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This is not your grandfather’s reefer. With most cannabis on the legal market testing between 15-20% THC — more than 300% higher than the average bud in the mid 1990s — and concentrated or distilled oils selling big across the country, weed is stronger than ever and only getting stronger. But while most cannabis consumers have lauded the agricultural and scientific evolutions, a number of health experts and researchers are not nearly as impressed.
According to a new report from NPR, university researchers, emergency room doctors, and professors are drawing attention to what they say are relatively-unknown and generally-ignored issues surrounding the steadily-increasing average potency of both legal and black market pot products.
"In general, people think, 'Oh, I don't have to worry about marijuana. It's a safe drug,'" Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told NPR. "The notion that it is completely safe drug is incorrect when you start to address the consequences of this very high content of THC."
What are those consequences exactly? For Andrew Monte, an associate professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology at the University of Colorado's school of medicine, the biggest worry is cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, an ailment which causes longtime, heavy cannabis users to feel severe stomach pain and continually vomit. Monte also noted that the CU emergency room has seen an increase in “psychosis and hallucinations, as well as anxiety and even depression and suicidality” that he also associates with high potency pot.
"Whenever you have a higher dose of one of these types of drugs, the patient is at a higher risk of having an adverse drug event,” Monte told NPR. “If the concentration is so much higher... it's much easier to overshoot the low-level high that they're looking for."
But while those stories are certainly alarming, and something to consider for any heavy cannabis users experiencing health scares, the truth of the matter is that the majority of marijuana smokers will never end up in the hospital vomiting uncontrollably or experience psychotic hallucinations, no matter how strong their weed is. CU’s Monte readily admitted as much.
"Many many people use cannabis safely," Monte said. "The vast majority don't end up in our emergency department."
Of course, accounts of non-stop vomiting, exacerbated mental health issues, and other ailments that are potentially cannabis-related are certainly worth researching. But without long-term, standardized clinical research into the effects of concentrated THC on the human body, any conclusive notions about high potency cannabis are misleading at best. And without considering the centuries-old popularity of hashish and other cannabis concentrates, the warnings begin to ring a little hollow.
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