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The purpose of this blog is to stimulate thought and discussion about important issues in healthcare. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of CMDA. We encourage you to join the conversation on our website and share your experience, insight and expertise. CMDA has a rigorous and representative process in formulating official positions, which are largely limited to bioethical areas.

The Commercialization of Marijuana

November 22, 2017

by David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

What happens when marijuana is legalized for either medical or recreational use with little regulation and almost no enforcement? Unfortunately, we know by looking at what has happened in Colorado over the last few years, as Ben Cort relates in his excellent book Weed, Inc.

Legalization is not as much about the marijuana plant as it’s bioactive component, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In “unenhanced” plants, THC is normally in a concentration of 1 percent and its effects on the brain are actually blunted by Cannabidiol (CBD), another substance in marijuana. The medicinal effects of marijuana come from CBD, not THC. THC is what gives the user their high. The longer someone uses THC or the higher the amounts they take of it, the more likely it is they will have psychosis, reduced brain function and even mental illness. The user is also much more likely to get addicted to marijuana from extended use or high concentrations.

That is the basic science.

Commercialization is defined as “exploiting something for financial gain.” The goal of all businesses is to create markets for their product by creating demand. They create demand by getting those using their product to become frequent users and creating new users by making people think they need their product. Businesses do this by touting the value of their product, making it more readily available, making it look cool, creating social pressures to buy it, offering sales to get people to buy it or by giving “samples” of their product away.

All this and more is being done in Colorado and business is booming. In the minority area of one Denver town, there is one marijuana shop for every 47 residents. You can’t walk in many parts of Denver without marijuana wafting up your and your children’s noses.

Selling marijuana is a competitive business, and winning is not just based on price. It more often is based on whose product has the higher concentration of THC. As I said, the marijuana of the 1960s was 1 percent THC. The average potency of selectively bred plants is now 12 percent across the U.S., but if you want the “really good stuff,” you need go to Colorado where the average tops 30 percent. There are not many studies on the effects of smoking marijuana long-term, and of those, none studied THC concentrations above 16 percent.

Commercial companies in Colorado have also thought of all kinds of new and “cool” ways to provide THC without lighting up. They infuse THC in coffee, ice cream, baked goods, suckers, sodas, tea, hot chocolate, breath mints, granola, gum, marinara sauce, entrees, side dishes and all sorts of candy. The “pushers” of THC buy all these items in bulk, infuse or coat them with THC and then repackage them to look similar to the original product. A proposed law requiring companies making and distributing these “edibles,” which now make up 40 percent of the marijuana market in Colorado, to clearly label them as containing THC was soundly defeated in the Colorado legislature. The THC industry has 27 full-time paid lobbyists in Denver to make sure no new laws are passed to regulate marijuana.

It gets worse. Present regulations say the maximum THC recommended “dose” of THC is 10mg at a time, but there is no limit in the law regarding the concentration put in an edible. So the industry buys Gummy Bears, coats them with THC and then dusts them with sugar. One Gummy Bear contains 40 to 200mg of THC. Have you ever eaten 1/20th of a Gummy Bear? Have you ever drunk 1/35th of a bottle of soda? Some THC-infused sodas have 350mg of THC. Cheeba Chews, which look like Jolly Ranchers, contain 175mg of THC. None of the edibles are required to be in childproof packaging, so a child can easily overdose on THC.

This is crazy, but it’s not the end of the nightmare of commercialization of THC. You haven’t learned about “concentrates” yet. The highest concentration of THC in a marijuana plant is in the flowers and buds. But if companies could find a use for the rest of the plant, they could make a lot more money.

Someone with ingenuity came up with the “next big thing.” They put the stems and leaves of the plant, which are normally not sold, in a pipe and then shoot a solvent, compressed butane or propane through it. Out comes a liquid that is 80 to 95 percent pure THC. They then “purge” the butane or propane out of the liquid, cool the liquid and turn it into a rock of concentrate. A piece of concentrate half the size of the head of a pen head can put a user on their back in seconds. In fact, drug addiction experts say it is harder to get a THC concentrate user off their substance than it is to get a heroin user off heroine.

More concentrate will be sold in 2017 than the plant form of marijuana because of its potency, low cost and anonymity. Users just have to heat their concentrate to 700 degrees and inhale it for an almost instant high. As a bonus, there is no smell. Plus, heating it is not hard to do as they just buy an electronic cigarette at a vaping store. It turns the concentrate into an inhalable vapor.

