NORML Op-ed: Concerns Over High-Potency THC Products Warrant More Education, Not Criminalization

Those issuing dire warnings about the alleged dangers of so-called “high potency THC products” – and demanding that these products be re-criminalised – are drawing inspiration from an age-old playbook.

From the outset of criminal cannabis prohibition, advocates of criminalization have sought to rationalize their position by vastly exaggerating the supposed potency of marijuana. In the 1930s, while pushing for the first-ever federal prohibition on cannabis, Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Henry Anslinger testified before Congress that marijuana a century ago was so potent that it was “entirely the Hyde monster, whose harmful effects cannot be measured”. In the 1960s and 1970s, officials claimed that the so-called “Woodstock weed” had become so strong that smoking it permanently damage brain cells and, therefore, its mere possession had to be heavily criminalized in order to protect public health.

In an attempt to justify the marijuana crackdown of the 1980s, former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates has spoken out that advanced cultivation techniques had increased the potency of THC, the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient, to the point that “those who occasionally explode from the pot…should be removed and put down”. A few years later, in congressional hearings on toughening federal drug laws, Senator Joe Biden spoke publicly on the issue, notice, “It’s like comparing the buckshot in a shotgun shell to a laser-guided missile.”

In hindsight, it is obvious that each of the assertions of these previous generations was nothing more than hyperbole. Nonetheless, these sensational claims have had a lasting influence on marijuana policy – ​​in many cases, leading directly to harmful public policies that have unduly stigmatized and criminalized millions of citizens. The latest recycling of the “It’s not your parents’ potty” claim is no different.

Let’s face the facts. The availability of more potent cannabis products is not a new phenomenon. In fact, more potent cannabis products, like hashish, have always been available. Typically, when consumers encounter more potent products, they ingest lesser amounts. This process of self-regulation is known as self-titration.

Additionally, more potent THC products do not dominate legal state markets. In fact, most consumers tend to prefer and gravitate toward more moderate potency floral products, not concentrates.

This phenomenon should hardly come as a surprise. After all, the overwhelming majority of alcohol sales in this country consist of relatively weak beer, while less than ten percent of sales come from the purchase of distilled spirits. However, unlike hard liquor – which can easily cause death from an overdose if abused, but is nevertheless sold in “lethal quantities” in every liquor store in America – THC is incapable of causing an overdose. fatal overdose, regardless of potency or amount consumed.

That’s not to say that cannabis products can’t be overconsumed either. They can. But in such cases, consumers usually experience only temporary dysphoria (commonly known as a panic attack) – the effects of which wear off within hours. Nevertheless, in order to discourage overconsumption, most states regulate certain cannabis products, such as edibles, in single servings.

Reports of more serious side effects from consuming high potency products are relatively atypical. For example, Canadian researchers recently assessed marijuana-related hospitalizations among a cohort of over 23,000 patients authorized to access cannabis products. Specifically, investigators tracked cases where subjects were hospitalized due to either “cannabis poisoning” or “mental or behavioral disorders due to cannabis use.” During the trial, investigators reported that a total of 14 patients were hospitalized for problems related to cannabis toxicity and 26 were admitted for mental or behavioral disorders.

Ultimately, the proposed product bans will only perpetuate the unregulated market. Indeed, the prohibition of these products will result in their exclusively clandestine production and sale. This outcome undermines the main purpose of legalization, which is to disrupt and ultimately replace the underground market with a transparent and regulated market, in which products are tested for safety and are clearly labeled so consumers can make choices. enlightened.

Rather than reintroducing the criminalization of cannabis, regulators and other interested parties should seek to provide the public with more comprehensive safety information about the effects of more potent products, and they should continue to ensure that legal products are not not diverted to the youth market. Such actions will ultimately be far more productive than calling for a return to the failures of marijuana prohibition.

Additional information is available in NORML’s Marijuana and Potency Fact Sheet.

Helen D. Jessen