Rachel OBryan

A Colorado committee recently considered how to regulate a new generation of marijuana-based products that illustrate just how far commercialization has extended since the comparatively innocent days before the legalization of recreational marijuana.

The official state work group considered what to do about radically new ways to deliver intense amounts of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. These new products can be delivered rectally, nasally, vaginally or squirted into the eye to reach the bloodstream faster and deliver a quicker high.

At the public hearing, a state regulator compared trying to keep up with the continuously innovating marijuana industry to chasing cheetahs with butterfly nets.

This is the brave new world facing not just state officials but also today’s teens and their parents, who may recall passing around thin, relatively low-THC joints in the pre-legalization era. Even a marijuana proponent is sounding the alarm.

A doctor whom Denver’s Westword newspaper called “among the country’s best-known and most respected advocates on behalf of medical marijuana” told the alternative weekly that he supports a ban on powerful THC concentrates.

Dr. Rav Ivker told Westword: “The only thing they’re good for is getting really high. But they’re high-risk, and there’s really no benefit from them.”

These ultra high-THC products have contributed to a spike in marijuana addiction.

The Washington Post wrote: “In the public health and medical communities, it is a well-defined disorder that includes physical withdrawal symptoms, cravings and psychological dependence.”

Ivker told Westword the addiction problem has been exacerbated by distillates like “shatter” and “wax,” which can be almost pure THC.

He added that the people “who are most attracted to these products happen to be adolescents and young adults — people in their twenties. And even more concerning than the addiction problem is the fact that our brains are still developing until we’re in our mid-to-late twenties. The THC affects brain function and can create a higher risk of schizophrenia, and that’s really awful.

We’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of young people developing schizophrenia from the daily use of cannabis.”

Like other physicians, Ivker highlights the important distinction between THC, which makes users high, and CBD, which is also found in marijuana but doesn’t make users stoned. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a CBD-based drug for the treatment of rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

But these distinctions are often lost on Colorado teens, who are decreasingly likely to see marijuana as harmful, according to a state survey. Parents also may have trouble navigating this complex educational challenge in a culture where marijuana is celebrated for a wide range of unproven benefits and marketed aggressively.

Parents may additionally find it difficult to spot today’s pot, which also comes in powders, sweets and forms that can be vaped. Adults have to be able look beyond the telltale leaf, smell, bongs and pipes that once were a giveaway.

That’s one reason why we’ve created THCphotos.org, an online gallery, to help the media and others accurately depict today’s marijuana products.

Website visitors are encouraged to use the free, downloadable photographs when reporting on or educating about commercialized marijuana. We purchased all the products depicted at Colorado dispensaries.

The website is designed to allow parents, educators and other adults to understand the reality of high-potency products derived from marijuana so they can protect kids whose growing brains are at great risk.

Whether they know it or not, today’s teens are counting on us to get this right.

Rachel O’Bryan is a co-founder of and advisor to Smart Colorado (smartcolorado.org), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Colorado youth.

Rachel O’Bryan is a co-founder of and advisor to Smart Colorado (smartcolorado.org), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Colorado youth.

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