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Marijuana legislation needs regulatory teeth

October 8, 2015
by Julia Brown, Associate Editor
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Ben Cort and Anju Mader, MD

A discussion this week in Ohio on the lasting effects of marijuana use quickly turned into a different conversation altogether. Advocates, local families, educators, and industry professionals were concerned about how recreational marijuana policy has rolled out in Colorado. Ohio voters will decide on a marijuana bill this year.

“This is the Joe Camel of the 21st century,” said Ben Cort, business development manager for the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR), as he showed images of cartoon advertisements from dispensaries in his home state of Colorado. Cannabis potency is escalating in the state because commercial sale is legal but largely unregulated. "The legalization of it has nothing to do with decriminalization or social justice and everything to do with commercialization.”

He added that there are 28 full-time pro-cannabis lobbyists in Colorado. For those in Ohio, Cort advised demanding peer-reviewed, journal-published studies on the drug's effects and warned against falling subject to information with industry and governmental spins.

“The problem is that it’s an information campaign,” he said. “Ask kids and they’ll show you all the studies supporting why they should be using marijuana to prevent prostate cancer and so they don’t get mental illness. It’s up to the academics to say, 'Hold on, time out, are we doing what’s right for everyone here?’”

A different drug now

Average marijuana potency has tripled from 4% in 1995 to 12.5% in 2013, according to fellow presenter and local pediatrician Anju Mader, MD. Both Mader and Cort said that while a majority of the public believes that marijuana does not have addictive properties, one in 10 adults will become addicted to it. When marijuana is used in adolescence, the chance of dependence increases to one in six.  

“It all boils down to age of onset, frequency of use and potency,” Cort said. “The longer you push back on that, the lower the risk is.”   

While demonizing marijuana doesn’t necessarily work as a deterrent, he said parental and elder opinion has a significant impact on perceived risk, which is the single biggest predictor of youth use. Older generations need to abandon what they think they know about the substance, especially when 40% of all marijuana sold in Colorado this year was synthetic, Cort continued.  

For example, “dabbing,” or inhaling the vapors from concentrated marijuana made by an extraction method that uses butane gas, is becoming a popular trend and results in more potency because of its elevated concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“People in treatment that are using dabs present like they’re using synthetics or psychotics, like PCP,” Cort said. “That’s not ‘Reefer Madness,’ that’s real.”

The Lancet released a study earlier this year showing that daily use of high-potency marijuana (defined as having above 15% THC content) increased the chance of psychosis five-fold. Additionally, 24% of psychosis cases in the study group were caused by marijuana alone.

Packaged marijuana products are not being regulated in Colorado, Cort added. For example, even with 10 mg defined as the legal dose, there are liquid products on the market with 35 legal doses in a bottle, and even a "Hot Chocolate" marijuana product that contains 200 mg of THC.  

“This is a public health concern, and as professionals we have to take responsibility,” said Frances Gerbig, MPH, OCPS1, Health and Wellness Manager for the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Stark County, which hosted the event. “Use your voice and expertise to share your knowledge."

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