Buried in state data on marijuana is a sobering story about how Colorado kids have been exposed to increasingly high doses of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical, according to a new analysis.
The report from Smart Colorado, a nonprofit focused on limiting the harm to youth from marijuana commercialization, analyzes official Colorado data. It shows relatively unchanged youth marijuana use rates conceal a worrisome trend: More teens are using new, dramatically more potent products.
“Marijuana in post-legalization Colorado has changed significantly in both the potencies of products sold and the methods of use. The term ‘marijuana’ can encompass everything from mostly CBD, non-psychoactive extracts to almost pure, psychoactive THC distillates (commonly referred to as hash oil, wax or shatter) used with a vaporizer or a blow torch-heated delivery system commonly referred to as a dab rig,” notes the report, entitled Colorado Kids are Canaries in the Coal Mine of Marijuana Legalization.
The report offers insights for parents, educators, health providers and policymakers in states that have legalized or are considering legalizing marijuana.
Colorado has no limits on marijuana potency and has seen levels of THC steadily rise in commercial products. Those potency increases have been tracked in both traditional marijuana and concentrates, which make up an increasingly large share of the market. Some distilled products now exceed 90 percent THC.
There are also no limitations in Colorado on the types of marijuana products, which now include odorless powders, suppositories and an inhaler that closely resembles asthma medicine. Smart Colorado created THCphotos.org to provide high-quality, free-to-use photos of some of the radically new products available in Colorado’s recreational marijuana market.
“Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate these products. So if state or local regulators don’t ensure their safety there are no safeguards at all,” said O’Bryan. “Colorado’s outgunned regulators are always several steps behind the rapidly evolving marijuana market. One state official said they feel like they are chasing cheetahs with butterfly nets.”
Studies show that marijuana harms developing brains yet researchers haven’t been able to fully explore the effects of these new ultra-potent products.
The most recent Colorado survey of high school students who used marijuana in the past 30 days found that 20 percent vaped it, 35.6 percent ate it and 34.4 percent dabbed it. O’Bryan, a Smart Colorado co-founder, writes: “These kids are experiencing marijuana in a distilled form that is exponentially stronger than what their parents may have experienced in high school or college.”
Colorado youth are following the market trends. Colorado’s Marijuana Market Study found that demand for marijuana flower as a portion of sales has fallen every year since the recreational market opened in 2014, while concentrate market share has more than doubled.
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