Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Inside the Anti-Pot Mindset" of one notable addiction doctor concerned with teenage marijuana use

A helpful colleague alerted me to this interesting article discussing why one Colorado doctor has become a vocal opponent of modern marijuana reforms: 

A Libertarian pot advocate turned opponent, Dr. Christian Thurstone, is at ground zero in the marijuana legalization battle.  The medical director of a large Colorado youth drug treatment clinic; an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, Denver; and one of a small number of doctors board certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry, he has unique insight into the marijuana momentum sweeping the nation.

Thurstone believes that marijuana legalization is a disaster in the making. He is not shy about saying so. His experience with Colorado toe-in-the-water legalization of marijuana for medical purposes was his epiphany.

He noticed back in 2009, when Colorado began providing "medical" marijuana for its residents, that his clinic's clientele tripled: 95% of his patients came for marijuana addiction.  He learned from his teenage clients that "medical" marijuana was easy to score on the streets. But the potency was increasing from medical grade. Soon his young clients would tell him how marijuana was their preferred medicine for relieving stress and anxiety.

Eventually, these young addicts came in with "medical" marijuana licenses. It was at this point Thurstone felt he needed to act. He wrote a piece for the Denver Post criticizing medical marijuana laws in January 2010 titled "Smoke and Mirrors: Colorado Teenagers and Marijuana." Thurstone made some fighting points. "What Colorado has created is a backdoor way to legalize marijuana, and it has done so in a manner that makes a mockery of responsible medicine," he wrote....

Five years later Thurstone continues his crusade. During an interview on Denver's KUSA television station in January, Thurstone was quoted as saying, "We're seeing a lot more patients, a lot more youth coming to treatment for marijuana addiction....If somebody tries marijuana before the age of 18, one in six develops an addiction to the drug. If someone waits until after 18, the number is more like one in nine."

"We have good reason to believe from both animal and human studies that exposure to marijuana during this important time of brain development can permanently change the way the brain develops," he added. "We have good evidence showing that marijuana exposure in adolescents confers up to an eight-point drop in IQ from age 13 to 38. We know that youth who use marijuana are two times more likely to develop psychosis as young adults."

Predictably, the pro-pot people have skewered him. They have questioned his knowledge, his competence and just about everything else. But Thurstone's critics do make some salient points when they refer to studies by the CDC in 2012 and another by economists at the University of Colorado, Denver and Montana State University in 2011 that indicate marijuana use among teens declined in Colorado after the passage of the comprehensive medical marijuana laws.

Thurstone criticized the studies. Still they are strong evidence in opposition to him. The debate will continue to rage on, and Thurstone will continue his campaign. He is, after all, a convert who went from being in favor of legalizing pot to opposing it.

I find this article and Dr. Thurstone's perspective quite interesting for a number of reasons, especially because it highlights how one's distinct type of involvement with marijuana use and abuse can (unduly?) influence one's views on the benefits and costs of legal reform. I do not doubt Dr. Thurstone's representation that he has a lot more teenage clients seeking help for marijuana addiction, but I do wonder if that reality is evidence of greater teen use of marijuana or just greater willingness of teens (and their parents) to seek treatment for marijuana problems now that involvement with marijuana is not longer treated as a serious criminal justice concern by the state.

Relatedly, though I am not surprised to hear a doctor express concern about hearing teens say that marijuana has become a "preferred medicine for relieving stress and anxiety," I still wonder if there is obviously a better "medicine" for this purpose. Most adults use alcohol to relieve stress and anxiety, but I doubt society wants most kids to instead try that form of self-medication. In addition, big Pharma makes big money marketing to doctors and patients a bunch of prescription drugs to deal with stress and anxiety, but I am not aware of any strong evidence that the solutions to stress and anxiety peddled by big Pharma are ideal for teens, either.

I make these points not to assert that Dr. Thurstone is misguided to be concerns about teenage marijuana use, but rather just to encourage broader reflection on whether the problems and concerns he identifies have been made worse by marijuana reform or rather have just become more visible to him.

Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink


This is an extremely well presented argument…but not by Dr. Thurstone. He's taken his personal axe to grind and uses it as a weapon against responsible reform and regulation. His concern for the youth is all talk in that true concern for the plight of a teen would include educating that teen. I am a successful businessman in part because I am educated and informed. Telling the kids that something is dangerous and to stay away from it is only going to peak their already rampant curiosity and desire to rebel. The bottom line is the government has been lying for 40 years regarding its position on marijuana reform - one need look no further than to see the mockery that high ranking officials like Pam Bondi, Florida State Attorney General and Micael Botticelli, Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Each of them spoke like a broken puppet, repeating their position the marijuana is bad. Any scientific evidence of that? Well, err, uh, it's bad because it's Schedule I under the Controlled Substance Act. Mr. Botticellie, heroin and meth are also Schedule 1…are you saying that marijuana is the same as meth and heroin?? Yes, that's what I'm saying. Pffft!! Our leaders? Or our mouthpieces? Add to that the fact that Botticelli didn't even know h=who Harry Ansinger was. That's like asking a president who was the first president. So the question is not only how can we prevent our youth from attaining marijuana, but also how can we get an explanation for the government blatantly lying and falsifying facts?

Posted by: Cannabis Leo | Feb 18, 2014 9:25:20 AM

One may not logically oppose the legalization of marijuana without advocating for the prohibition of tobacco and alcohol, far more addictive (smoke a total of 50 cigarettes, stand a 50% chance of addiction), and far more damaging to brain and mental health. After the use of antibiotics to stop syphilis, alcohol induced psychoses became the most common cause of chronic, long term state hospitalization for psychosis and dementia. Marijuana kills 50 people by car crashes, none by itself. Alcohol and tobacco kill 500,000 people. Half the murderers, the murder victims, and the suiciders are legally drunk. Almost none are intoxicated on marijuana.

Since there is zero chance of any public support for prohibition of tobacco and alcohol, one must support legalization of marijuana.

Here is a anti-legalization point for consideration, missing from the editorial. If marijuana is being used for self medication of symptoms and suffering, it is available in a safe, legal, reliable for as a pill, Marinol. Because of its slow absorption and slow rise in brain levels, it is not a good way to get high. Prescription Marinol should suffice for the sincere advocates of medical marijuana. Because it is not smoking a plant, it will not cause lung cancer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 22, 2014 10:35:33 PM

Marijuna addiction treatment is not a quick and easy process. In general, the longer and more intense the Marijuna use, the longer and more intense the treatment you’ll need. But regardless of the treatment program’s length in weeks or months, long-term follow-up care is crucial to recovery.

Posted by: Dr Basim Elhabashy | Nov 17, 2014 3:56:01 AM

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