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Capital Report: With Legalization Possible, House Panel Hears Warnings About Recreational Pot

Richard Vogel
AP Photo

There’s a chance Florida voters will be presented with a constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot. This week, Florida House committees heard from a Harvard Psychobiologist who warns of legalizing the plant, and from the nation’s first state “pot czar.”

Harvard professor of Psychobiology Bertha Madras told members of the House Health and Human Services Committee that much of the marijuana being smoked today isn’t what it was even roughly a decade ago.

“THC concentrations in marijuana are rising rapidly – from about 8 percent in 2008, currently at 17 percent and higher,” Madras said.

Madras warns, as the high-inducing THC rises in the chemical composition of marijuana, CBD is driven down. She told legislators the decline in CBD levels has resulted in a THC to CBD ratio of 100 to 4, on average.

According to Madras, that matters because CBD was one line of defense in preventing marijuana-induced psychosis.

“There is ample evidence accumulating that CBD can dampen some of the psychosis-inducing, anxiety inducing, cognitive-impairing effects of THC,” Madras said.

Madras also talked about risks she says are associated with driving high, marijuana’s effects on young and developing brains – and even weed use in pregnant women.

“This is just an early finding, it’s very early – but what they found is, fetuses exposed to marijuana during in utero development, have more psychosis proneness during childhood,” Madras said of a study she presented to the committee. “This is just two data points, 63 were exposed, and they showed greater psychosis proneness.”

Legislators also heard from the nation’s first state cannabis director.

Andrew Freedman is the former cannabis director for Colorado. He also addressed a House subcommittee this week, a day after Madras. He touched on psychosis as a result of marijuana – but says most Poison Control Center calls observed in his state related to cannabis, were from people who didn’t know what they were getting into.

“When you dig into that data, that’s mainly naive users using new types of products. So, the most reported on is always tourists using edibles,” Freedman explained. “They’ll have one 10 milligram edible, which is a serving size in Colorado, they’ll wait about an hour and have a second 10 milligram edible. They’ll think none of it is taking effect, they’ll start drinking – then all of it takes effect at once, and they have what is essentially an acute psychotic break.”

The former Colorado pot czar says that’s only temporary – but it can pose a serious threat.

“The good news is, with that, there’s no long-term health effects to that. The bad news is, you are a danger to yourself and to those around you while you are on an acute psychotic break,” Freedman told lawmakers.

Harvard’s Madras specifically cited data on hospitalizations after weed use in Colorado. But Freedman says it can be tricky collecting and tracking data in an area where marijuana has been newly legalized.

“One of the biggest problems with legalizing cannabis and data at the same time is, often times you use the cannabis revenue to start tracking the data for the first time, so – everything shows an increase. For instance, driving while his, you train all your officers to be able to screen for driving while high, while at the same time tracking driving while high,” Freedman said. “There’s just a huge observation bias in the system.”

Madras believes legalization and marketing of recreational marijuana will drive up use on all fronts. Meanwhile, legislators and entrepreneurs in Florida have been looking to Freedman for insight as they anticipate a possible legal market, as two citizens’ initiatives are currently trying to clear petition signature hurdles. Freedman spoke to the Economic Club of Florida earlier this year.