Reefer Madness Redux: US-Netherlands Anti-Drug Accord

In today's Washington Post, Sam Coates reports that the U.S. and the Netherlands have reached an accord on dealing with "high potency marijuana."  U.S. Drug Czar John Walters and Dutch Health Minister Hans Hoogervorst have announced plans to hold a summit on the topic, despite the lack of any scientific evidence that "high potency marijuana" presents any real public health threat.  Its discouraging to see the Dutch government lend credence to one of the drug war's oldest and most ridiculous myths. Coates' claims that:

"The administration drug chief and his new best friend had bonded over a new high-potency form of marijuana, known as THC, because of its psychoactive ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol."

Apparently neither Coates nor the fact-checking team at the Post delved into the issue deeply enough to realize that THC is the active ingredient in ALL marijuana, not some new chemical produced only by hyper-potent plants.

Nor did Coates bother to question Walters' assertion that "highly potent marijuana" poses a "significantly greater problem."

The initial claim -- that marijuana in the Netherlands has become more potent -- is highly suspect, given that similar claims about marijuana in the U.S. have abounded for decades and have been largely discredited.

Further, there is no evidence that higher potency marijuana causes more health problems.  As anyone who has smoked marijuana knows, the more potent the marijuana, the less you need to smoke to achieve the desired effect.  The less you smoke, the less smoke you inhale, minimizing the negative health effects of the drug -- which are largely consistent with those associated with inhaling any burning vegetable matter.

The Australian government's National Task Force on Cannabis reached precisely this conclusion.  In a monograph published on the website of the government's Department of Health and Aging, Wayne Hall, Nadia Solowij and Jim Lemon write:

"it is not obvious that more potent forms of cannabis inevitably have more adverse effects on users' health than less potent forms. Indeed, it is conceivable that increased potency may have little or no adverse effect if users are able to titrate their dose to achieve the desired state of intoxication, as some have argued they do (e.g. Kleiman, 1992; Mikuyira and Aldrich, 1988). If users were able to titrate their dose, the use of more potent cannabis products would reduce the amount of cannabis material that was smoked, which would marginally reduce the risks of developing respiratory diseases.

"[ . . .]even if users do not titrate their dose of THC, (or if they do so inefficiently), any increase in the average dose received would not inevitably have an adverse impact on users' health. The effect would depend upon the type of health effect in question, and the relative experience of users."

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the Australian Department of Health and Aging will be invited to participate in next fall’s marijuana summit.

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About Sean Donahue

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Sean Donahue is a poet, healer, activist, and freelance journalist wandering through New England.