More research links potent marijuana to psychosis

Back in March, we looked at some statistics out of Great Britain suggesting that incidents of psychosis were anywhere from three to five times higher among regular consumers of THC than in the general population. That study came with a few caveats, suggesting that more research would be required to nail down precisely what was going on. But now that pot has been legal in Colorado and Washington state for a few years, additional troubling statistics are cropping up. It’s particularly problematic with teens, who are not supposed to be able to buy THC products but seem to be getting their hands on them easily. Mental health professionals are seeing more medical issues arising and they blame it on the high concentrations of THC in edibles and vaping compounds. (Washington Post)

With some marijuana products averaging 68 percent THC — exponentially greater than the pot baby boomers once smoked — calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms have risen. In the Denver area, visits to Children’s Hospital Colorado facilities for treatment of cyclic vomiting, paranoia, psychosis and other acute cannabis-related symptoms jumped to 777 in 2015, from 161 in 2005.

The increase was most notable in the years following legalization of medical sales in 2009 and retail use in 2014, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health published in 2018.

“Horrible things are happening to kids,” said psychiatrist Libby Stuyt, who treats teens in southwestern Colorado and has studied the health impacts of high-potency marijuana. “I see increased problems with psychosis, with addiction, with suicide, with depression and anxiety.”

I was already beginning to have my doubts about this, but the more research we see coming out, the more I wonder if I missed the boat on the issue entirely. For a long time, I held a rather laissez-faire attitude toward pot legalization, but then I’m a boomer who grew up in the sixties and seventies. While my own understanding was totally anecdotal, I don’t recall ever hearing about people becoming addicted to marijuana (though it can certainly turn into a habit) and the health effects appeared to be minimal at best. Of course, if you turned into a stoner who sat around getting high all day, you probably weren’t going to be able to get a job or make much of your life, but that’s just the consequences of your own choices, right?

Now, however, things seem to have changed. I had no idea that the concentrations of THC in some of these products were more than 60%. Most of the skunk weed that was floating around back in the day would barely get people stoned (or so I’ve heard… ahem). I’m guessing that the concentrations were only a tiny fraction of what we’re seeing now. So while I’m not a doctor and claim no medical expertise in this field, it seems obvious that if you upgrade the concentration of any drug to a sufficient level, the effects on the human body, including the brain, are going to be amplified as well.

People being regularly treated for “cyclic vomiting, paranoia, psychosis, and other acute cannabis-related symptoms” on a regular basis should be enough to give us pause. It’s not as if we don’t already have enough problems with mental illness, depression, and suicide in this country. We don’t need to be breeding an entire generation of kids that wind up being even more susceptible. As I said above, I haven’t traditionally been an opponent of marijuana legalization, and I still think there are probably some useful pain relief applications for medical marijuana, but I’m beginning to believe legalization for recreational use might have been rushed through too quickly.