Now that adult use of recreational cannabis is legal in nine states and medical marijuana is legal in 30 states, we have seen a decrease in the perception of harm by teens and an increase in use on a national level. For example, 71% of high school seniors don't view marijuana use is harmful to them because it is seen as a "natural herb".
While teen drinking, smoking and drug use overall have been stable, the percentage of teens using marijuana is increasing nationally. Daily marijuana use now exceeds daily cigarette use among teens (this does not extend to vaping which is increasing as well.) See NIDA/University of Michigan Monitoring the Future study.
At the same time, cannabis has become far more potent and its negative effects on the developing teen brain have been well documented.
Adult use is different than teen use. Marijuana does not affect the developed adult brain to the same degree that it does in teens. Addiction rates are lower. Many adults find that smoking a joint is as enticing and enjoyable as casually sipping a glass of wine. Others
attest to the plant's medicinal properties: the MS patient who can move her limbs more freely or the parent of a child whose epilepsy seizures have been significantly curtailed.
For the majority of users, smoking marijuana is enjoyed in the mellow company of friends without causing any major problems. Most have neither crashed a car nor dropped out of school. None have suffered from the "reefer madness" caused by the "devil weed" as depicted in the alarmist film from 1936.
Yet marijuana is not a harmless drug for adolescents. It poses serious health risks in light of it's increasing high potency, impact on the teen brain, addiction potential and other physical and mental health risks. Regular marijuana use presents a significantly greater hazard for adolescents than adults, especially before they reach the age of 18. Marijuana can affect teens' personality and performance in school, sports and every area of their lives. For a discussion of the many serious health and other risks to adolescents, see this Blog.
New Study: Marijuana Causes Greater and Longer Lasting Damage to Teen Developing Brains Than Alcohol
Moreover, a new study just released has found the impact of cannabis on teens thinking skills (problem solving), memory (long term and short term) and behavior (ability to change behavior to pursue a goal) to be worse than that of alcohol. Marijuana had negative effects on all four areas while alcohol did not (although alcohol's effects may be greater in those who drink more later in life).
Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the study from the University of Montreal traced and tested 3,800 adolescents from 31 different Canadian schools over four years, starting from around the age of 13 years old. The lead study author said she expected alcohol to have more of an impact on the teenagers' brains. But instead the research detected greater increases in errors on cognitive tests by the teenagers using cannabis - while they were taking the drug and after they had stopped.
Of particular concern was the finding that cannabis use was associated with lasting effects on a measure of inhibitory control, which is a risk factor for other addictive behaviors, and might explain why early onset cannabis use is a risk factor for other additions.
The researchers concluded that teens should delay their use of cannabis for as long as possible. Click here to read the study.
Potency of Today’s Marijuana Continues to Increase Each Year
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the key active ingredient in marijuana that causes the high. It is found in the oil resin of the plant’s leaves and flowers. In the “old” days (from the ‘60’s through the ‘90’s), THC was at a 1-3% concentration (maybe 5% from some dealers). In the early
2000’s, the potency was as much as 8-10%. But in the last decade, there has been an explosion in cultivation techniques and technology resulting in genetic modifications and increased THC levels. Growers have increased the potency of marijuana in order to raise prices and gain profits.
Today it is not uncommon to see THC levels of up to 35%. The industry leader for 2017 (the Nova OG strain) was 35.6% THC and this year strains are likely to be even stronger. Examples of 2017's strongest strains from Nova OB to Pink Starburst to Chiquita Banana are discussed here. In sum, the marijuana that parents may have smoked “back in the day” is nothing like today’s weed. If marijuana were like alcohol, for some this increase in intoxication potential would be akin to going from drinking a “lite” beer a day to consuming a dozen shots of vodka.
By contrast, modern breeding techniques have resulted in the reduction of another active ingredient, cannabidiol (CBD) - a non-psychoactive chemical which is what holds promise as medicinal treatment. As THC levels have gone up, the levels of CBD, which is believed to counter the harmful effects of THC and act to protect the brain, have gone down.
Combining Nicotine and Marijuana: SPLIFFs
Combining Nicotine and Marijuana: Spliffs
Gaining in popularity is a “Spliff”which is a cigarette rolled with a mixture of tobacco and marijuana. This mixture produces its own high: tobacco increases the vaporization efficiency creating more available THC (the active ingredient of marijuana) so that the user feels the effects of marijuana more quickly. This results in a special kind of head rush with the tobacco stimulating adrenaline production. Needless to say, spliffs are highly addictive.
In legalized markets, the profit margins are very high for processed marijuana products while the price of marijuana has fallen sharply. Consequently, the market share of bud has fallen while the market share of THC infused edibles and THC concentrates continues to rise. The edible industry now comprises 45% of the legal marijuana market.
