Today’s Marijuana: Things Aren’t What They Used to Be

It is not a big surprise that, according to a University of Michigan study, marijuana use is at its highest level in 15 years and is easily available to today’s teens.

One thing that is now so well known is the dramatic difference between today’s marijuana and that used by earlier generations – and the very serious risks posed by this increased potency.

The Michigan study also shows that today’s teens don’t view marijuana as risky – and yet there has been a dramatic increase in the psychoactive components in 20 strains of cannabis available today compared to the marijuana of the 1960s and 1970s.

Here are the changes:

• Tetrahydrocannabinol in marijuana is 20% more potent than in 1994, according to High Times.
• Butane hash oil-enhanced marijuana may further increase THC concentrations to 80% and is easily available.
• Levels of cannabidiol, a chemical that reduces the high and protects against side effects (sleepiness, paranoia, memory impairment) are much lower in today’s cannabis.

Psychotic episodes high among teens

These chemical changes don’t just provide a quicker high. They greatly increase the risk of first psychotic episode emergencies by 25%. And studies show that exposure of the adolescent brain to this high-potency marijuana increases the lifetime risk of having psychosis.

Those who start smoking marijuana before their brains have matured have five times the risk of developing psychosis compared to a non-user; weekend users triple their risk. The risk of psychosis persists even if they stop smoking.

Also, those who start smoking before their brains mature have five times the risk of developing dependence compared to those who start later.

When does the brain mature? Women’s brains reach full maturity in their mid-20s; men’s brains mature a little later, so the risks persist long after high school.

Synthetic marijuana – even more dangerous

Synthetic marijuana, also known as spice, is easy to buy at gas stations, head shops, or online. Teens often think the mix is both natural and safe. While the plant material is entirely natural, the active ingredients are synthetic or designer cannabinoid compounds added to them. Some of the problems tied to synthetic marijuana are:

• In addition to elevated mood and relaxation, a higher percentage report psychotic effects including paranoia, intense anxiety and hallucinations.
• Not only are psychotic episodes more common while spice users are intoxicated, they may persist or occur after the high has passed.
• Individuals who experience psychosis as a result of synthetic marijuana may not respond to traditional antipsychotics.

The chemical additives are unregulated and change regularly, largely as a response to enforcement actions. Every time a spice formula becomes illegal, the designers change some part of structure so that it is no longer illegal. Every alteration in the composition changes the potency and effects.

These risks are prevalent throughout the U.S., which makes it imperative that parents and children become educated about the very serious hazards posed by today’s marijuana and synthetic marijuana.