After alcohol and nicotine, cannabis is the third most widely used drug in the world. And potency levels in cannabis consumer products have increased over time - which means today’s cannabis is generally stronger than what has been available in years past. This is concerning for several reasons:
Cannabis products available to consumers without a prescription have not been thoroughly tested for safety, lack safe dosage information, and may have adverse effects when used with other medications.
Consumer products, including those making health claims, are not reviewed by the FDA for safety and effectiveness.
Recent studies have demonstrated mental health risks associated with cannabis use.
In one recent study, researchers analyzed cannabis potency levels and found a correlation between high potency users and mental health issues. Users of high potency cannabis have an increased risk of mental health disorders including schizophrenia, as well as addiction issues or cannabis use disorder. And the impact on mental health may occur much sooner than you may expect. Exposure to cannabis in early pregnancy has now been linked to long-term mental health issues in children.
A study published in American Journal of Psychiatry earlier this year indicated an association between sustained, heavy cannabis use and impaired cognitive function. With cannabis usage increasing for middle-aged adults, the study found a correlation between usage and lower IQ rates.
“We know from previous research that midlife cognitive functioning does predict a person’s risk for dementia,” said leading researcher Dr. Madeline Meier. “Our cohort is only age 45 right now, and we don’t know what will happen to them in the next 20 or 30 years. But we do know that in the next 10 years, over 20 percent of the U.S. population will be considered older adults, and we have to start caring about the implications of such a huge percentage of the population aging and using cannabis at historically high rates.”
So, what can be done to help protect consumers of all ages from these mental health risks?
Several researchers encourage the development of public health guidelines and policies to help make cannabis use safer including, “providing consumers with accurate information on product content and access to lower potency products.”
Beyond raising awareness of these issues, policymakers and regulators at the state and federal level must encourage further scientific studies related to cannabis. It is critical that we learn more about the implications of increased use, drug interactions, dosage and potency levels and more to help provide critical guidance for the consumer in today’s growing cannabis marketplace.