The Virginia Marijuana Battle

More and more states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use. Virginia seems to be going the other way. The Commonwealth has seen a steady rise in marijuana-related arrests recently. Efforts to convince lawmakers in Richmond to decriminalize marijuana use have so far failed. It’s almost as if Virginia is heading back to the days of the “War on Drugs,” a campaign which many addiction experts regard as a failed attempt to reduce drug abuse in the United States.

The crackdown on marijuana jars with the widely held belief of many Virginians that cannabis use is harmless if not beneficial, mirroring the attitude that has led to legalization in other states. And while most addiction professionals advise against criminalizing illicit drug use, they also warn that marijuana is not a harmless substance.

In his book Marijuana, psychiatrist and addiction specialist Kevin Hill, M.D., talks about three popular myths: that cannabis is not harmful, that it cannot lead to addiction, and that stopping the use of marijuana cannot cause withdrawal symptoms.

Contrary to what many Americans—including many doctors—believe, persistent use of cannabis can lead to addiction. According to Dr. Hill, “9 percent of adults and 17 percent of adolescents who use in the United States develop an addiction.”

Despite the wave of arrests, inquiries about treatment for cannabis addiction are up in Virginia.

“We have been getting quite a number of calls about marijuana lately,” says Eric Rhodes, the director of business development at The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place. “Farley is making sure we have enough beds available for anyone who needs treatment.”

“Patients who require treatment after running into trouble with the law receive the same care as people with other addictions such as opioid use disorder,” says Rhodes. “Far from being a harmless substance with medical benefits, marijuana can cause severe cannabis use disorder where patients present with many of the same criteria found in other substance use disorders.”

Many Americans don’t realize that today’s marijuana products are much more potent than the joints people smoked in the 1970s. “We’re not only seeing growing acceptance of cannabis use, we are also seeing more and more powerful forms of the drug,” says Rhodes.

The potency of cannabis is determined by measuring levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana users the “high.” Back in the seventies, the average THC concentration of a joint was around 1 percent.  But fifty years of genetic selection by growers have changed that dramatically. By the turn of the century, marijuana was six times more potent compared to the marijuana baby boomers encountered in college. Now it can easily exceed 15 percent THC. Legalization has taken THC concentrations to sheer astronomic levels. “In Colorado, a 12 percent sample would be hard to find,” writes Ben Cort in Weed, Inc. “We are seeing plants pushing past 40 percent today.”

An even more dangerous way to use cannabis is so-called “dabbing” which refers to the inhalation of concentrated THC products created by butane extraction. Butane hash oil (BHO) or wax can reach incredible concentrations well beyond the 50 percent range. “When we see that kind of potency and people showing up in emergency room with psychotic episodes because of cannabis products, it should raise a red flag,” warns Rhodes.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and could benefit from addiction treatment services, please contact The Farley Center at 800.582.6066 or fill out our admissions request form.