Courtney is joined by Wes Thomas, also of WELLWVU, to talk about Cannabis! They talk Senate recommendations, trends in use for the past two decades, and the essential information that folks should know if they choose to use. For more information on WELLWVU’s annual 4/20 Information panel, send an email to:


Hey, everyone. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I am also the director over at WellWVU here at West Virginia University. And today in the, well, not in the booth, but over the digital universe, we have Wes Thomas who actually works with me at WellWVU.

So, Hey, Wes, how are you doing? I'm doing good. Thanks for having me. Well, thanks for being on here. So why don't you take a minute to, I know you've been on the podcast before, but take a minute maybe to explain what your role is here at WVU. All right. So again, mom, I'm Wes Thomas. My role here at WVU is as an alcohol and other drug health educator.

So I do prevention and education in regards to alcohol and other guns, including, uh, including cannabis and prescription drug, misuse, or other illicit drugs. All right. So actually today, what, what's this here to talk to us about as a little bit more about cannabis and all things cannabis, I should say. So some people still use the word marijuana.

Actually, a lot of people use the word marijuana, but you, whenever you do education, you always say cannabis. So why does, why is that important? Why should we say cannabis instead of marijuana? Well cannabis. It is the scientifically accurate term for the plan. And, uh, and obviously the word marijuana is still very often used in legal and other official documentation, but more and more the preference and the recommendation with people in the field is to refer to it as cannabis.

Not only because. Uh, you know, it's scientifically accurate, but the word marijuana does have a racist history to it. And I was aware of this, but I want to give some credit to a gentleman named Zachary Hitchens. Who's a psychotherapist from Towson university. I attended a presentation of his last week and he provided some, some details about, about that history.

So the word, the word marijuana itself is derived from an indigenous word from central America, but around the 1920s, Uh, the term marijuana was used very deliberately to make it sound foreign and therefore quote, unquote dangerous. Um, so on into the thirties, this use of the word marijuana played on depression, era fears of immigration.

So in news articles and other forms of media, the word marijuana was always connected to communities of color as well as crime. And there was a very big deliberate push to demonize it. And there were several entities or stakeholders who did have a vested, vested interest in it. But, uh, one of the main funders of this push to, to demonize marijuana was the cotton industry, um, because the hemp plant, which is part of the cannabis family, Can be used to make various textiles.

So that was direct competition for the cotton entrust, uh, cotton industry. So it's safe to say that historically speaking cannabis has been inaccurately and unfairly maligned, and there are definitely some social justice, social justice issues with the war on drugs as a whole, which tends to view all drug use as a criminal issue rather than a health issue.

Uh, but that's not to say that there's no risks associated with cannabis use at all. Interesting. Well, I didn't, I did not know that. So I know that I'm often guilty of still using the word marijuana. So I'm going to work on only saying cannabis from, from now on. Uh, so thanks for that history West. Um, so I know that sometimes we get some regulations or some guidance from the government, and so it looks like the us Senate has a caucus on international narcotics control and it looks.

Like they release something this month, which cause we're recording, it's still March. Um, but it was called the cannabis policy, public health and safety issues and recommendations. And so what are some of the key takeaways from that document? Uh, well, there, there are several it's about a 50 page document.

Um, so there's a lot to sift through in it. Um, one line I noticed in there kind of caught my attention, kind of summed up the issue for me. And it just says limited research demonstrates that cannabis may hold both promise and apparel. And I think that line itself does really gets to the heart of the controversy and, or the, you know, the crux of the issue.

If you, if you will. Um, so, you know, with the limited research data available, Some of it's clinical and some of it's more anecdotal, but it's very easy for any particular organization who's interested in either supporting or opposing cannabis to either completely omit anything positive about cannabis or on the other hand, completely omit anything negative.

So. For anybody who's interested in the topic. The best thing they can do is just inform themselves as much as possible with the facts available and, and, you know, being aware of documents like this, uh, you know, looking through it and seeing for yourself as is something I would recommend. Okay. So that's the first one.

So removing barriers to research. Now they also, um, Recommended that we should start studying the impacts of increased THC levels. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that? Uh, yeah, so a lot of the recommendations STEM from removing those barriers to research, um, and they want to better, you know, better understand the public health impact as well as the ability to treat serious medical conditions with cannabis.

Now it doesn't recommend rescheduling it because. It's currently cannabis is a schedule, one drug, which means it has no medical uses and high likelihood of misuse. That's how schedule one is defined. So it doesn't want to, it doesn't recommend rescheduling it, but it does want to make the schedule one research, more accessible because, uh, applying for that, or the process can take up to more than a year, which disincentivizes.

Um, but as far as. Recommendations for research. They want to study the impacts of increased THC levels so they can, uh, have a better understanding of the short and long-term impacts of high potency cannabis. And there's, uh, uh, a thought of whether state should put a cap on the potency levels. So to give you an understanding of what we mean by high potency cannabis, to give you some context there.

