Marijuana users searching for bigger highs may start injecting THC, doctor fears
As a member of the Amendment 64 task force who is deeply troubled by the possible repercussions of legalizing marijuana, as well as a central figure in the national anti-pot organization Project SAM, Dr. Christian Thurstone is controversial in the marijuana community. But he hasn't backed away from warning about the dangers of weed, particularly for adolescent users.
His latest assertion? Users may soon start directly injecting THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, rather than smoking or ingesting marijuana.
"It seems like people are doing more and more to get a deeper high and presenting to us more and more addiction to marijuana," says Thurstone, whose main gig is as medical director of a Denver Health program called Substance Abuse Treatment, Education and Prevention (STEP). "I worry that might be a next step toward the injection of THC."
Thurstone shares this concern in "Higher and Higher, the latest blog on his personal website, DrThurstone.com. The offering revolves around elevated levels of THC found in urinalysis tests conducted on his patients, most of whom range in age from thirteen to nineteen.
The seeds of the study were planted long ago. According to Thurstone, "I started thinking about this in 2004, when Dr. Wilson Compton published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the prevalence of marijuana use in the U.S. was staying the same, but the prevalence of cannabis use disorders -- marijuana addiction -- was going up significantly."
Dr. Christian Thurstone.
The phrase "marijuana addiction" is guaranteed to raise the hackles of many cannabis activists, who insist that the substance is not addictive. Thurstone disagrees.
"I don't think in the mainstream scientific world of addiction that there's debate any more that it's addictive," he maintains. "It works on the same part of the brain as all other addictive substances, and there's an animal model of marijuana addiction now. We know that it's not just psychologically addictive but physically addictive, and studies by Dr. Alan Budney at Dartmouth have characterized a physical addiction to marijuana. Marijuana withdrawal is clinically equivalent to tobacco withdrawal -- and anecdotally, in our experience, we see adolescents coming into treatment extremely addicted to marijuana. They're dropping out of life, giving up on school and families to pursue their marijuana addiction."
Moreover, Thurstone says he's seen addictions become more severe over time, and speculated that one reason might be marijuana's increasing potency.
"We know that there's been an increase from about 2 percent THC a couple of decades ago to more like 10 percent now," he continues. "And in Colorado, it's probably even higher than that."
Continue for more of our interview with Dr. Christian Thurstone about more potent marijuana and the prospect of injecting THC.