A new study finds that states where marijuana is legal might face a health crisis if they don’t limit marijuana’s strength, which has increased as cannabis becomes more mainstream.
The study, conducted in the Netherlands, examined the level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) over a 16-year period. Researchers found that marijuana potency more than doubled between 2000 and 2004, followed by a spike in the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana-related problems.
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It found time-dependent associations between THC and first-time treatment entry at lags of zero to nine years, with the strongest association at five years.
According to the study:
The number of people entering specialist drug treatment for cannabis problems has risen considerably in recent years. Across Europe, there was a 53 percent increase in first-time clients between 2006 and 2014, and cannabis has now superseded opiates as the primary problem drug. These changes highlight a concerning increase in population markers of burden and morbidity attributable to cannabis.
Use of cannabis products with high-THC content has been linked to poor mental health and addiction. According to the study, a cross-sectional online survey found that use of cannabis with high-THC content was more strongly associated with cannabis dependence than lower potency forms of cannabis and that the association was found to be stronger in younger cannabis users.
The study finds that THC concentrations have risen considerably in the USA, UK and worldwide in recent decades:
For example, a study of illicit cannabis samples in the USA reported that THC concentrations rose from a mean of four percent in 1995 to 12 percent in 2014. More recently, a dramatic rise in potency was reported within two years of legal sales in Washington State, where extremely high-potency extracts (70 percent THC) now comprise around 20 percent of purchases.
The Post posits that both government can and should place limits on marijuana’s strength “just as it does other addictive products, thereby protecting public health as well as saving the taxpayer the future costs of treatment and other needed health-care services.” The study echoes that sentiment, concluding that in “a rapidly changing cannabis climate, it is essential that policy makers consider the effects of new legislation on cannabis potency and the incidence of cannabis-related harms.”