Opinion
March 27, 2015

The high cost of a potent drug

Today’s pot is stronger

Dear Editor,

Today’s pot is much more potent than people realize. Combine a much more potent and dangerous drug with the enhanced delivery methods available today–edibles, vapor pens, oil extracts–and the discussion about legalizing marijuana for recreational use takes on a much darker and troubling tinge.

Many people tried marijuana in their high school or college years but then gave it up when they graduated, got jobs, got married, and settled into the demands of daily adult life. Their experience using pot was often pleasant, or at least not bad, and it is through this lens that many view the safety of marijuana today. What people don’t realize is that today’s pot is much stronger than the substance they tried as teens and young adults. In fact, the average marijuana available today is at least four times more potent than the pot many experimented with. Depending on a person’s age, today’s pot could be 12 times stronger than the substance they sampled in their youth.

Marijuana potency is determined by measuring its primary psychoactive chemical, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. The marijuana available in the 1960s had an average potency of 1 percent THC. By 1980, the potency had increased to just over 3 percent, and by the mid 1990s to just under 4 percent. From then until 2007, the potency of marijuana doubled to 8 percent THC, and then it jumped to 12 percent in 2012. Thus, the “new normal” for pot potency is on average 12 times stronger than 40 years ago.

Hash and the oils extracted to put into edibles and e-cigarettes are even higher, having potencies that range from 15 percent up to almost 30 percent THC.

In addition, the methods people use to get the marijuana into their system has changed over the years. While many remember joints being passed around and the hit-or-miss effects of homemade pot brownies, today’s technology means that just one charge of a vapor pen has enough THC for 80 potent hits. Manufacturers of marijuana edibles are able to produce smaller bits of candy with more concentrated THC levels than ever before.

Stronger dope does not necessarily mean a better high, and it certainly does not mean fewer consequences.

There is much scientific research left to do, but it is growing more and more clear that there are serious, negative effects from using today’s marijuana. And all of these effects are dose- dependent: a stronger dose causes a stronger effect. Stronger marijuana will more likely cause not only more traffic accidents, but also more cases of addiction and mental illness, more teenagers dropping out of school, more adults with memory and motivation problems–more of all of the negative effects.

This is the marijuana we are dealing with today, and, unfortunately, people aren’t settling for just one hit.

Debby Haskins is executive director for SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) for the Vt. branch of the volunteer organization.

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