Legalized Recreational Marijuana. Just Because It’s Legal, Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe.

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Many people can reflect back on the 60s and 70s when marijuana was coming out of the shadows and – while still illegal — was being more commonly used by the generation coming of age then. It was part of the “hippie” culture, was becoming more mainstream in colleges, and eventually found its way down to younger and younger people interested in experimenting or getting “high”.

By late 2016, seven states (California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia had legalized recreational marijuana. As of today, ten states (with the addition of Alaska, Michigan, and Vermont) now allow recreational marijuana use.

Then and Now: It’s Not the Same Drug
In the 1960s, THC, the active ingredient that stimulates CB1 receptors resulting in the “high” of marijuana, was found in concentrations of approximately 1-2% percent. By the 1980s, higher THC concentrations of “sinsemilla” marijuana were being cultivated in places like Humboldt County, California and in Oregon. The THC levels then were approximately 4-6%.

girl lighting marijuana joint and holding guitar at home.

Today THC concentrations in medical and recreational marijuana generally range from 19-30%. In the quest to deliver ever-increasing potency (and, one would assume, marketability) extracts (“wax”, “dabs”) have THC concentrations of 85-95%! Edibles (candy, cookies, etc. containing THC) are often deceivingly packaged so that an apparent “serving size” is actually 300-400% of what is considered a “recreational” (5-10mg) dose.

It is important to keep in mind that it is this increase in THC concentration, and frequency of consumption, that generates greater risks. In my clinical practice, anecdotal evidence shows that cannabis, not alcohol, is now the “go-to” drug for adolescents! Many clients report the withdrawal symptoms noted below; some report instances of having passed out, a loss of touch with reality, extreme emotionality, feeling as if they were unable to move/paralyzed, and suffering extreme paranoia when using these products.

Some Sobering Facts
While lobbyists for the legalization of recreational marijuana are winning, the facts around the dangers of making this drug more freely accessible remain:

• Marijuana is addictive. Approximately 10% of people using marijuana will become addicted. In these users, dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal are evident just like with other drugs of abuse. Some withdrawal symptoms include extreme agitation, irritability, anger, sleeplessness, restlessness, inability to focus, etc. And there can be a strong compulsion to get and use this drug, despite adverse consequences.
• Studies have shown an 8% drop in IQ for regular, heavy users – stopping use does not return IQ to previously higher levels.
• Higher levels of THC have increased reported cases of psychosis (both temporary and permanent).
• Higher levels of THC (and synthetic cannabinoids) have increased cases of homicide, accidental death, seizures, flashbacks (hallucinogen persisting disorder) and uncontrollable vomiting (hyperemesis syndrome).
• There are approximately 2000 different chemicals produced by smoking marijuana: insecticide, fungus, rodenticide, and solvents are regularly found in confiscated marijuana.
• Increased levels of heart disease and cancer are noted in regular marijuana users.
• Fatal car crashes related to driving under the influence of marijuana have doubled.
• After legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado, emergency room visits tripled, poison control calls quintupled.

It’s Not Just Another Innocuous Fun Treat
People who suffer from or are vulnerable to addiction often rationalize the use of marijuana and cannabis products by stating, “But it’s a natural, God-given substance!”

Marijuana

Well… so are alcohol, opium, and arsenic! Add to that list the poison arrow tree frog along with botulinum toxin, the deadliest substance on Earth.

Parents, you should not be looking the other way – “Hey, a little pot is not a big deal.” It is. Ninety percent of adult addicts started their (any psychoactive substance) drug use before age 18. Only 4% started after age 21.

While it’s true marijuana will not kill you via overdose resulting in respiratory depression as heroin, opiates and alcohol may, it can easily kill you in many other ways – fast or slow.

If you have questions about this and other addiction-related topics, or if you have comments or ideas for subsequent articles, please contact me at shelley@livingfreehealth.org.

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Shelley Poerio is a Licensed Clinician, Master Addiction Counselor, Certified Fitness Trainer, and author of “Rebalancing the Addictive Mind: Beating Addiction with Exercise and Nutrition.” She is also the founder of Living Free Health & Fitness, a 501(c)(3) organization that helps people stay in recovery through counseling, education programs, lifestyle changes, and sober living. Shelley lives in Pahrump, NV and has been in active recovery since September 5, 2001. Casey Jones, MBA, is a consultant who has been a part of Living Free Health & Fitness since 2013. She has helped numerous emerging companies successfully achieve their goal to grow to better meet the needs of their customers and clients. Casey lives in Dallas, TX.

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