High-Potency Marijuana Can Lead to Dangerous Behavior, Doctors Say

Many marijuana growers are trying to increase the content of the drug’s active ingredient, THC, as high as it will go, CNN reports. High-potency marijuana can lead to dangerous behavior, such as intoxicated driving, several experts say.

Generally, the most potent strains have a THC content of about 25 percent, the article notes. Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, who directs the lab at the University of Mississippi that tracks the potency of marijuana seized by federal law enforcement officers, says they have found marijuana with a potency of 37 percent. In 1972, the average THC potency was less than 1 percent. That rose to 3 to 4 percent in the 1990s, and is almost 13 percent today.

“You really have to be careful,” he said. “The danger of this high-potency material is not with the experienced marijuana smokers, but young people who really don’t know what they’re smoking. They don’t know what to expect, and before they know it, they’ve inhaled too much.”

Dr. Julie Holland, a New York psychiatrist, says certain behaviors, such as driving, can be deadly for a person who is acutely intoxicated from THC. “The risk is not that you’ll stop breathing or that you’ll die,” she says. “The risk is that you’ll become very altered and disoriented, and you can get anxious and panicky in that situation.”

Dr. Stuart Gitlow, President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, notes, “If you look at marijuana, the intensity has changed. So I would expect it to have a somewhat higher addictive potential.” He added, “ Most people are going to be fine, but there still will be that 10 percent of people who are going to get as high as they possibly can.”

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    Joe Miller

    August 21, 2013 at 2:36 AM

    James, interesting comment but just because the average potency of the confiscated cannabis tested during the earlier periods was low doesn’t mean the average quality of the cannabis actually consumed during the same period was low. Your conclusion that potent cannabis is more widely available now than then is an extrapolation of the data. The wider availability of cannabis concentrates back then is also not being considered in your conclusion on cannabis potency. Even if we were to assume the data did accurately reflect the potency of ingested cannabis back then (which in actuality it doesn’t, that conclusion is an extrapolation) it does not take into consideration the more commonly consumed potent cannabis concentrates used during the periods in question. Speaking anecdotally, I know of very few people back then including children under eighteen who were ingesting cannabis flowers that were not also ingesting hashish unlike today where concentrates are far less available on the black market in the United States. Just saying; if you’re going to try to use data to validate your argument, the data needs to actually validate your argument. And again, the point remains; we experience the same kinds of problems with people who are more accustomed to drinking beer and wine beverages who then consume distilled spirits as it relates to undesirable consequences while under the influence such as overdoses, unacceptable social behaviors, etc. Does that somehow legitimize the removal of distilled spirits from the legal market place and treating users and distributors as criminals? That is basically what we tried to do during alcohol prohibition. Beer and wine were generally available albeit via home brew and distilled spirits were illegal without a doctor’s recommendation. In a nutshell, the data simply does not support the stated conclusions on the average potency of the cannabis actually consumed. The instrument (research) used lack both validity and reliability particularly so as it relates to the conclusions being made. We do want to remain scientific in our conclusions don’t we?

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    James Matter

    August 19, 2013 at 6:16 PM

    The article states that the average potency has increased. Yes there was strong cannabis back then, but it’s more common now.

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    Joe Miller

    August 19, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    One is left wondering why they were analyzing only what was commonly referred to as dirt weed in the seventies and nineties. There were certainly much more potent varieties out there during those periods not to mention the wider availability of potent hashish (at least in the States). But really though, don’t we experience the same kinds of problems with people who are more accustomed to drinking beer and wine beverages who then consume distilled spirits?

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