House Bill 1365 expanding the use of cannabidiol (CBD) products is a reasonable bill and should do nothing to promote the expansion of the marijuana industry, which is fundamentally about selling Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a dangerous and potentially addictive chemical. Hopefully, the news media will report on this distinction more responsibly rather than conflate these two under the umbrella of â€śmedical cannabis.â€ť
But HB 63 that would lower the penalties for marijuana possession raises the question, what has changed in the past four decades to warrant this liberalization? For one, the THC content of marijuana has gone from less than 4 perecent in 1980 to 15 percent or more today with the CBD component all but bred out. Devotees of the perceived benefits of â€śnaturalâ€ť products might be interested to know that if you could find a native plant somewhere in the rain forest, it would contain a balance of about 1 percent THC and 1 percent CBD.
We now know much more about the effects of THC on the human brain. The fact that most marijuana users donâ€™t become addicted to harder drugs isnâ€™t the point. Because most harder drug users did start with marijuana and early marijuana exposure does prime the pump for future addiction to it and other drugs â€” thatâ€™s what â€śgateway drugâ€ť means.
We also have stronger evidence from European studies that earlier, more frequent and more potent THC exposure is a causative agent in the development of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia â€” the most serious and expensive diagnosis in mental health. We now have evidence that marijuana use is associated with worse pain control and more opioid use in patients with chronic pain conditions and with an increase in suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in young people â€” two of our most serious epidemics.
An increase in costly emergency room visits, drugged driving crashes and violent crimes have been observed in the early legalization states. We know marijuana can cause psychotic symptoms, impair the executive functions required to operate a motor vehicle and induce users to have paranoid thoughts. More research is needed to see how much causation there is to this correlation.
Physicians sometimes hear that weâ€™re biased against pot because weâ€™re compensated by pharmaceutical companies (we arenâ€™t) or that weâ€™re afraid weâ€™ll lose patients. The reality is that expansion of marijuana use will stress our health care system where it is already weakest: addiction treatment, psychiatric care and pain management. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is right to be concerned, and unless such liberalizations are paired with a better public health education campaign on the known risks, the net result is likely to be negative for Texas, as it has been in other states.
The notion that Texas prisons are inhabited by low-level marijuana users is a myth, but reform of such laws isnâ€™t necessarily a bad thing. The real damage comes from the misinformation campaign that precedes these changes and the normalization and commercialization that could follow. These costs will be borne by all of us but will weigh heaviest on the most vulnerable of our citizens.
This wave of state experiments is approaching a mania. Itâ€™s as if there are 50 kids standing on the slope of a lakeside cliff wondering if the water is deep enough to jump in. Without even seeing if the first jumper comes back up for air, 10 more have followed in his wake. Letâ€™s pause before we follow like lemmings. The known risks are serious enough.
Poling is a family physician in College Station, a foster parent and a member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, learnaboutsam.org.