LISTEN: The Myths About Marijuana

In a KOGO News interview, Dr. Roneet Lev, an emergency room and addiction physician at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, discusses the myths about marijuana. Listen and get more information below.

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Alarming upticks in the use of marijuana by youth has many people concerned, but there are ways that local policymakers can safeguard public health and safety as they grapple with making it legal.

California’s legalization of adult recreational use of marijuana in 2016 is having an impact on adolescent use: According to the San Diego Association of Governments, 66% of juvenile arrestees said they were more likely to use marijuana after legalization in 2019 and in 2018, compared to 57% in 2017.

Results from the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) report that cannabis use was declining in recent years until leveling off in the most recent survey administered in 2017-2019. The survey researchers suggest that the destigmatization of cannabis due to legalization of adult recreational use may contribute to its flattening out.

The wide acceptance of the drug is also influencing polydrug use among youth. CHKS reports that students who used marijuana in the past 30 days of the survey also participated in alcohol use, binge drinking, non-medical prescription use, and vape/ e-cigarette use.

Youth and young adults are at a particular high risk for developing a substance use disorder when using cannabis and other substances. But being aware of all the risks and dangers of cannabis can help influence healthier behaviors.

One of the biggest myths about cannabis is that people think it is not addictive. “Perhaps people are thinking of 1970s marijuana that contained 3% THC,” said Dr. Lev. “Today’s marijuana is a genetically modified version that contains 30% THC or more. It’s a completely different plant and chemical.”

People also seem to think that you cannot die from marijuana. “Don’t tell Brian Wood’s father that marijuana does not kill. Brian was killed by a drugged driver high on marijuana,” explains Dr. Lev. She also cites several documented cases of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome in which excessive vomiting from marijuana use and addiction caused their electrolytes to become off balanced, resulting in death.

It is also a contributing factor to other types of fatalities. In San Diego a woman became psychotic from high potent marijuana products, causing her to walk into traffic and die. And in Colorado, an exchange student ate a marijuana-laced cookie and plummeted to his death off a balcony. “But you decide if you think marijuana is associated with or caused his death,” Dr. Lev said.

As we learn more about the effects of cannabis use, it’s more important than ever to prevent youth access to the drug. Policies that regulate cannabis and keep it away from youth help. Here are some suggested ways that San Diego municipalities can help:

1) Place a cap on the potency of cannabis.

2) Require older age limit on medical cannabis, above 18 years of age.

3) Expand the state’s current regulatory buffer of 600-foot radius around youth sensitive areas to 1,000 feet. Although this policy may end up pushing licensees into over concentrated neighborhoods, resulting in health equity concerns of those residents, planning tools are available to help cities mitigate some of those concerns.

4) Pass an adult-oriented business ordinance that would fund a full-time compliance officer to ensure that cannabis businesses are monitored to protect public health and safety.

5) Issue a conditional use permit (CUP) to each cannabis business, which engages community members, public health experts, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to provide input and place conditions on a license before one is issued.

6) Ban cannabis deliveries until the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) develops and implements a proper minor decoy program that ensures youth are not able to buy cannabis online and have it delivered.

7) Create a community benefits fee in which 5-10% of revenue is set aside so that police can fund their own minor decoy programs if the BCC is not able. The community benefits fee could also be used to fund prevention related activities like compliance checks and DWI stops.

8) Enlist pharmacies to alert patients of drug interactions between cannabis and prescriptions.

Concerned citizens can also hold their elected officials accountable by demanding that they participate in the regulatory process before and after a cannabis retailer is approved. Community members can ask to participate in an environmental scan with their county-funded, local substance use disorder (SUD) prevention provider to ensure a retailer is not located near youth-sensitive areas and high-crime neighborhoods. They can also conduct assessments to ensure that retailers are not selling to minors or offering cannabis products that are clearly marketed to youth. San Diegans are encouraged to contact any of the regional providers or substance use prevention initiatives for more information.

If you know someone who is struggling with cannabis or any other drug addiction and is seeking help please call the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at 888-724-7240 or visit the It’s Up 2 Us website for more resources.

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