AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
On Tuesday, two more states, Maryland and Missouri, voted to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults over the age of 21, bringing the total number of states to legalize weed to 21. But while public opinion has clearly turned in favor of legalized recreational marijuana use, there are still major concerns about the long-term health effects, particularly as modern science develops ever-more potent strains of the plant.
While the push to legalize marijuana began with deep-blue coastal states more than a decade ago, it has now spread throughout the country and even to deep red states like Montana and now Missouri. Although states like Arkansas also rejected marijuana ballot initiatives on Tuesday, the pro-legalization movement clearly has momentum. According to an October Politico poll, “3 in 5 voters say marijuana should be legal nationwide.” That number includes 47% of Republicans, compared to 41% who oppose legalization.
Proponents of legal recreational use have argued that cannabis is safer than cigarettes or alcohol, and therefore should not be viewed the same as other hard drugs. For decades, popular culture and the mainstream media have romanticized marijuana use, portraying it as a rite-of-passage of sorts for American youth.
Democrats, meanwhile, have insisted that marijuana must be legalized and all prior criminal charges for possession or sale dropped. In October, President Joe Biden answered that call by overturning “all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.” Progressives hailed the decision as an essential step toward “deincarceration” and “equitable” justice.
In a rare collaboration, some Republicans have even joined with progressive activists in arguing that cannabis could be America’s next “cash crop” and become a vital source of revenue for the government. In 2021, states reported a total of $10.4 billion in tax revenue from marijuana sales.
But despite the apparently broad wave of bipartisan support for legalized pot use, there are still a number of troubling questions about the drug that neither politicians nor the pharmaceutical companies who are eager to get into the cannabis game have been willing to answer.
Most importantly, medical experts still don’t know the long-term effects of new ultra-potent strands of marijuana that have been developed in recent years. Cannabis derives its effects largely from Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a chemical compound which activates the brain’s reward system. According to scientific studies, when pot first became popular in the 1960s, it was less than 2 percent THC. By the 90s, it was closer to 5 percent. Today, many strains contain more than 20 percent THC, and some are as high as 34 percent.
Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry has developed methods of separating THC from marijuana and creating a medley of new cannabis-based products with entirely unknown side effects. Young people don’t even need to “smoke” marijuana to get high anymore. Gummies, “edibles,” and wax products are all readily available in multiple states across the country. Some of these products have a THC potency as high as 80 percent, while others are over 99 percent.
So, while it might be true that low-potency strands of marijuana are indeed less harmful than heavy alcohol or cigarette use, medical experts have little data on the long-term effects of high-THC plants and products. The Daily Signal reported last month that in Colorado, doctors have started receiving patients with pot-induced psychosis, and what one doctor described as “the worst delusions I have ever seen.”
Psychosis and hallucinations from high-potency THC products increasingly appears to be the dirty little secret that the marijuana lobby doesn’t want Americans to know. All the way back in 2008, a study found that 35 percent of teenagers using high-potency marijuana “experience psychotic symptoms.” This study also found that “cannabis has by far the highest conversion rate to schizophrenia of any substance—higher than meth, higher than opioids, higher than LSD.” As cannabis and cannabis derivatives only grow more potent, these alarming trends are likely to continue.
Some have posited that marijuana legalization is one of the major reasons that many of America’s cities appear to be increasingly taken over by people experiencing psychotic breaks. One recent report in the New York Post stated that Emergency Rooms in San Diego now see 37 cannabis-related cases a day, most of them diagnosed with psychosis. An ER doctor interviewed by the Post said, “When I started in the 1990s, there was no such thing.”
There is more than sufficient evidence to, at minimum, caution people against regular marijuana use and strictly regulate what type of weed products can be sold. But doing so will go against decades of relentless activism on the part of Democrats and the mainstream media. Millions of Americans are now convinced that marijuana, even high potency marijuana, is completely safe. From 2019-2020, the number of pregnant women who reported using marijuana while pregnant increased by almost thirty percent.
Dr. Libby Stuyrt, a Colorado doctor who has treated dozens of patients for THC-induced psychosis, believes many misconceptions about marijuana come from the assertion that marijuana is “medicine.” She has stated that high-potency THC “has not been studied as medicine. But because it’s allowed to be heavily marketed and advertised as medicine, people believe it’s safe.”
She also notes that some of the most prominent players in the pharmaceutical industry are investing heavily in cannabis. In 2016, pharmaceutical executive John Stewart announced he had founded Emblem, a marijuana company aimed at producing the drug for medical uses. Before this, he was a senior executive at Perdue Pharma, the infamous manufacturer of oxycontin, the opiate responsible for the death of millions of Americans from addiction. Late last year, Pfizer also announced it was “entering the medicinal cannabis market” by spending $6.7 billion to acquire Arena Pharmaceuticals, a major player in the marijuana industry.
Sadly, with such relentless marketing, softening state laws, and Biden’s recent actions, the normalization of high-potency cannabis will likely continue for years. It took decades, thousands of lawsuits, and millions of ruined lives to awaken Americans to the risks of opioids—and even now, the epidemic remains with us. Now, Americans who care about the health of the country may have a new and even more politically difficult battle on their hands.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.
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