Rachel O’Bryan

Rachel O’Bryan

Eight years after recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the data show kids pay consequences when adults approve a commercialized marijuana market. 

Official state data released on Aug. 3 report an alarming increase in teen use of ultra-potent pot products in the form of dabs and vapes. 

More than half of students who use marijuana reported that they dab marijuana to get high. Among students who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, 52% dabbed it, up from 34.4% — a 50% increase, according to the latest bi-annual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of over 46,000 high school students.

“Dabbing” is a method of inhaling concentrated THC, the main high-inducing chemical in marijuana. (Go to our website THCphotos.org to see what concentrated THC in hash oil and shatter looks like.)

The survey also showed a 69% increase in students vaping marijuana between 2017 and 2019. Denver, the epicenter of commercialization in Colorado, likewise experienced dramatic increases in youth dabbing and vaping.

Unbelievably, youth are dabbing and vaping concentrated THC at almost three times the rate of Colorado adults, despite it being illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to use non-medical marijuana. 

The dabbing numbers equate to 10.7% of the overall high school population. This outpaces the 3.7% of adults 18 and older who dabbed THC concentrates, in 2017 and 2018, according to the official Colorado Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System. 

The same holds for vaping marijuana: Over 7% of high school students vape compared to only 4.8% of adults.

Clearly the marketing for these easily concealed high-THC products that has bombarded our kids for years is having its intended effects. 

These numbers are a tragedy unfolding before the eyes of the nation, once you understand the nature of dabbing, which has been compared to freebasing THC.

This is not a puff from a joint. Colorado and other legal states do not sell the relatively mild marijuana plant you may remember from your youth. 

A mere speck of concentrate can get someone high. Some concentrates can exceed 90% THC as documented in an official Colorado report and are made possible by lax regulation. 

In the early 1990s, average THC content in confiscated marijuana samples was less than 4%. But labs really got cooking after legalization. Marijuana potency increases have accelerated in the past decade as marijuana commercialization expanded and a variety of products proliferated, from powders to candies to drinks. 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment just completed an analysis of the health effects of THC concentration in Colorado’s legal market that warned that “it is clear that use of products with high concentrations of THC are [sic] associated with higher rates of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, psychosis and generalized anxiety.” 

Yet, due to the unwillingness of lawmakers to control this runaway industry, these ultra-potent pot products dominate the market and comprise 93% of products sold.

We have begged lawmakers to pay attention to potency for years because of the demonstrated risks to the growing brains of young people. 

This is why my colleague Diane Carlson applauded U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo for his insightful response to the proposed SAFE Banking Act. Last December, he applied the brakes and highlighted the lack of research on marijuana’s health effects, as well as a need to understand potency above 2% THC concentration and industry marketing tactics to kids.

This is why another colleague, Doug Robinson, discouraged the passage of any bill that would grant banking privileges to an uncontrolled industry or abdicate federal oversight of this immature industry that is threatening the welfare of kids.

Most importantly, this is why our organization, Smart Colorado, begins the next chapter in our efforts to educate parents, educators and policy makers. Our initiative, One Chance to Grow Up, will share with the nation what we learn in Colorado as the first nonprofit organization in the U.S. dedicated solely to protecting children in the age of legal marijuana.  

Marijuana legalization is a complex issue. It is vital that state and federal lawmakers heed the alarm bells sounding in states like Colorado. 

Rachel O’Bryan is a co-founder of One Chance to Grow Up, an initiative of Smart Colorado. Smart Colorado is a project of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center. To learn more please visit onechancetogrowup.org and smartcolorado.org

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