Edibles come in the form of infused baked goods (brownies, cookies and cake), candy (gummy bears and lollipops), and a bewildering array of other foodstuffs such as gelato, “Nutella,” “Pot Tarts,” popcorn products and “canna-olive oil.” Marijuana can also be infused into beverages such as multi-flavored sodas.
These foods and beverages can be especially potent and are attractive to kids and to those
who don’t like to smoke. Dosing is erratic and therefore the effects are unpredictable and can be dangerous. For example, with gummy bears, few kids are going to eat just the head off of one gummy bear - which can equal one dose (10 mg). Moreover, the effects of edibles are delayed so users tend to ingest more. Hospitalization rates have skyrocketed due to edibles being ingested by youth, some at very young ages and requiring intensive care. As a result, the Colorado Department of Public Health now wants to ban the majority of edibles on the basis that the industry violates laws against marketing to children.
Other New Products and Paraphernalia
New marijuana products and paraphernalia continue to proliferate in today's commercialized markets. One example is this inhaler that looks like an albuterol inhaler and delivers a dose of THC. Efforts are underway in Colorado to ban this product on the basis that products which look like medicine send a confusing message to kids.
Vaping with Marijuana
Additionally, vape pens, e-cigarettes and vaporizers (desktop and portable) enable users to not only inhale burning leaves, but also heated liquid marijuana concentrates and hash oil. Many teens prefer these pens and e-cigarettes because the smoke and odor generated are harder to detect, and the device itself may appear camouflaged. There are a multitude of personal vaping devices for marijuana: desk top vaporizers (which are not portable or discreet), portable vaporizers (which are usually small enough to fit in a pocket and are used for vaporizing dry herbs), vaporizer pens (mostly for wax and oil concentrates versus dry herbs) and e-cigarettes (mostly for vape juices). Vaping e-liquids (also known as tinctures) combine a flavor and a concentrate with pre-filled tincture cartridges. With less smell, vape liquids with THC are more discreet compared with burning herbs.
Pax Labs, the maker of JUULs, which have become so popular with adolescents, has a vape pen that looks similar to a JUUL and comes with cartridges of cannabis flavored oils named Nina Limone, Lavender Kush and Grapefruit OG. It is pictured to the left.
E-cigarettes also can easily be modified into an electronic pipe (e-blunt or e-joint). If dry herbs are used, a dry herb cartridge attachment is used. If vaping is in the form of THC concentrate
(hash oil, wax, budder, BHO, full-melts), a concentrate cartridge or a glass globe attachment is used.
Males and younger students are most likely to vaporize marijuana with e-cigarettes. According to a 2015 survey by Yale University published in Pediatrics, approximately 27% of high school e-cigarette users have used electronic devices for products containing THC (marijuana, honey oil, dabs, etc.). Dual use (of marijuana and tobacco) is common and initial use of any of these products increases the likelihood of future use of another.
As users develop a tolerance for THC, some may seek other drugs and bigger highs. Dabbing refers to the practice of inhaling the fumes of very strong concentrates of marijuana – usually waxes or butters – that have been heated. To make these concentrates,
butane is often used, which is highly flammable and can leave toxic solvents on the marijuana products that are being inhaled. These concentrates contain high levels of THC. Some waxes and butters are as much as 80-90% or more. Today's hash oils are typically 60% THC.
Concentrates are also known as Shatter, Wax, Earwax, Budder, Honeycomb, Honey Oil, Crumble Wax, Glob and Honey Buds. Click here to view a YouTube video demonstrating "How to Do Dabs" using a butane torch and dabbing "rig", courtesy of High Times.
Effect of Marijuana on Driving and Prevalence of Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence of marijuana is unsafe. Marijuana affects reaction time, short-term memory, hand-eye coordination, concentration and perception of time and distance. Studies show that drivers who used marijuana followed cars too closely (a sign of spatial distortion) and swerve in and out of lanes of traffic.
Yet a common misperception is that it is safe to drive high because stoned drivers are slower. Alarming rates of teen “designated drivers” abstain from alcohol but not from marijuana because of this erroneous perception. This video of Marin County, CA students discussing
how many drive under the influence of marijuana is powerful and provides an excellent opportunity to share and discuss the topic with your teens. Also read this student run newspaper article on teen attitudes on driving stoned.
In Oregon, nearly half of current marijuana using 11th graders who drive say they drove within three hours of using the drug. Driving under the influence of marijuana is not limited to teens. Nearly 70 percent of cannabis consumers said they’ve driven high in the past year. See this survey.
Health Effects and Other Risks to Teens from Marijuana Use
For a discussion of the many other risks to teens' health and quality of life, visit this Blog.
Stay tuned for our December Blog on alcohol, just in time for the holidays!