THC warning labels where marijuana is legalized can help curb a homeless crisis

by Heidi Anderson-Swan

California’s SB 1097, warns about the mental health risks of high potency THC

Denver on the unofficial stoner holiday April 20, 2021

California’s SB 1097 seeks to mandate warning labels on all marijuana products, with special warnings on high THC content.

The warnings would include the increased risk for mental illness. Recently, Colorado led the nation to become the first state to mandate stronger warnings on the high potency marijuana concentrates to its consumers.

It is a matter of public health, and human decency, that California consumers as well as other citizens of states where marijuana has been legalized should have the same right to know as the people of Colorado. We mandate warning labels on cigarettes, and marijuana has many of the same cancer-causing carcinogens as tobacco. In fact, as per Prop 65, the current warning labels in California already include the warning about the increased risk of cancer. 

How are marijuana and homelessness connected?

If our lawmakers do not agree THC products should have warnings about the increased risk of mental illness, especially today’s high-potency THC products, it will have unintended consequences. One such consequence would be an increase in California’s already growing homeless population. It’s not hard to speculate this to be the case in other states as well.

I would never suggest that the increasing normalization, commercialization, and widespread use of marijuana is the sole reason for the heart-wrenching homeless crisis in California and other states. But to ignore its contribution is egregious and a willful disservice.

If our lawmakers are complicit with the marijuana industry by being silent about the mental health and addiction risks of marijuana, there will be an increase in youth use. Why? Because, overwhelmingly, our youth only hear the misleading messages of wellness from a predatory industry that seeks to addict them young to maintain good profit margins long term. Once they market their products through cheery billboards, attractive social media influencers, celebrities hawking high-end THC packaging, more youth will be attracted to it, believing it’s safe. As will their parents who already think it’s “harmless.”

Increased use leads to an increased risk of acquiring mental illness—and few will have any idea that’s the case. Tragically, a percentage of these unsuspecting, extremely vulnerable consumers, will acquire a serious mental illness and, eventually, wind up on our streets. Oftentimes, the consequences are permanent brain damage, especially in the younger consumers that the industry targets.

This is what happened to my brother, Kirk. As a teenager and young adult, he used marijuana regularly and wound up homeless, and in jail, with schizophrenia.

Heidi’s brother, Kirk Anderson when he was homeless.

Pared down, it is a very simple equation:

If marijuana use increases the risk for schizophrenia…

And schizophrenia increases the risk of homelessness…

Then marijuana increases the risk of homelessness

Let’s break this down. The science speaks.

One of the most important data showing youth marijuana use increases the risk for schizophrenia, came from a gold standard report published in 2017. One of the researchers was Dr. Daniele Piomelli. 

I met with Dr. Piomelli a couple of years ago and had the opportunity to ask him some questions. I asked what happens if you use marijuana every day. In his very short answer, recorded on video, Dr. Daniele Piomelli describes the increased risk of schizophrenia. He says this is especially the case with higher THC potencies…of 8 -12% THC.

Yet, the potencies of today’s THC products sold in California go as high as 99%. And the high-potency products further increase the risks of a negative mental health outcome.

Ten to fifteen percent of the population is predisposed to psychosis and most of us don’t know it. Low potency marijuana can pull the trigger for a psychotic experience that would not have happened otherwise.

I had a psychosis with marijuana when I was a teenager. It was incredibly frightening. Because I was so scared, I didn’t use it much. The only time I ever lost touch with reality was when I used marijuana. Not before. Not after. And the friend who was getting high with me was perfectly fine (illustrating that psychosis from marijuana use doesn’t happen to everyone).

Long-time schizophrenia researcher, Dr. Christine Miller describes how people who have a temporary psychotic experience, like the one I had, should stop immediately. Additionally, paranoia is understood as a common side effect of marijuana. Dr. Miller cautions that paranoia is one of the first indications a person is sensitive to the negative mental health effects of marijuana. So, paranoia is a reason to stop immediately.

Paranoia, a common side effect of marijuana use, should be widely understood as a warning sign to stop. It is my mission to make sure everyone understands this danger.Heidi Anderson-Swan

What does the industry say about paranoia?

Read this reply from a large marijuana company, Curaleaf. Their answer illustrates only one of the many reasons these products must be immediately mandated to have warning labels.  

Source Curaleaf.com FAQs:

Cannabis always made me paranoid. Was I doing something wrong?

