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Buying Marijuana Seeds in Australia 2022

Laws on Buying & Growing Marijuana Seeds in Australia. Growing Tips, Recommended Strains and the Best Seed Banks That Ship Down Under For the 2022 Growing Season.

Australia has experienced a significant shift in medical cannabis laws in recent years, with a growing push to legalize recreational cannabis.

With more than 7-million active cannabis users and counting, Australia is on the cusp of a green wave. However, finding information on buying cannabis seeds in Australia from reputable seed banks is still hazy — until now.

Join us as we dive into the topic of buying marijuana seeds in Australia legally, safely, and with maximum ease. Furthermore, you learn all about Australia’s cannabis history, recent laws, cannabis culture, and, of course, the best marijuana seed banks that serve Australia and its residents.

Additionally, you’ll gain insight into:

  • Tips for growing cannabis seeds in Australia
  • The best cannabis seeds to buy in Australia

Ultimately, this guide on buying cannabis seeds in Australia will prove useful for people traveling as tourists or living as Australian residents.

As cannabis laws are constantly evolving worldwide, it’s always prudent to check local laws for any relevant updates. By doing so, you’ll ensure that you’re purchasing legal marijuana seeds from top-rate seed banks in Australia for the best experience possible.

Without further ado — let’s begin!

In A Nutshell: The Legality of Buying, Selling, Possessing, and Growing Marijuana Seeds in Australia

We know — the legality of buying, selling, possessing, and growing marijuana seeds in Australia is complicated.

Here is a quick recap of the most critical aspects of the legality of cannabis seeds in Australia:

  • Medical and recreational cannabis is legal in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), including growing marijuana seeds from local or online seed banks.
  • Recreational cannabis is illegal in all other territories and jurisdictions outside of the ACT.
  • Once outside of the ACT, it’s illegal to grow marijuana seeds. If you decide to purchase cannabis seeds from a seed bank and grow them — it’s at your discretion.
  • Medical marijuana exists in Australia; however, you must have a valid license. Furthermore, the government supplies cannabis by allowing licensed companies to cultivate marijuana seeds and distribute marijuana-based products. Ultimately, medical marijuana patients in Australia (outside of ACT) are not allowed to grow marijuana seeds themselves.

Continue reading below for an in-depth guide on the legal aspects of marijuana and marijuana seeds in Australia.

Girl Scout Cookies

Growing Cannabis Seeds in Australia

If you want to grow cannabis seeds in Australia — this is the section you need to read.

When to Sprout Marijuana Seeds in Australia

A typically ideal time to begin growing cannabis in Australia is October (Southern Hemisphere).

Seedlings may be sprouted indoors while the winter season transitions to spring. When the spring season begins a few weeks later, the marijuana plants can then be moved outdoors. Harvests typically start in March and run through May in regions with seasonal temperature changes.

In milder regions of Australia, cannabis seeds can grow any season of the year outdoors, giving growers up to four harvests in a single year.

Issues to Consider When Growing Marijuana Seeds in Australia

However, Australian outdoor growers are generally plagued by issues with the intense sun and the plants’ inability to handle scorching or freezing temperatures.

Outdoor-grown cannabis buds may also be susceptible to mold, which can ruin a harvest, theft, or being eaten by wild animals. With that being said, most of Australia’s general climate and soil conditions create an excellent environment for growing marijuana. However, doing so will be a much easier undertaking for those who already have experience in the field.

Tips for Growing Cannabis Seeds in Australia

When it comes to growing marijuana seeds in Australia, you must understand a few critical factors to have a successful harvest.

Below, you’ll find three essential tips that’ll ensure a stellar harvest of ounces of buds that are drenched in resin.

1. Buy Cannabis Seeds From a Reputable Online or Local Seed Bank in Australia

Although it may sound obvious, buying marijuana seeds from a legitimate seed bank is the key to success.

