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Virginia Health Experts: High-Potency Pot Could Harm Youths

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The THC content of marijuana has shot up dramatically since the 1960s, from 2% to 10%, according to health-care advocates. (Adobe stock)
The THC content of marijuana has shot up dramatically since the 1960s, from 2% to 10%, according to health-care advocates. (Adobe stock)
 By Diane Bernard - Producer, Contact
April 6, 2021

Correction: The Colorado General Assembly is still considering legislation to cap THC potency for marijuana products. An earlier version incorrectly said it was not.

RICHMOND, Va. -- As Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposes fast tracking marijuana legalization to July 1, health-care advocates are concerned high-potency cannabis products will harm the health of Virginians, particularly young people.

Jonathan Lee, medical director for addiction treatment facility the Farley Center in Williamsburg, said multiple studies show a link between high-potency marijuana and adverse reactions including anxiety disorders, depression and even psychotic episodes.

He said the National Institute on Drug Abuse finds 9% to 10% of people who use marijuana regularly will become physically dependent on it and experience withdrawal symptoms.

"This actually goes up dramatically when teenagers or young adolescents are using cannabis," Lee explained. "It goes up to about 17% of teenagers who use cannabis, particularly on a daily basis, will develop a substance-use disorder to cannabis."

He noted pot potency is much higher now than decades ago, and is concerned the impact of marijuana use today on Virginians will be worse than in the past, especially for young people whose brains are still developing.

Proponents of marijuana use say it helps with relaxation and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lee said Virginians need to be aware other hazards of marijuana products with high levels of THC, the main psychoactive part of cannabis, include dangers around small children eating cakes or candies made with the drug.

However, he thinks it's important to lower the potency to address those concerns but decriminalize marijuana so folks struggling with substance-abuse disorders aren't penalized and put into the criminal-justice system.

"The thought from the American Society of Addiction Medicine is that these people deserve to either have screenings looking to see if they might have other substance-use disorders including cannabis, and to have the education, prevention and treatment that should be available to the general population."

Four state legislatures are proposing state-level caps on potency levels of THC, including Florida, Massachusetts and Washington. A potential bill in Colorado never made it to the Legislature because it triggered a backlash with pro-marijuana advocates claiming caps can lead to a return to prohibition. But Colorado lawmakers are still discussing the issue.

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