Calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms have risen in Colorado and Washington.
DENVER — The first two states to legalize recreational marijuana are starting to grapple with teenagers’ growing use of highly potent pot, even as both boost the industry and reap huge tax windfalls from its sales.
Though the legal purchase age is 21 in Colorado and Washington, parents, educators and physicians say youths are easily getting hold of edibles infused with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component that causes a high, and concentrates such as “shatter,” a brittle, honey-colored substance that is heated and then inhaled through a special device.
Each poses serious risks to adolescents’ physical and mental health.
“Underage kids have unbelievable access to nuclear-strength weed,” said Andrew Brandt, a Boulder, Colo., software executive whose son got hooked while in high school.
With some marijuana products averaging 68 percent THC – exponentially greater than the pot baby boomers once smoked – calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms have risen. In the Denver area, visits to Children’s Hospital Colorado facilities for treatment of cyclic vomiting, paranoia, psychosis and other acute cannabis-related symptoms jumped to 777 in 2015, from 161 in 2005.
The increase was most notable in the years following legalization of medical sales in 2009 and retail use in 2014, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health published in 2018.
“Horrible things are happening to kids,” said psychiatrist Libby Stuyt, who treats teens in southwestern Colorado and has studied the health impacts of high-potency marijuana. “I see increased problems with psychosis, with addiction, with suicide, with depression and anxiety.”