By purchasing marijuana seeds from a tried-and-true seed bank in Australia, you’ll find weed seeds with:

  • High germination rates
  • Vigorous cannabis plants
  • Verified marijuana seed strains
2. Buy Cannabis Seeds for the Australian Climate

One of the most important aspects of growing marijuana seeds in Australia is understanding the climate.

Are you growing cannabis seeds in Victoria or Brisbane (Bris-Vegas)? Overall, you’ll want to find marijuana seeds that produce plants that are:

  • Drought tolerant
  • Resistant to mold and pests
  • Resilient against extreme heat or sudden cold

As long as you choose cannabis seeds with these inner-traits, you’ll find buckets of bud come harvest time.

3. Plan Your Cannabis Garden in Advance

Remember, most Australian populations live in a Mediterranean climate, allowing cannabis plants ample time to finish flowering.

However, what many cannabis cultivators in Australia forget is to plan the garden months before planting the first cannabis seed of the season.

Therefore, you must figure out which cannabis seeds you’ll grow, where you’ll grow them, and what you’ll grow the weed seeds in. If you need help, we have guides on How to Plan an Indoor Cannabis Garden and How to Plan an Outdoor Cannabis Garden.

Once you plan these three factors — all you’ll need to do is kickstart your cannabis seeds and let the Australian sun (or artificial lighting) do its trick!

Super Lemon Diesel

White Widow Max

Super Sour Berry

Which Marijuana Seed Store Is the Best Option for Australian Residents?

Remember, it’s illegal to possess and grow marijuana seeds in all states and territories outside of the ACT.

However, it’s easy to discreetly buy cannabis seeds in Australia online or locally from reputable seed banks.

Read along to learn about the two options for buying cannabis seeds in Australia — online or in-person at a local seed bank.

Local Australian Seed Banks

At the moment — there isn’t much in terms of selection when it comes to seed stores in Australia.

In other words, it’s tough to buy marijuana seeds at a local seed bank in Australia. Besides meeting other cannabis enthusiasts in Australia, such as PotPlace, your best bet for finding marijuana seeds is via online seed banks.

Online Seed Banks That Ship to Australia

Overall, online seed stores are the place to buy marijuana seeds in Australia.

However, not all marijuana seed banks ship to Australia. Luckily, we found the best online marijuana seed banks that ship to Australia.

Here are our recommended seed banks to buy marijuana seeds and have them shipped to your door in Australia.

MSNL Seedbank – The high quality of the cannabis seeds in Australia you purchase from MSNL Seedbank makes it one of the best around. Based in London, United Kingdom, marijuana-seeds.nl is known for reliably delivering juicy strains at low prices because they buy in bulk directly from Dutch producers. They pass the savings onto you! MSNL accepts Bitcoin (including other cryptocurrencies), debit/credit cards, bank transfers, cash, and money orders.

ILGM Seed Bank – A reputable breeder and seed store, discreetly ships to Australia. They deliver when they say they will do so and provide supreme-quality cannabis seeds, including shipping and germination guarantees. There are several ways to pay, from cash, credit cards, Bitcoin, or bank transfer — you name it!

Remember, we chose these two premier online cannabis seed stores for Australian residents because they offer:

  • Incredible seed strain selection
  • Shipping to Australia
  • Stealth options
  • High-quality marijuana seeds
  • Outstanding customer support

As for the fine print — be aware that buying cannabis seeds from seed stores in Australia (except ACT) and then getting caught possessing, using, or selling cannabis is illegal as per the federal government. Always review the local laws where you live to ensure you understand the potential repercussions of non-compliance.

Marijuana-Seeds.NL – High Quality Genetics. Shipping Worldwide.

Recommended Cannabis Seed Strains to Buy and Grow in Australia

If you’re ready to buy the best cannabis seed strains to grow down under — here’s our top picks that’ll produce the best (and biggest) buds that Australia has ever seen.

Each of these seed strains can be found at our two highly recommended online seed banks — ILGM and MSNL. The best part? Both ILGM and MSNL ship to Australia!

