How to inject marijuanas
A new study found that injecting pure THC triggered schizophrenia-like behaviors in subjects. But, uh, does anyone actually consume weed this way?
The study, conducted by schizophrenia researchers at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Connecticut, and recently published in Neuropsychopharmacology, involved shooting up 22 healthy individuals with 2.5mg THC, 5mg THC, or a placebo (0mg THC). The subjects had previously been “exposed” to cannabis, but none had been diagnosed with cannabis use disorder.
After three separate days of mainlining pure THC, the subjects reported experiencing schizophrenia-like symptoms, increased anxiety, altered perceptions, euphoria, and a host of memory and speech issues. Their blood also showed increased levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Not surprisingly, the researchers concluded that THC produces psychotic behaviors, and more studies are needed to see how cannabinoid receptors may contribute to psychotic disorders.
Usually when we see anything about injecting THC or “marijuanas,” it comes from satirical social media accounts that claim shooting up weed can cause everything from suddenly turning someone gay to spontaneous death (again, these are memes). But intravenous administration of THC is a standard (though not terribly common) practice in cannabis studies, since it gives researchers precise control over dosing. The only problem with this study and others like it is that no one actually injects pure THC. There’s a reason why most consumers prefer to smoke or vape cannabis, after all.
When someone smokes, let’s say, a one-gram joint rolled with weed containing 25 percent THC, that joint contains, roughly, 250mg of THCA, the form of THC that doesn’t get anyone high. Heat converts some THCA into THC — the stuff that gets people lit — but only some THCA turns into the psychoactive form. The average time that heat is applied to the joint isn’t long enough to convert all of the THCA to THC. Furthermore, a bunch of converted THC gets lost in the smoke that wafts from the joint, and even more THC gets stuck in the ash.
So, by the end of it, even if just one person smoked that entire 1-gram joint to the face, they’re only getting a small fraction of that potential 250mg THC, not to mention a cornucopia of other compounds such as other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and polyphenols — which all may interact with our brain’s cannabinoid receptors, dulling the negative effects of THC.
In other words, shooting someone up with 2.5mg or 5mg pure THC is kind of a lot, especially for non-stoners, which this study focused on.
In addition to there being next-to-no people who shoot up THC distillate or diamonds on a regular basis, no one shoots up actual weed, either. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, some idiots tried that, and they developed what’s called “intravenously injected marijuana disorder.” Basically, folks would boil weed buds into a “broth,” pull that filtered broth up into a syringe, then inject it. Rather than getting lit, they got sick AF instead, which included bouts of vomiting, intense muscle pains, and serious heart problems.
Here’s the thing about IV marijuana disorder, too: There are practically no new case studies on it after 1986, suggesting that only a handful of people did it back in the day. Why? Obviously, it sucks, and it’s potentially life-threatening. Which is why, today and in the past, folks have stuck to puffing their pot.
Does this mean that everything about the VA study is bogus? Not entirely. We know that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in some mental disorders, and cannabis use can aggravate some psychotic symptoms in people particularly prone to them. However, many cannabis patients consume weed to alleviate symptoms of their personality or mood disorders, too, so the issue isn’t black-and-white, nor is it clear-cut.
Oh, and in case if you’re wondering if you can snort weed, yeah, technically, that’s possible. But you’ll end up blowing pot-snot all day and never catching a buzz.
Can you "inject marijuanas," as the satirical memes suggest? Yes, but it’s a really, really stupid thing to do, according to a new study.
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Marijuana: THC-injection fears are “idiotic,” says doctor and cannabis expert
Marijuana addiction specialist Dr. Christian Thurstone conjured images like the one seen here when, earlier this week, he shared what he sees as evidence of weed users searching for bigger and bigger highs — and added his fear that such people may soon turn to injecting THC, the active ingredient in pot.
Dr. Bob Melamede, among the country’s most vocal advocates for the medicinal benefits of cannabis, pulls no punches when asked his opinion about such a prospect. “This is nonsense,” he says. “It’s idiotic.”
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. Melamede says intravenously delivered THC has been a goal that’s thus far proven elusive.
“They’ve worked on more soluble versions that could be injectable, for medical reasons, but nothing has ever developed from any of that,” he says.
As for the assertion that THC is essentially a sap, Melamede says the truth is more complicated. “THC is actually a single molecule — and THC alone is horrible. That’s what Marinol is, and that’s why no one wants to take it. It makes you very uncomfortable and it doesn’t get you high in the sense that it gives people relief. It gets you stressed, which is why Marinol isn’t used by anyone with an alternative — plus, it costs something like $1,500 a month.
“But in all cases, ranging from THC to a more diluted yet more medically advantageous form, like cannabis extract, they’re highly hydro-phobic. They don’t like water, so you can’t put it into a liquid water suspension that you could inject. These are basically oils, and oil and water don’t mix — and they certainly don’t mix into any kind of form that’s going to be injectable.”
His conclusion: “The only injections of cannabis have occurred in this guy’s mind.”
Melamede also has problems with Thurstone’s comments about marijuana addiction.
“I don’t think in the mainstream scientific world of addiction that there’s debate any more that it’s addictive,” Thurstone told us earlier this week. “It works on the same part of the brain as all other addictive substances, and there’s an animal model of marijuana addiction now. We know that it’s not just psychologically addictive but physically addictive, and studies by Dr. Alan Budney at Dartmouth have characterized a physical addiction to marijuana. Marijuana withdrawal is clinically equivalent to tobacco withdrawal — and anecdotally, in our experience, we see adolescents coming into treatment extremely addicted to marijuana. They’re dropping out of life, giving up on school and families to pursue their marijuana addiction.”
To that, Melamede says, “first of all, you can’t separate the physical from the psychological. Everything in our brain comes from the physical ability of how our brain works. But the studies he’s referring to are very poorly controlled. If you take a population of people who are using cannabis, especially in high doses, and then cut them off from it, they have stress, poor sleeping, etc. But those are the very things people use marijuana for — because they are stressed or not sleeping well. So you’re taking away the medicine that fixes their bio-medical problems and then saying that’s proof they’re addicted. That’s like taking someone off antibiotics they’re taking for an infection and when they infection comes back saying, ‘This proves they’re addicted to antibiotics.’
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Marijuana addiction specialist Dr. Christian Thurstone conjured images like the one seen here when, earlier this week, he shared what he sees as evidence of weed users searching for bigger and bigger highs — and added his fear that such people may soon turn to injecting THC, the active ingredient…