teens to know what kinds of products are available and that their kids could be getting their hands on them. Education is important so that we can all make better choices.