Without further ado — here’s our recommended seed strains to buy and grow in Australia:

  1. Critical
  2. Jack Herer
  3. Girl Scout Cookies

In most cases, you may find both feminized and autoflowering seed types, making each of these seed strains even easier to grow. However, let’s briefly discuss the benefits of growing these three seed strains in Australia.

Critical

As the name implies, the Critical seed strain leaves anyone who indulges in her trichome-packed buds in a critically-stoned state.

Perfect for Australia’s hot and dry summer, Critical feminized seeds grow tall and finish flowering within 10-weeks. Huge buds, extreme resin coverage, and ease-of-growth beckon Australian cannabis cultivators of all skill levels.

Jack Herer

Jack Herer is the ace of spades in any cannabis cultivator’s seed collection.

Known for its remarkable potency, resilience in hot and dry climates, and resistance to mold, Jack Herer is a must-have seed strain when growing in Australia’s outback.

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookies

Last but not least is Girl Scout Cookies — the West Coast legend.

If you’re in Australia and wish to leave everyone in “shock-and-awe” with top-shelf weed — look no further than growing this gorgeous indica-dominant seed strain.

Overall, Girl Scout Cookies feminized seeds are a must if you grow indoors or outdoors in Australia.

History on Growing, Using, Selling, and Buying Cannabis Seeds From Seed Banks in Australia

Like most countries in the world, Australia’s history is loaded with strict cannabis laws.

From barring residents from buying marijuana seeds from seed banks to making it a crime to consume weed — Australia is another prime example of prohibition gone wrong.

Let’s take a look at the past, present, and potential future of Australia’s cannabis regulations.

1924: Buying Cannabis From Seed Banks in Australia Becomes Illegal

Restrictions on buying cannabis seeds from seed banks in Australia date back to 1924 at the Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs.

The decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use was proposed in the 1970s. This movement received support from the 1978 New South Wales Joint Parliamentary Committee on Drugs. However, no legal changes happened because of opposition from the 1979 Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs, which stated that decriminalizing weed and allowing Australian residents to buy marijuana seeds would conflict with the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Recent Cannabis Legalization Efforts in Australia And a Big Win for the Greens Party

Australia has a National Drug Strategy, which is its federal drug policy regarding criminal sanctions and favors harm minimization. Overall, Australia does not have a severe system for drug offenses; instead, it focuses on reducing harm and using treatment strategies within the law enforcement system.

In recent years, the Greens party has worked to legalize the use of recreational marijuana in Australia, despite pushback from Greg Hunt, the country’s Minister for Health. Their efforts bear fruits, with the ACT (which includes the capital city of Canberra and several neighboring townships) legalizing recreational cannabis as of January 31, 2020.

Australia’s Greens Party leader wants to legalize cannabis.

Growing Marijuana Seeds in ACT Becomes Legal

ACT Residents over the age of 18 are now allowed to possess up to 50 grams of dried cannabis and even cultivate the plant from seed. By enabling the growth of up to 2 plants per person, or 4 per household, ACT residents can now legally buy marijuana seeds in Australia from a reputable seed bank.

Taxes generated from all legal marijuana sales will fund drug education programs and harm-reduction and treatment programs. Although marijuana seeds are now legal in the ACT, it is still illegal at the federal level.

Looking to the Future

As we can see, public opinion regarding medical and recreational marijuana is rapidly changing.

With the Greens Party and many other pro-cannabis supporters, Australia may soon see recreational cannabis laws in the not-too-distant future. Although residents in Australia’s ACT are the only individuals allowed to buy recreational marijuana seeds from in-store and online seed banks — the rest of Australia may follow suit very soon.

Nimbin, the weed capital of Australia

Cannabis Culture in Australia

Cannabis is the most widely used “illegal” substance in Australia, and support for its use is growing.

As per the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household (NDSH) Survey, 36% of Aussies aged 14 years and older have used cannabis at least once in their lives, with 6.6% of respondents using it within the last month.

