“I think they should be illegal,” Ivker said. “In fact, I hope they become illegal. The only thing they’re good for is getting really high. But they’re high-risk, and there’s really no benefit from them.”
Ivker said that addiction is possible with “high-potency marijuana products, including concentrates — the shatter and the wax. These can contain from 80 to even 95 percent THC.”
Doctor Still Values Medicinal Cannabis
Ivker, who is the author of Cannabis for Chronic Pain and treats patients at the Fully Alive Medical Center in Boulder, Colorado, still recommends medical marijuana therapies. But he cautioned that patients have to be wary of becoming addicted.
“I advocate for cannabis as a medicine for treating chronic pain. That’s the title of my book, and Fully Alive is predominantly a chronic-pain practice, a holistic medical practice. The vast majority of my patients have chronic pain and are using medical marijuana to treat their problem, along with other modalities. And because I teach my patients how to use cannabis appropriately as a medicine, I don’t see the addiction problem among my patient population.”
Yes, Cannabis Can Be Addictive
According to research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 9 percent of cannabis users become addicted to the drug. For those that begin using as an adolescent, the rate climbs to 17 percent.
“Marijuana, like any substance or behavior that affects the reward system of the brain, has the potential for dependence and possible addiction — and that includes food, sex, and even television. THC releases dopamine in the brain, and dopamine is the neurotransmitter that causes us to have feelings of pleasure, just like food, sex and TV do,” Ivker explained.
He also said that many people erroneously believe that cannabis is not addictive, an idea that “goes back to maybe a decade or two ago, when the highest potency marijuana flower probably contained 5 percent or maybe 10 percent THC,” Ivker said.
“But today — and we’re talking about just the marijuana flower — the highest sativa strains can contain 25 to 30 percent THC. That’s what most people are smoking. And what they’re dabbing can be two or three times more potent than that.”
Young People Most at Risk
Ivker noted that cannabis concentrates are popular with young people, the group most at risk of developing an addiction to cannabis. Other dangers exist, as well.
“And even more concerning than the addiction problem is the fact that our brains are still developing until we’re in our mid-to-late twenties,” he said. “The THC affects brain function and can create a higher risk of schizophrenia, and that’s really awful. We’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of young people developing schizophrenia from the daily use of cannabis. I think that’s the greatest health risk of all, and one common denominator is that people who are at the highest risk for developing schizophrenia began using daily before the age of eighteen.”
“I strongly advise my younger patients to stay away from concentrates. A lot of them say they have friends who are dabbing on a daily basis. But when I warn them about the dangers, they often tell me that they’re going to let their friends know.”