As Marijuana Potency Rises, Addiction Follows With It | Hartford Health Care



July 27, 2022

Confusion about potency and its impact on marijuana users may be causing an increase in addiction. New research published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry shows that higher concentrates of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cause addiction in more people worldwide. While people who buy marijuana products at dispensaries can check labels showing THC content, those who buy on the street cannot determine the level of chemical they are getting. “The potency is growing year by year,” said J. Craig Allen, MD, vice president of addiction services for Hartford HealthCare and medical director of Rushford, part of the system’s Behavioral Health Network. “In dispensaries, higher potency products are big sellers.” The result of higher potency, the researchers noted, is that three in 10 Americans who use cannabis develop cannabis use disorder (CUD), and addiction rates worldwide increase fourfold. In Europe, there has been a 76% increase in the number of people entering treatment for CUD over the past decade. These statistics, Dr. Allen said, likely represent only the beginning of the problem. “As potency increases, the number of people developing CUD and related problems will also increase,” he said. “This is of particular concern if people are unaware of the risks or unaware that a product is very potent. Unknowingly, people quadruple their chances of getting a negative result. Increasing levels of THC in marijuana products not only fuels addiction, but also increases cases of cannabis-related psychiatric and physical disorders Generalized anxiety, panic and cannabis-induced psychotic disorders are on the rise, as well as cases of hyperemesis syndrome, which involves stomach pain and refractory vomiting.Godfrey Pearlson, MD, director of the Institute of Living’s Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, which is also part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, is not not surprised at the recent announcement of the research. “It was a prediction I made in my book ‘Weed Science’,” Dr Pearlson said of the book published in 20 21. Cannabis flower in a typical dispensary, he explained, typically contains around 30% THC, while cannabis concentrates such as shatters, dabs and waxes can contain over 90% THC. Consumers know that more potent products will make them more intoxicated, but are far less aware of the increased potential for addiction, he said. “If US states price cannabis in dispensaries by weight, as many states other than Connecticut do, it makes much more sense for consumers to purchase concentrates. Dollar for dollar, they get more for their money. Avoiding this scenario by pricing products based on their THC content is a more sensible way to go,” said Dr. Pearlson. This latter approach is how Connecticut created its dispensary pricing system, he added. At the recent annual conference of the Research Society on Marijuana in Boston, researchers from Olin presented two posters. Dr Shashwath Meda’s research has shown an increase in certain forms of driving behavior – skidding in the lanes, less decisive response when a vehicle in front brakes and taking longer to decide when to pass another vehicle – after an acute dose of cannabis. Each of these alterations was then linked to unique simultaneous alterations in brain activation patterns caused by marijuana discovered while the subjects were driving in virtual reality through an MRI scanner. A separate poster by Dr Krishna Pancholi and Michael Stevens also linked changes in subjects’ ability to estimate time after an acute dose of cannabis to changes in specific brain regions. Altered time perception is a well-known effect of cannabis, Dr. Pearlson said. To help curb the alarming increase in CUDs and the use of high-potency marijuana products, Dr. Allen suggested the creation and distribution of public service announcements that educate users about the risks of potency. marijuana. He also urged, in addition to selling products based on THC content, that state leaders consider limiting the potency levels of products allowed in state-regulated dispensaries.

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