In 2019, when the most recent NDSH Survey was conducted, its results indicated growing Aussie support for the legalization of cannabis, with 41% of respondents in favor of it.

Are Medical Cannabis Seeds Legal in Australia?

On February 24, 2016, the Australian parliament passed legislation approving medical marijuana use by people with chronic, severe health conditions. It also legalized growing weed seeds for scientific purposes – an important step towards allowing for mandatory cannabis research.

With optimal growing conditions, such as warm temperatures, humid climate, and other notable agricultural requirements, Australia is the perfect place to grow marijuana seeds en masse. However, extensive licensing is required to grow cannabis seeds currently.

Medical Marijuana’s First Appearance in Australia

With this legislation, the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 was amended to allow cannabis seeds to be grown for the purpose of manufacturing medicinal weed products in the country. The update came after a suggestion proposed by Malcolm Turnball’s federal government and was supported by the main opposition party.

2021 — The Year of Medical Marijuana in Australia

The use, production, manufacturing, and distribution of medical marijuana are legal at the federal level in Australia in 2021, provided that you meet a few stipulations.

Under the new regulations, patients who have a valid prescription can use and possess medical cannabis grown in Australia. An additional requirement is that the weed must have been approved under the Therapeutic Goods Act and comply with laws in the relevant state and territory. A national regulator tracks medical weed products on behalf of the government from the growing stage to supply and restrict any criminal activity.

The change to the legislation of medicinal cannabis came one year after Daniel Haslam died, at just 25 years old, from bowel cancer. Daniel was an advocate for medicinal marijuana in New South Wales and received national attention in 2014 by sharing his story of how battling cancer and managing cancer treatments were made tolerable by the use of marijuana. He had used medical weed to relieve nausea and poor appetite that his chemotherapy-induced before he passed away in February of 2015. Following his death, his mother Lucy started a group called United in Compassion to petition for the legality of medical cannabis.

Dwarf Low Flyer

Victoria was the first state in Australia to create legal access to medical cannabis when it enacted the Victorian Access to Medical Cannabis Act 2016. Although it provided limited access, it restricted the eligible patient groups and specified the only products covered under the act would be Victorian-made. In 2018, Victoria lifted the restrictions on eligible patient groups and canceled the plans for the cannabis-specific manufacturing license scheme initially laid out.

New South Wales, which had notoriously strict laws regarding cannabis criminalization, started allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana in 2016 legally. While the patients’ approval process was initially prolonged, the New South Wales government made further improvements in 2018 to provide better, more timely access to much-needed treatment.

Australian Legislation on Growing Cannabis Seeds From Seed Banks

As of January 31, 2020, it is now legal – in the ACT only – to grow marijuana seeds from a local or online seed bank for personal medical or recreational use.

The new law allows two plants per person and no more than four plants per household. In other words, you may own many marijuana seeds — but you can only germinate a few cannabis seeds at a time.

What You Can’t Do With Weed Grown From Seed

Security measures must be taken to prevent your crop from being stolen (and potentially sold on the black market). Distribution of the weed you grow to the public is still highly illegal, and getting caught doing so will lead to unpleasant legal consequences. Sharing cannabis seeds with a friend or gifting it is classified as distribution.

Outside of the Australian Capital Territories, cultivating your own cannabis from seed is still illegal, even for medical marijuana patients. It is important to note that hydroponic growing techniques are unlawful throughout Australia, and getting caught with grow lights or other hydroponic equipment can land you in legal hot water.

The laws on growing marijuana seeds vary quite a bit as you move through the various Australian states and territories, so it’s a good idea to do a bit of research and understand what sort of fines or other legal repercussions you could be facing if you find cannabis seeds for sale in an Australian seed bank or online and do a bit of recreational gardening in Australia.

Possessing, Using, and Selling Marijuana Seeds or Flowers: What Does Australian Law Say?

