Commentary: Young people must understand the risks of high-potency marijuana

I was pleased to see a recent editorial warn about the high potency of today’s marijuana (“Our View: We cannot be complacent about Maine youth cannabis use,” Feb 1).

At their present rate of growth, and taking into account the black market, marijuana sales in Maine will likely exceed $1 billion in the next two years. By Maine’s own survey, 41% of citizens use marijuana and half of that number use daily.

According to the same survey, 90% of the marijuana used in Maine is high potency, meaning it contains more than 10% tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive component of the plant. Before 2000, the average marijuana flower contained between 2% and 5% THC.

Today, Mainers can buy flower containing well over 20% THC. Distilled chemical concentrates in vapes, edibles and other forms can exceed 90% THC.

To learn more about today’s marijuana, I encourage you to watch the two new episodes of the documentary series “Voices of Hope,” airing on Maine Public on Feb. 16 and Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. In these episodes, you will meet Mainers who have been harmed by marijuana, including a Yarmouth High School senior who describes how easy access to marijuana has become a problem in our schools. It’s chilling to learn how easily an 18-year-old can acquire a “medical” marijuana card and get access to a product that, another young user quips, “is not my grandfather’s weed.”

You will learn that still developing brains make teens and young adults uniquely vulnerable to addiction.

According to one study, marijuana is more addictive than opioids that for teens and young adults, which makes it alarming that 66% of Maine teens believe marijuana is safe to use once or twice per week.

One justification for legalization was to reduce opioid deaths. But, in states like Maine, the opposite seems to be happening. Fatal overdoses are likely to continue because the first rung of the addiction ladder is often marijuana.

Watching the documentary, you will learn that Maine Health’s emergency departments treated more than 5,200 patients with a cannabis-related diagnosis in 2022. Twenty-six percent of those patients were under 18. Anxiety and depression in youth can be exacerbated and sometimes triggered by marijuana and is not cured by it. Suicidality can also increase in those who use high-potency marijuana.

Finally, you will learn that regular use of high-potency cannabis has been linked to psychosis, schizophrenia and violence. In 2017, the National Academy of Medicine reviewed 30 years of research and concluded: “… the association between cannabis use and development of a psychotic disorder is supported by data synthesized in several good-quality reviews.” NAM continued: “The magnitude of this association is moderate to large and appears to be dose dependent.”

Most of these facts are well known throughout the world. Other countries have done a better job of regulating both use and potency. Outside the U.S., per capita use rates are typically below 10%. Even a city like Amsterdam, renowned for its tolerant approach to cannabis use, has entertained limiting THC potency to 15%.

While at first glance a growing economy is appealing, addiction affects every aspect of society and enslaves far too many to a life of suffering and lost potential. Decades ago, tobacco executives discovered that young people are burdened with a unique propensity for addiction. It’s time for Maine to adopt strict regulatory controls on marijuana and not relive the past.


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