Today’s pot is stronger than ever. In the past, most products contained 1.5% THC. Now it’s not unusual to find over 90% THC in the cannabis you consume. While consumers may love more potent pot, regulators are struggling to keep up.
Read on to find out about the problems they are facing.
Issues with More Potent Pot
More potent pot may seem like a good thing to consumers. But it’s given rise to medical emergencies. Hundreds of thousands of people are ending up in the hospital with psychological disorders.
Experts are warning that a lack of regulation on more potent pot may be to blame.
“In many states, the products come with a warning label and potentially no other activity by regulators,” points out Cassin Coleman, vice chair of the scientific advisory committee of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
The federal government will not step in. Marijuana is still illegal on a federal level being categorized as a Schedule 1 drug with a high addiction tendency and little medical value. It’s up to the states to regulate purity, potency, and other characteristics.
The FDA “has sat on its hands and failed to honor its duty to protect the public health,” said Eric Lindblom, a scholar at Georgetown University Law School and past employee at the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.
More Potent Pot Over the Years
There is a need for increased regulation due to the more potent pot that’s being cultivated.
We are seeing a more potent pot across the boards. In 1980, the THC content in most confiscated marijuana products was around 1.5% Now it’s not unusual to see THC levels closer to 30% or 40%.
There are also concentrated products like oily, waxy, and crystalline that are dabbed and vaped with over 90% THC content. Some are even marketed as pure THC.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, high concentrations of THC pose greater risks of addiction. They are also more likely to produce mental disorders like paranoia, schizophrenia, anxiety, psychosis, and agitation.
A survey published by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that 5.8% of Americans 12 or older (about 16.3 million people) experienced a marijuana-related disorder in 2021. That number is much higher than the total substance abuse disorders involving heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, opioids, and prescription stimulants.
Most drugs are more dangerous than marijuana which mostly yields mild disorders. But about 1 in 7 people, about 2.6 million, have severe disorders.
Stanford psychiatrist and chair of an American Psychiatric Association council on addiction notes that marijuana addiction can be “devastating”.
“They’re in a place where they don’t know how they got there because it was just a joint, it was just cannabis, cannabis wasn’t supposed to be addictive for them,” she says.
Examples of cannabis-related disorders include “cannabis dependence with psychotic disorder with delusions” and cannabis hyperemesis syndrome which causes persistent vomiting.
A 2022 government study shows 800,000 people visited emergency rooms in 2021 for cannabis-related reasons.
State Regulation Issues with More Potent Pot
Some states are addressing issues of more potent pot by enforcing caps. Vermont and Connecticut have placed a cap of 30% on cannabis flowers and 60% on THC concentrates.
Other states cap the number of ounces or grams a consumer may buy.
Retailers in Texas cannot sell products that contain more than .5% THC by weight. In New Jersey, warning labels are placed on products with more than 40% THC declaring they may “increase your risk for psychosis.”
In Colorado, a state with 500 pages of regulatory rules, marijuana products must bear a label that reads, “This product was produced without regulatory oversight for health, safety, or efficacy.”
But coming up with the right regulations for a more potent pot may not be so simple. For example, warnings could simply serve to protect the marijuana industry from liability, a similar issue to what happened with tobacco companies for years.
Imposing caps on more potent pot could also make it difficult for some medical marijuana patients to get the dosage they need.
Some have argued that putting too many regulations in place could make it difficult for legal companies to compete with illegal ones.
The FDA Refuses to Step In on More Potent Pot Issues
More potent pot has caused considerable confusion on a state level. The FDA has been asked to step in multiple times since 2019. But they have remained on the sidelines when it comes to marijuana regulation.
The pot sold at dispensaries is not FDA-approved. The organization does not vouch for its safety or efficacy. It does not recommend a dosage. It does not inspect pot-producing facilities or mandate quality control.
It only recommends that manufacturers conduct clinical trials in pot approval processes.
The FDA website notes that THC is an active ingredient in two FDA-approved drugs. The acknowledgment puts marijuana under FDA jurisdiction.
The organization “has all the power it needs to regulate state-legalized cannabis products much more effectively,” Lindblom points out.
However, the organization may be guilty of passing the buck.
The FDA is not completely hands-off. It regulates CBD as well as a THC variant derived from hemp.
But when it comes to THC, it points users to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Many/most THC products meet the definition of marijuana, which is a controlled substance. The Drug Enforcement Administration regulates marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. We refer you to the Drug Enforcement Administration for questions about regulation and enforcement under the provisions of the CSA,” FDA spokesperson Courtney Rhodes wrote in an email.
Like the FDA, the DEA is not stepping up either.
“Thus far, the federal response to state actions to legalize marijuana has largely been to allow states to implement their laws on drugs,” A 2022 Congressional Research Service report states.
In the meantime, the federal government is making moves toward change. They are considering removing the drug from a Schedule 1 classification which would open doors for federal-level regulations.
In December 2022, President Biden signed a bill expanding research access so the federal agency could study its effects. Agencies have a year to find issues.
Some advocates are suggesting that the federal government play a more constructive role by having oversight over the labs that test cannabis products.
For the time being, Coleman points out that the states are “having to become the USDA + FDA +DEA all at the same time.”