Whether you’re an Australian resident or simply a traveler to the country, growing and possessing cannabis seeds for recreational purposes is still federally illegal in Australia. However, a growing number of citizens support marijuana legalization.

In January 2020, the ACT became the first Australian region to legalize recreational marijuana use and possession. However, it is illegal to use, grow, or possess cannabis seeds in public places within the ACT. Selling or distributing marijuana (which includes sharing your stash with a friend) and driving with any trace of cannabis in your system are also illegal.

The current criminal sanctions for possession, distribution, cultivation, and use of weed seeds throughout the rest of the country vary by state or territory. For example, in South Australia, you will find the most relaxed penalties of any state in the country.

Australian Cannabis Laws By Territory

South Australian police officers have the option of issuing a citation and fine instead of charging you with a crime if you’re found to be consuming cannabis or in possession of up to 100 grams of weed, 20 grams of resin, one cannabis plant, or cannabis-use paraphernalia, such as seeds.

In the Northern Territory, if you are in possession of fewer than 50 grams of marijuana at your home, you may only be subjected to a fine. However, possession of any quantity of weed in public still carries the risk of imprisonment.

Are you going to New South Wales? First-time offenders without a criminal history who are found in possession of fewer than 50 grams of weed for personal use may be offered the opportunity to participate in a Drug Diversion Assessment Program (DDAP) instead of being charged with a crime.

The same policy holds true in Queensland, Tasmania, and Victoria. In Western Australia, the threshold of what constitutes a “personal use” quantity is even smaller, at 10 grams or fewer.

Lenience At First — But Don’t Push It

Australia’s Drug Diversion Assessment Programs typically include mandatory counseling sessions designed to address the underlying reasons that a person may turn to drug use, encouraging offenders to find healthier ways of coping with stressful situations. Of course, subsequent offenses carry the likelihood of more significant consequences, from higher fines to imprisonment.

Fines issued for cannabis-related offenses typically must be paid within 28-60 days to prevent further legal repercussions. Should you be particularly unlucky and be sentenced to imprisonment for a simple (small quantity for personal use) cannabis offense, the maximum sentence is two years in most territories, three years in Queensland.

Legal Guide to Buying and Growing Cannabis Seeds In Australia: Summing It All Up

As of 2022, buying cannabis seeds online or from local seed banks for recreational grow purposes in Australia and the possession, use, and sale of recreational cannabis is still illegal under federal law.

However, on January 31st, 2020, the ACT was the first state to legalize the cultivation, use, and possession of recreational marijuana – up to 50 grams of dried weed per person and a limit of 2 plants per person. The status of medical marijuana in Australia underwent a significant change when it was legalized in 2016 and has since positively impacted the Australian economy and quality of life for patients there.

Possessing, distributing, and growing marijuana to resell are still considered illegal activities and are punishable by the law’s fullest extent. However, the penalties for engaging in these marijuana activities vary by state and even between different territories.

If you’re thinking of buying marijuana seeds from a local or online seed bank, possessing it, or using it in any way, always remember to check the specific laws where you reside or travel in Australia to avoid criminal penalties.

The Problem with the Current High Potency THC Marijuana from the Perspective of an Addiction Psychiatrist

Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Stuyt, MD, is a board certified Addiction Psychiatrist and a Senior Instructor for the University of Colorado Health Science Program, Department of Psychiatry. She is the medical director for a 90-inpatient dual diagnosis treatment program in Pueblo, Colorado

Advocates for the legalization of medical and retail marijuana are quick to point out all the possible benefits that a community might see from such a venture. These include increased jobs, increased tax revenue, possible medical benefits and they advertise it as “safe” and “healthy” and “organic.” They utilize the words “cannabis” and “marijuana” for everything without differentiating between the different forms of cannabis that can have very different effects on the mind and body.

