Leura Wellness co-founder and director Dr Orit Holtzman says the Australian market’s obsession with high-THC products is driven not by science but by consumer demand. And it’s a trend she finds alarming.

I am sitting in front of my computer when I hear the familiar ding. A dopamine surge results in irrational, momentary joy and excitement. Ooh, I got a new email!

Dr Orit Holtzman

This joy, however, is quickly replaced with deep frustration as I read through the subject line – “Introducing five new vape medicines”.

Really? Do we actually need five more vapes? 

A quick look at online database Catalyst shows there are more than 70 different vape products on the market, the majority of which are category five, containing more than 98% THC. Naturally, they contain very minimal CBD and other minor cannabinoids. 

The Australian market has become THC obsessed. The higher, the more concentrated, the better. You may think we need these products. They’re convenient, economical and discreet. You can carry your little vape in your pocket and use it whenever needed with no fuss.

While this may be true, is having a puff of a high-THC product really what a person with a chronic health condition requires?

It might come as a surprise that even the recreational cannabis market was not always dominated by high-THC strains. An analysis of the THC content in illicit cannabis reported that the average potency in the 1990s was about 4% and approximately 12% in 2014.

It is currently difficult to find medical cannabis strains that are lower than 20%. Why do we need so much THC? Is more really better?

Looking at actual scientific evidence, the answer is probably no.

A recent Lancet review showed that THC administration has led to negative psychoactive side effects, including psychosis, anxiety and depression-like symptoms, with high doses of THC increasing the likelihood of psychoactive effects, especially in patients with pre-existing cognitive impairment. 

“We have a medical market that is not guided by scientific evidence and therapeutic need, but by consumer demand.” 

Numerous studies have provided substantial evidence for the biphasic effects of cannabinoids on anxiety, motor activity, memory and cognition, with low doses leading to improvement and high doses causing impairment and worsening of symptoms. 

Some studies on chronic pain even show a therapeutic window, where too-high doses of THC show no effect or even an increase in pain levels. 

Pairing this with the lack of evidence regarding the long-term safety of liquid vapes, what is driving this trend? I think we all know the answer. It is what the ‘market’ demands. The market probably being 20 to 45-year-olds who share their experiences on Reddit. 

So that’s where we are standing. We have a medical market that is not guided by scientific evidence and therapeutic need, but by consumer demand. 

Is this really the road we should take? Can we all just stop for a minute to regroup and think? 

There must be a better way.

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