As more states are legalizing cannabis across the nation, more cannabis consumers are buying and consuming stronger cannabis, which is leading to more emergency room visits due to cannabis use.
Data from two studies found cannabis potency increased from about four percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1995 to about 12 percent THC in 2014, and in 2017, potency of illicit cannabis samples increased to 17.1 percent THC. Concentrated forms of cannabis can have as much as 80 to 90 percent THC.
“That’s an increase of more than 30 percent from 1995 to about 2017,” said Staci Gruber, director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) program at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Andrew Monte, an associate professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology at the University of Colorado’s school of medicine, has documented the rise in emergency rooms visits since cannabis was legalized in Colorado and found cyclical vomiting cases amounted to 18 percent of inhaled cannabis-related ER visits. “We’re seeing an increase in psychosis and hallucinations, as well as anxiety and even depression and suicidality,” said Monte, who thinks the increased potency of marijuana plays a role in all these cases.
While the negative side effects of high-potency cannabis have been highlighted, the demand for high potency products is still high, especially for medical cannabis patients, who prefer higher potency cannabis products. Research involving medical cannabis usually involves low doses of THC, lower than what is available in dispensaries. The demand for higher potency cannabidiol (CBD) products has increased as the market for CBD continues to expand, with the U.S. market estimated to reach $16 billion by 2025.
“I believe that CBD is the way that the broader market tiptoes into engaging with cannabis, and I believe that there are large segments of the population that can benefit from cannabis that do not necessarily desire the effects of high-THC products,” said Emily Paxhia, co-founder and managing partner at Poseidon Asset Management.