Ask yourself whether you knew what you were inhaling or ingesting in your previous encounters with cannabis. Perhaps in the past, someone passed you a joint and you smoked it with little to no information.

Chances are, someone passed you a joint, and you smoked it with little to no information. What was the strain type? The cannabinoid ratio? The dominant terpenes and common effects? You have no idea, do you? Neither did the person who passed it to you. While this doesn’t mean you did something “wrong,” your lack of info had the odds stacked against you.

In the age of information, cannabis holds no exception! We have so much info at our fingertips, so why not use it to our advantage? Visit a Curaleaf Dispensary and you’ll see how eager our associates are to guide you through the complexities and build your personal knowledge of cannabis.

As we’ve said, we are all different, so our experiences with cannabis will follow suit. While all the information in the world won’t ensure a paranoia-free experience, it will certainly increase your odds of having a pleasurable one. A little educated guidance will help. Our mission is to provide clarity around cannabis and confidence around consumption.

It can be argued that, with this answer, Curaleaf is blaming the victim. Worse, their official advice should be to stop using immediately because continued use could cause permanent mental illness.

Who will care for the growing rates of people afflicted with illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia from their use of marijuana? Schizophrenia is expensive to treat and long-lasting. Many with this debilitating illness refuse treatment and will, tragically, wind up in jail or on the streets.

This is also what happened to my brother, Kirk. He didn’t know he was sick. He flat-out denied there was anything wrong with him. He was convinced he was John the Baptist and that God wanted him to live outside. And he felt like getting high brought him closer to God.

By the time he was living under a freeway, Kirk had long ago moved on from marijuana and then to cocaine and was using crack. As Dr. Piomelli described, schizophrenia can happen later on in life. Dr. Miller confirms it can occur up to eight years after use. This is a cruel joke.

Imagine if a drug was invented that could prevent just a small percentage of future mental illness?  It would be lauded. The drug company, innovative enough to come up with such a solution, would make a fortune.

We have the power to do this right now. Without medication. With simple prevention. With warning labels.

Our lawmakers must become knowledgeable about the science

Kirk Anderson on a panel w/ Dr. Jeremy Martinez, Assoc Medical Director at Los Angeles County Dept of Mental Health.

Because many are not, they are unaware of the unintended expenses of this drug. Some costs are right in front of us—right on the streets. More human beings in active psychosis are living and suffering without shelter. This is extremely costly to California taxpayers, not to mention the victims and their families who, like mine, cannot help their loved ones because that person does not want to be helped. How do these costs square with our state’s ledger of Profit and Loss?

Our lawmakers in California, and the rest of the country, owe it to their constituents to know enough to warn us there are harms with these brightly colored, well-packaged, sleek-looking, child-attractive products. If our lawmakers do not, then part of the increase of our homelessness will be attributable to their decisions.

Every medicine has warning labels. Why should THC for medicinal use be different?

California was the first to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Because of this, we should have mandated warning labels before Colorado did.

Today, we have a chance to get this right. In addition to helping prevent California’s negative trend of homelessness, we can set a positive trend nationally. By supporting The Cannabis Right to Know Act, we can join with Colorado as examples of common sense and human decency the rest of our country should follow.

Today, Kirk and I have much to be grateful for. It is with enormous gratitude I can report my brother is sober. It is with gratitude I can say he lives in a house with a sober roommate. He goes to meetings regularly. He says he seeks friends in sobriety with the same urgency he used to chase after his next high.

Heidi Anderson-Swan is a Speaker, Mental Health and Homelessness Advocate, and co-author of the first fictional story to illustrate the mental health harms of THC: A Night In Jail. This gritty, Young Adult cautionary tale has also been adapted as a short film and a play. To learn more about prevention education through storytelling go to www.ANightInJail.com

Content warning: Strong Emotional Content.  

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Heidi Anderson-Swan

Heidi Anderson-Swan is a Speaker, Mental Health and Homelessness Advocate, and co-author of the first fictional story to illustrate the mental health harms of THC: A Night In Jail. This gritty, Young Adult cautionary tale has also been adapted as a short film and a play. To learn more about prevention education through storytelling go to www.ANightInJail.com

2 thoughts on “THC warning labels where marijuana is legalized can help curb a homeless crisis”

  1. YOU GO DRUG WARRIOR.. Very well written and I shall use part from it in my next Board presentation
    “Joe Dokes”

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