In the nineties, the average THC amount in the smokable form of cannabis was around 4%. And since that time, the average amount has quadrupled and now cannabis found in a, your dispensary's has an average THC amount of about 18 to 23% THC and sometimes higher, uh, and not to mention the concentrate THC products like your dabs, wax, and oils.

Those can be as high as having 80% THC. So the concern there with, with this increased potency, there's also an increased likelihood of people having, you know, unpleasant, bad experiences, which can include severe anxiety to the point of panic, or sometimes going into a sort of. Dissociative state or psychosis like state.

Uh, and I'm not saying that's highly common or frequent, but it definitely can happen. It's not just for inexperienced users that can happen to long-term users as well. Um, and also with increased potency, there's also an increased likelihood of developing a dependence and. I know when people talk about dependency or addiction in relation to cannabis, it tends to cost people, some people to bristle or dismiss it or mock that idea.

But I think that's mostly due just a misunderstanding about the nature of cannabis dependency. Um, you know, when people think of addiction, they think of someone. Who, you know, might be going to drastic measures to get a fix burglarizing homes, severe withdrawal symptoms, like, like heroin withdrawals that are often dramatized in movies, um, that, that sort of thing, but cannabis, it acts on the pleasure and reward centers of our brains.

And ultimately continuous use will alter the structure of a person's brain, which is characteristic of, of any substance use addiction. And there's also. The DSM five, which is sort of the Bible of psychological and psychiatric diagnoses has established a condition referred to as cannabis use disorder.

Um, and if a person who is diagnosable as having cannabis use disorder quits using, they will experience withdrawal symptoms that can include your ability, insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, strong cravings to use sweating or difficulty concentrating. Um, so about. About one in 10 people who use cannabis will eventually be diagnosable for cud or cannabis use disorder.

And that number increases to one and six if they start when they're a teenager. Um, so that's one thing that this study will help, you know, gain a better understanding of and more information about, okay, well, speaking of like teenage cannabis use, uh, and that the brain development you mentioned earlier, um, there hasn't.

I mean, would you say that there's been a lot of research on the impact of cannabis use on brains that are developing or is that something that needs. More studied. There needs to be more study, but there has been some research that shows cannabis use in adolescents can negatively impact brain development in function, which can decrease cognitive abilities, lots of IQ and lower educational attainment, and also use of cannabis during pregnancy can result in low birth weight and have an impact on fetal brain development.

So the recommendation there. Is to, to, to do for the research to, to understand the impact, but also implement effective prevention and awareness programs to make sure teenagers and, uh, pregnant women are aware of the potential impacts of use. Okay. Yeah. And then there's also the problem of there's a lot of unregulated cannabis products.

So what's the recommendation from the caucus about that. Uh, it really just kind of to, to get a hold of it and all these unregulated cannabis products, which can include, um, CBD and, uh, just other sort of derivatives that they just want to make sure that these items aren't contaminated with dangerous or illicit substances.

And they also want to make sure they actually contain the ingredients they claim to contain. Okay. And then I think what some people might, I don't know if they're aware of this or not, but if someone drives under the influence of alcohol, they can get something called a DUI driving under the influence.

But what about cannabis impaired driving? Like technically that would still be a DUI, but there's really not like a breathalyzer test that would detect that. Uh, and so is there any focus on maybe developing that kind of technology? Uh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. And they, uh, you know, for the reason that, you know, the effects of cannabis, it impacts a person's judgment and coordination, which are critical functions for driving, but there's currently not a universal standard to detect cannabis impairment when driving that doesn't exist currently.

So what they want to do or what they recommend is funding. To develop training for an accurate standardized field testing for police and increased funding for expanding. Forensic and toxicology labs to be able to accurately determine a person's impairment level at a given time, because just having THC in a person's bloodstream doesn't necessarily indicate impairment because it can stay in a person's bloodstream for up to a month after they've used it.

Um, so more research is definitely needed there. And I don't know if there's been any new developments, but I, I know there's a market for it and people are. Trying to work on a, something that's similar to a, an alcohol breathalyzer that can have that instant reading, but to my knowledge that hasn't been created or invented or implemented yet.

Anyway. Um, so one of the recommendations here, just to really focus on being able to ha you know, prevent impaired driving and be able to detect it as well. Well, 12 of our scientists who are listening. There's the, your next project. So you're welcome. Um, and then West, can you tell us a little bit about the trends in cannabis use for like the past couple of decades?

Yeah. So on this report, that outlines, um, from the years, 2002 to 2019 every year, there was a national survey on drug use and health. It was done nationally and it asked as the survey respondents about cannabis use in the past year. If they've done it at least once in the past year. Um, so for people aged 12 to 17, Uh, the people who reported having used it at least once in the past year, decreased 5% from 2002 to 2019.

