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Today’s Marijuana: Much More Dangerous for Kids
We’re Smart Colorado, a parent-run nonprofit focused on protecting kids as marijuana and marijuana-derived products become increasingly commercialized. This compiles expert resources to inform parents and teens about the risks of today’s high-potency products.
Parents: You may have smoked pot when you were younger and you turned out OK. So what do you tell your teen?
Today’s marijuana is many times more potent than the weed you might remember. That means it presents much bigger risks to today’s kids.
Youth are at special risk of harm from marijuana because their brains are still developing until they’re 25, this state fact sheet explains.
But, despite huge increases in the potency of Colorado’s marijuana, fewer Colorado teens now see regular marijuana use as risky, according to the latest state survey of high school students.
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, explains Live Science. It quotes a doctor as saying: "Some of the side effects of THC include a decrease in IQ, memory and cognition, especially in younger people."
THC levels of marijuana have increased dramatically. Potency averaged about 3.8% THC in the early 1990s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Now concentrated forms of marijuana (like vapes and dabs) typically vary between 60-80 percent THC, although rates as high as 95 percent have been observed, according to state research.
Today’s marijuana doesn’t even look the same. Here are some marijuana products sold in Colorado’s recreational marijuana stores:
One popular way to use extremely potent marijuana is dabbing. Dabbers may use a blowtorch to heat highly concentrated THC. A report produced by Rocky Mountain PBS and aired on Denver’s 9News described the suicide of a young Colorado man who dabbed. Dr. Kari Franson, associate dean at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy, says dabbers are “getting 80, 90 percent THC in a concentrated oil.”
This intensive dose of THC has been associated with psychosis.
Children’s Hospital Colorado has seen a huge increase in teens who have used marijuana and need psychiatric evaluations, meaning they may be severely intoxicated or have attempted or discussed suicide, according to The Denver Post.
Pueblo Dr. Brad Roberts writes: “Patients are coming into the emergency department with a variety of unexpected problems such as marijuana-induced psychosis.” He adds: "I watched one of my colleagues and several security guards restrain a psychotic teenage girl who was reportedly ‘dabbing’.... A short time later, a young adult male came in, having reportedly tried to hang himself three times. He stated that he had been smoking marijuana ‘all day, every day.’ He was ‘seeing ghosts’ that told him to kill himself.” See interviews with Dr. Roberts here.
Besides THC, the other chemical in marijuana that gets a lot of attention is cannabidiol (CBD). Evolving research suggests that products that are high in CBD and have low to no THC may have medical benefits, including as a treatment for epilepsy. But higher-THC products have been shown to damage developing brains. This is an important distinction for parents and teens to understand.
Clockwise from top: coffee with THC, 74% THC butane hash oil syringe, 73% THC shatter, THC-infused breath mints, THC-infused brownie, 22% THC bud, e-cigarette with THC, THC-infused lollipop. For more photos of today’s highly potent marijuana products visit THCphotos.org.
Dabbing is an increasingly popular way to smoke ultra-potent marijuana. With a blowtorch and nearly pure THC, it's a far cry from the relatively low-THC joints of earlier decades. Hear from a Colorado high school student, his mother, a prosecutor and an adolescent addiction specialist in this video.
Raising the Risks: Learn about Colorado’s ultra-potent pot.
Dabbing raises the stakes for high-potency pot
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4 things you can do today to keep teens safe:
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Smart Colorado is a project of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center