Since marijuana is illegal by federal law, the FDA can’t regulate it. Because the FDIC also considers all money made marketing THC as the proceeds of an illegal drug sell, it cannot be deposited in a bank or charged to a credit card. It is a cash business, which means hundreds of millions of marijuana dollars in cash are floating around Colorado, leading to robberies, money laundering and a variety of other problems.

What about the effects on health? Hospital admissions for children under 12 who overdose on THC have gone up 800 percent since legalization. It has reduced school success in children and teenagers, many who demonstrate anti-motivational syndrome. Regular THC users have trouble keeping a job, so their income level drops. Almost 20 percent of people making under $25,000 a year in Colorado are frequent users. Proponents claim marijuana won’t kill you, but it may cause you to kill someone else or yourself because of the psychosis it causes. Driving accidents of marijuana intoxication are up, and there is no breath analyzer that can check for impairment.

THC is a gateway drug. Some cartels are repurposing their Mexican marijuana fields to grow poppies to produce heroin that they see as the next step for heavy THC users.

The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes two-thirds of the world’s drugs. Organizations with seemingly endless resources want to push that higher. George Soros, who is funding the push to legalize physician-assisted suicide, has poured $100 million dollars into legalizing marijuana in states across the country. The easiest way to destroy a country is from within. Getting everyone stoned or high is an effective way to do it.

Read Ben Cort’s book Weed, Inc! It will tell you all of this and more. It is well referenced and, as far as I’m concerned, it is a must read for those opposed to legalization. It will equip you for the battle we are embroiled in today in our country.

David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Dr. David Stevens, MD (Ethics), author of Jesus, MD, Beyond Medicine and co-author of Leadership Proverbs and Servant Leadership and serves as CEO Emeritus of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), a national organization of Christian healthcare professionals that seeks to change hearts in healthcare. As untold thousands of people who have heard him preach could attest, Dave Stevens is a gifted storyteller and a powerful Christian communicator with a passion for evangelism and a deep understanding and respect for the integrity of God’s Word.

As the son of an itinerant Methodist evangelist who, like John Wesley himself, truly saw the world as his parish, Dave comes by his speaking skills honestly. He’s honed his talent over the years in an incredible variety of settings. Whether he’s recruiting tribal leaders to provide volunteer support for a community health initiative in rural Kenya, preaching at American mega-church missions conferences, testifying before a panel of Washington politicians on Capitol Hill or challenging an auditorium full of healthcare professionals to better integrate their personal faith with their professional practice, Dave knows how to hook and hold an audience. While always unashamedly Christian in terms of his convictions and values, Dave can hold his own in non-Christian and even decidedly anti-Christian settings. His ability to clearly communicate difficult spiritual truths, foundational biblical values, scientific facts and thorny bioethical issues gives him an authoritative voice to speak out frequently on behalf of the American Christian healthcare community. It’s also enabled him to initiate and lead a program that has trained thousands of Christian healthcare professionals how to use, but not abuse, their authority to be and offer spiritual light and salt in a world where so many patients need more than physical healing.

As a leading, trusted spokesman for Christian healthcare professionals, Dr. Stevens has conducted thousands of media interviews, including JAMA, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC's Today Show, NBC Nightly News, BBC-World Television, CNN and National Public Radio. He has also appeared on FOX Family Channel, PAX-Television, Tech TV, The Odyssey Channel, America's Health Network and many other national outlets. He has written numerous book chapters and magazine articles. Prior to authoring his first book, he wrote a regular health column for the Promise Keepers' New Man magazine and served on the editorial board of Christian Single magazine.

Dr. Stevens is also heard as host of the CMDA Healthwise Public Service Announcements, which address general health and bioethical issues. CMDA members hear him as the host of the popular Christian Doctor’s Digest audio magazine, which has featured national leaders such as Kay Arthur, John Stonestreet, Jim Cymbala, Newt Gingrich and Luis Lugo.

Dr. Stevens holds degrees from Asbury College and the University of Louisville School of Medicine and is board certified in family medicine. He earned a master’s degree in bioethics from Trinity International University in 2002 and has served on the boards of Asbury University and World Gospel Mission. He is a fellow of the Biotechnology Policy Council of the Wilberforce Forum and helped found the National Embryo Donation Center. Dr. Stevens and his wife Jody have a son, Jason, and two daughters, Jessica and Stacy, and 10 grandchildren, all of who are involved in domestic or international healthcare ministry.