Pot Advocates Want to Establish a 'Unit' of Weed So We Know How High We Are
WRITTEN BY GABE STUTMANApril 20, 2016 // 07:00 AM EST
Know how sometimes you take multiple bong rips and feel excellent, and then sometimes you take one hit of particularly potent dope and feel like you might die? Weed advocates and policy makers are trying to fix that.
At the Cannabis Science and Policy Summit at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management over the weekend, policy makers, academics and public health advocates discussed the challenges associated with portioning out proper dosages of THC to both recreational and medicinal users, prompting a discussion about whether a "unit" of weed should be identified, similar to one "standard” drink of alcohol.
In the US, one “standard” drink has been codified by the NIH and refers to approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, which can be found in one 12-ounce beer at 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), one 5 ounce glass of wine at 12 percent, or one shot—a single ounce serving—of hard alcohol at 40 percent ABV.
“Understanding your dose is essential,” said George McBride, a former lawyer and current policy officer at the Beckley Foundation, a drug policy think tank based out of the UK. “Recommended units in alcohol is rife with problems, but at least it gives you a means to compare a shot of tequila with a pint of ale. Cannabis users have no way to compare a dab with a joint.”
The most important factor in determining the potency or psychoactivity of any given quantity of weed is its mass of THC, measured in milligrams. Generally 10 milligrams is considered one dose in both recreational and medicinal uses—however the manner in which it is ingested, say via edible, smoke or vape, can alter the effects, McBride said.
Complicating matters, weed strains can range in potency from today’s average of around 20 percent THC, to over 30 percent. This represents a stark contrast to the weed of the 1980s, which averaged around 4 percent THC concentration. So basically taking “one hit” today is a pretty opaque unit of measurement.
The debate around the weed industry’s regulatory scaffolding is going to heat up as four additional states could see recreational weed legalization measures pass this year
Though ingesting via smoking creates a gray area, regulating THC quantities in edibles is more doable; regulations went into effect in Colorado on February 1, 2015, that specified that edibles must be individually wrapped in servings of 10 milligrams of THC or fewer, and a single edible can’t contain more than 100mg of THC. This followed the death of a college student who jumped from a Denver balcony after eating a pot cookie, and a spate of incidents in which children accidentally ingested marijuana-infused food items.
However, the accurate labeling of edibles relies upon accurate measurements of THC concentration by weed sellers, which has proven elusive. In a damning report published in 2014 in the Denver Posts’ marijuana news website The Cannabist, a study of several marijuana-infused edibles showed that companies across the board misrepresent, most-likely unintentionally, the concentration of THC in their products.
Better regulations are being welcomed by consumers and weed sellers alike as a positive for consumers and for the industry as a whole.
“In clearly marking what the dose is, hopefully that will lead to more responsible use and public education,” said John Lord via interview with The Cannabist. Lord is the owner of LivWell, a company that has nine pot shops in Colorado. “It keeps us safe, and it provides uniformity for the product itself,” he said.
Many point to the absence of federal regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, which introduced guidelines for regulating alcohol such as ABV requirements, as leading to confusion, as each state scrapes together laws that would keep them safe from litigation, but are ultimately ineffective as informing consumers.
“Every single example of education in our society [has come] through the USDA, FDA, EPA,” said Rev. Dr. Kymron deCesare, Chief Research Officer at Steep Hill. “Suddenly when states are doing something different than normal, yeah it’s gonna confuse society.”
DeCesare, who researches the integration of marijuana into society as well as plant chemistry, said of the hodgepodge nature of current regulatory rules imposed by legal-weed states, “A lot of the ideas they come up with are interesting they work, a lot of them work miserably.”
The debate around the weed industry’s regulatory scaffolding is going to heat up as four additional states could see recreational weed legalization measures pass this year, in addition to the four and the District of Columbia that already have legalized.
As the legal weed industry grows nationwide, groups like the Steep Hill Labs, Inc., based out of Berkely, CA, are figuring as important thought leaders in establishing effective weed policy, emphasizing the integration of marijuana use into society via clear information for consumers and effective regulatory environments.
That said, consumers should not be relying upon the federal government to inform them on how to ingest weed anytime soon.
“Every patient has to be their own best advocate first,” said deCesare.