THE "POTENT POT" MYTH
Recently, the media have repeated dire warnings about alleged "super pot."
In an attempt to frighten parents who may have dabbled in their day, our
government claims that new strains of potent marijuana are far more
dangerous than the innocuous grass of the 1960s or '70s.
Many media reports repeat these claims uncritically. For example, a July 19
Reuters story warned, "Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the 1960s and
may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin."
Such claims are utter nonsense, and may create more harm than good.
First, high-potency marijuana has always existed. The average potency has
increased slightly, but only because higher-potency marijuana has become a
little more common. It is not a new phenomenon.
Second, there is precisely zero evidence that marijuana with a higher level
of THC -- the component that produces the "high" -- is more
dangerous. Indeed, a close look at the news accounts shows that claims of
greater danger are based on speculation piled on top of conjecture.
To put this in perspective, the average potency of marijuana that that has
fueled this fire is seven percent THC. This is the marijuana that White
House Drug Czar John Walters warns is horribly dangerous because of its
super-strength. In contrast, Dutch government standards require medical
marijuana sold in pharmacies in the Netherlands to be more than twice that
strong. So a country where teens are actually less likely to use cocaine
and heroin than in the U.S. wouldn't even use our marijuana to heal their
sick. A recent report from the European Union noted that "a slight upward
trend" in potency means little because the potency of U.S. marijuana "was
very low by European standards."
Third, unlike the speculative claims of increased danger, peer-reviewed
scientific data show that higher potency marijuana reduces health
risks. Just as with alcohol, people who smoke marijuana generally consume
until they reach the desired effect, then stop. So people who smoke more
potent marijuana smoke less -- the same way most drinkers consume a smaller
amount of vodka than they would of beer -- and incur less chance of
smoking-related damage to their lungs.
Official warnings about "super pot" often accompany claims that huge
numbers of teens are in treatment for marijuana "dependence and abuse," and
that those numbers have risen dramatically. Such claims are utterly
misleading. According to the U.S. government's own statistics, most teens
in marijuana treatment are there because they were arrested, not because of
actual evidence of abuse or dependence. Virtually all of the vaunted
increase in marijuana treatment admissions stems from these arrests.
So, we arrest kids for smoking marijuana, force them into treatment, and
then use those treatment admissions as "proof" that marijuana is addictive.
Somewhere, George Orwell is smiling.
This wave of marijuana treatment has nothing to do with actual
dependence. According to the latest government report on drug treatment,
called the Treatment Episode Data Set, more than a third of these marijuana
"abusers" did not use marijuana at all in the month prior to
admission. Another 16.1 percent used it three times or less.
So more than half of marijuana "abusers" used marijuana three times or less
in the month prior to entering treatment -- and this, we are told, is proof
that we must be fearful of highly addictive "super pot"!
There is a real story here, but it's not about the dire effects of potent
marijuana. The real story is the misuse of science by government officials
seeking to justify current policies and hold onto their jobs. The
administration's misuse of science in this area is, if anything, more
blatant than in fields that have generated far more controversy, such as
And with the administration now talking openly about shifting prevention
and law enforcement resources toward marijuana and away from drugs like
heroin and cocaine, which actually kill, this dishonesty is putting
America's young people at risk.