And for people ages 18 to 25, it increased 5%. So to let you know what that started from, um, in the year 2002, 15% of 12 to 17 year olds said they had used cannabis, at least once in the last year. Um, and then in, you know, in 2019, where the most recent data we have that number was 10%. So it went down 5% and in 2002 for 18 to 25 year olds, 30% said they had used cannabis at least once in the last year.

And now that number is 35%. Um, so over that, over that same time period for people who are 26 and up past year use went up from about 6% to 15% from 2002 to 2019. But overall on average, when you include everyone surveyed who's age 12 and older past year use went up from 11 to 17%. So generally. Cannabis use is increasing across the board.

Okay. Well, that's good to know. And it's, especially if it's in that age group that you were mentioning that, you know, those are the students that we work with on a daily basis. So, so speaking of like, when it comes to cannabis use and wellbeing, what do you think is important for everyone to know, there's definitely a lot to know.

Um, one interesting thing. Uh, you know, people might be familiar with various drug classifications, um, and cannabis is very difficult to classify it. It's sort of a stimulant, it's sort of a sedative it's sort of an opiate, it's sort of a hallucinogen it's kind of stand on. It stands on its own as a, as a classification.

And for that reason, experiences from person to person really can really differ a whole lot. Um, you know, if someone is prone to anxiety, is there a history of mental illness in the family? You know, what happens to be going on in your life now, certain stressors, uh, past trauma, are you using alcohol or other, uh, you know, are you prescribed drugs?

Are you misusing prescription drugs? Um, all of that can, confect a factor into, uh, an individual's experience. Uh, and, and the, how it might impact them in the long run, but also. It's good to know, you know, there's different routes of administration or in other words, different methods of consuming cannabis, uh, you know, smoking, vaping, edibles, and, and those each have a different impact.

Um, the effects of ingesting or say eating a pot brownie versus smoking or vaping can be significantly different. So if, if someone smokes or vapes weed or cannabis, They'll start to feel the effects in as little as six seconds or so. And that'll peak around 30 minutes and then kind of slowly taper off in about four hours.

But if somebody. Uh, you know, it's a brownie, you know, those edibles, they have a much different curve. So say a person, for example, it's a pot brownie. It can take 30 to 60 minutes or sometimes even longer to feel the effects. And depending on the potency. The hiking lasts eight to 12 hours or more. And it's also really difficult to have a precise measure of the potency.

Um, you know, especially if the brownies are homemade. So half of the dish can be highly potent while the other half is less potent because the THC content wasn't evenly distributed. Um, so somebody is going to use edibles it's best to eat a small amount. Wait a half hour and see how you feel. Um, and generally speaking, it's always, it's always good to.

To moderate and use moderation and not put yourself in an unsafe situation, those kinds of things, and have an idea of, of the potency of the cannabis. You, you know, you might be consuming and just, just practice general, you know, common sense and safety measures if you're going to make the choice to use.

All right. Well, thanks West. All, this was really great and helpful information and of course, there's. So much more to learn and talk about when it comes to cannabis. And actually this is a really subtle plug, but, um, we've got an event coming up in April. Do you want to talk about that? Yes. Uh, this is our third annual installment of the event.

It's our, uh, well WVU four 20 Q and a panel. Um, We, uh, we invite a panel of experts representing various perspectives and aspects on the issue of cannabis, you know, the risks and benefits. And it's usually a very interesting and lively discussion about all that. And we, we invite participants who register to submit anonymous questions for the panelists.

Um, this year's is scheduled for Thursday, April 15th, from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM. And it will be on zoom. Uh, our, our current panelists are, uh, we have, uh, Meesha por who's vice president for WVU. WVU is diversity equity and inclusion. We have the executive director of normal, which stands for the national organization for the reform of marijuana laws, adjacent Kilmer with the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

At the university of Washington, we had the United States outreach and policy coordinator for students for sensible drug policy. And we have the alcohol cannabis and other Grubbs initiative manager from the university of Vermont. His name is Tom Fontana. Uh, so I think we have a great, great selection of panelists this year, and I encourage anybody who's interested in.

Participating in the event to registered you can, um, registration is required. You can find it and go to at WellWVU on our Twitter. You'll find, uh, a registration link there with, with, with a flyer for the event or it, or you can just send an email. What is that email? Well Yep. If you have any questions pertaining to this event or otherwise just feel free to send that email and we will get back to you.

Awesome. Well, I'm looking forward to that event. It was really great last year and I think it will be great this year. And, um, I know that zoom everyone's kind of zoomed out, but I think what is cool about this particular panel is that, you know, we're having folks from across the country, literally.

Vermont to Washington participate. And that's not something that we probably wouldn't be able to do if we were hosting it in person. So it's a really good opportunity to talk to so many different experts across, you know, this particular field. So really looking forward to it. And again, you can find it on our Twitter, which is just well WVU.

Well, thank you so much, Wes. I really appreciate you dropping by and talking about cannabis today. And thank you to all of our listeners out there. We appreciate you and we will catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesdays.