Marijuana: THC-injection fears are "idiotic," says doctor and cannabis expert

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Thurstone is an extremely prominent figure locally and nationally on the subject of opposition to marijuana regulation and legalization. The medical director of a Denver Health program called Substance Abuse Treatment, Education and Prevention (STEP), he was also a member of the Amendment 64 Task Force, and he remains a primary figure in Project SAM, an organization spearheaded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy that backs a public-health approach to pot.

In "Higher and Higher, the latest blog post on his personal website, Thurstone shares statistics from urinalysis tests done on STEP patients dating back to 2007; most of them were between thirteen and nineteen when they entered the program.

According to his data, THC levels in such samples have gone up from an average of 358 nanograms per milliliter of urine prior to the 2009-2010 period that marked what he calls the "big commercialization of marijuana" -- the boom period that led to hundreds of dispensaries opening in Colorado -- to 536 nanograms. He believes the reason for this rise has to do with the increasing potency of cannabis, particularly in Colorado, and widespread diversion of medical marijuana beyond the patient population, with much of it reaching teens.

Lately, Thurstone's patients have come to him with "more severe marijuana dependence and more symptoms than teens not using medical marijuana," he told us. "And it's also consistent with the whole idea that kids are using higher potency marijuana that's probably more addictive. Anecdotally, we're hearing about patients who start with cheap, low-grade marijuana before moving on to more potent marijuana, and then other ways of consuming it: waxing marijuana, dabbing marijuana and chasing a bigger and bigger high."

For that reason, Thurstone ends his essay with this line: "It is reasonable now to question how much longer it will be before we see injection use of THC -- especially as marijuana is legalized."

When asked about this prospect, he conceded that "I have not seen it clinically, and I have not seen it described except in research studies, which say it's possible to have an injectable form of marijuana. I don't know exactly how to do the preparation, to be honest, and I don't know how the high would differ. I can only hypothesize."

Immediately after our post's publication, we began hearing from readers saying that injectable THC has not been developed at this point, and may never be. One memorable note asserted that "THC is a terpene, a sap, it would be akin to injecting turpentine into your veins." The reader added, "You might as well write an article about glue huffers potentially shooting up glue."

Armed with these assertions, we reached out to Melamede, a member of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs faculty who's previously appeared in this space and shared a spot on a High Times Cannabis Cup panel about hash with Westword medical marijuana critic William Breathes back in 2012. We wanted to find out if he agreed with Thurstone's critics -- and it turns out that for the most part, he does.

Continue for more of our interview with Dr. Bob Melamede.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts