Peter Droege

Peter Droege

The marijuana industry in Colorado is putting youth at risk by making high-potency marijuana concentrates available in pods for vaping devices that are easily be concealed at home and in schools.

Unlike “Woodstock weed,” which contained between 4-12 percent THC (compound that produces the “high”), today’s marijuana buds can contain 20-30 percent THC or more.

High-potency weed is one thing, but public health and safety are being put at risk by a highly-refined form of THC known as “concentrates” commonly known as wax, dabs, shatter, black glass, 710 (the word “oil” turned upside down), and others.

The Drug Enforcement Agency recently reported that these “concentrates” can contain as much as 99 percent THC, a dangerous level for most people, but especially harmful for the developing brains of youth.

Consuming concentrates once required using a butane torch to super-heat a “skillet” on a specialized bong or “rig” where the concentrate is placed and smoked.” Because of the equipment required, a relatively small percentage of Coloradoans, especially youth, have been exposed to this risky form of drug-use.

All of that has changed with the emergence of “vapes” or “Juuls,” that are widely available in gas stations and retail stores across the front range. With the appearance of a small computer flash drive, these devices are used to vaporize nicotine as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, but they are growing in popularity as a way to consume marijuana.

Ask a teacher or school administrator about the epidemic of vaping. Because they produce no odor or visible “smoke,” students are able to take a quick “rip” in school bathrooms, hallways, or even classrooms when the teacher turns his or her back.

Vape “pods” containing marijuana concentrates are now available at dispensaries. Colorado reports, “You can purchase disposable concentrate cartridges at many dispensaries specially designed to attach to portable vaporizers — known as vape pens. Vaporizers are specifically manufactured to heat THC to the optimal vaporization point so you can experience the purest high without unnecessary waste or toxins.”

Why is this an issue? Among the many studies that have reported the negative impact that using marijuana has on the developing teenage brain is a 2013 study by the Northwestern School of Medicine that showed that “teens who smoked marijuana daily for three years had abnormal changes in their brain structure” that impacted memory and cognitive ability that persisted even after the young person quit using the drug.

In addition, a recent study by the National Institute for Health urges physicians to become educated about the connection between high-potency concentrates and “cannabis-induced psychosis,” especially among those who may be at risk for depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

When Canada approved recreational marijuana on October 17, 2018, the law explicitly banned marijuana concentrates consumed in “vape pens.” Colorado lawmakers should follow this example and ban the use of concentrates, especially in vape pods. The health and safety of our youth depends on it.

Peter Droege is the Fellow of Addiction Policy for the Centennial Institute.

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