Many people who have voted for legalization thought they were talking about the marijuana of the 1960s to 1980s when the THC content was less than 2%. However, without any clear guidelines or regulations from government officials, the cannabis industry has taken a page from the tobacco and alcohol industries’ play book and developed strains of marijuana and concentrated marijuana products with much higher concentrations of THC, the psychoactive component that causes addiction. The more potent a drug is, the stronger the possibility of addiction and the more likely the person will continue to purchase and use the product.

The active component in marijuana that people find so desirable was not really known until the 1960s when a research team in Israel found that after injecting THC into aggressive rhesus monkeys, they became calm and sedate. 1 This team discovered that there was a receptor in the brain that fit THC like a glove so they named these receptors cannabinoid receptors. It was not until the 1990s that this same team discovered why we have these receptors in our brain. 1 They discovered compounds produced by our bodies that fit into these receptors which they named anandamides, a Sanskrit word for “supreme joy.” These receptors are found all over the brain and are still called endocannabinoid receptors but that is not because they are meant for people to take in THC.

The primary problem with the current available cannabis in dispensaries in Colorado is that the THC content is not like it used to be. Prior to the 1990s it was less than 2%. In the 1990s it grew to 4%, and between 1995 and 2015 there has been a 212% increase in THC content in the marijuana flower. In 2017 the most popular strains found in dispensaries in Colorado had a range of THC content from 17–28% such as found in the popular strain named “Girl Scout Cookie.” 2 Sadly these plants producing high levels of THC are incapable of producing much CBD, the protective component of the plant so these strains have minimal CBD. For example the Girl Scout Cookie strain has only 0.09–0.2% CBD.

The flower or leaves that are generally smoked or vaped are only one formulation. We now have concentrated THC products such as oil, shatter, dab, and edibles that have been able to get the THC concentration upwards of 95%. There is absolutely no research that indicates this level of THC is beneficial for any medical condition. The purpose of these products is to produce a high, and the increased potency makes them potentially more dangerous and more likely to result in addiction.

Because there was initially no regulation on the edibles they have been made to look very similar to regular products that people consume such as chocolates, gummy bears, PopTarts etc. As a result there has been a significant increase in the accidental exposure/overdoses of children younger than nine in Colorado compared with the US at large. 3 New regulations beginning in 2019 require that all cannabis packaging in the state of Colorado must have a universal “THC” symbol on the label with the written warning “Contains Marijuana. Keep away from Children.” All marijuana-infused products must have the universal symbol marked on at least one side of the “Standard Serving of Marijuana.”

According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future Study, marijuana is by far the number one drug abused by eighth and twelfth graders. 4 Since legalization in Colorado, marijuana use in adolescents and those 18–25 has steadily climbed, well outpacing the national average. Colorado leads the nation in first time marijuana use by those aged 12–17, representing a 65% increase in adolescent use since legalization. 5 According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2015 the county of Pueblo, Colorado, has the highest prevalence of reported past month marijuana use by high school students at 30.1%. 6 It is well documented that when drugs are perceived as harmful, drug use decreases as we have seen with adolescent use of tobacco. 7 There is significantly less perception of harm by marijuana primarily because Colorado has normalized it as a society and allowed the perception that it is “organic” and “healthy” and that there is nothing wrong with it.

However, there are significant consequences of long-term or heavy marijuana use beginning in adolescence. Adolescence is a time of significant brain development. Normally during this period there is a significant increase in dopaminergic and glutamatergic stimulatory neurotransmitters and a decrease in serotonergic and GABAergic suppressive neurotransmitters located in the pre-frontal motor cortex – the last part of the brain to fully develop. 8 The prefrontal motor cortex or the “seat of judgement” is the last to fully develop and can take up to 25 – 30 years to fully develop. This equates to a great deal of learning, exploring and doing during this period, similar to stepping on the gas pedal and problems with impulse control and judgement, similar to problems stepping on the brake.

The reasons why adolescents are at such great risk for developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol is because this is a period with increased neurobiological based tendencies for risk taking with decreased suppressive and regulatory control, and this is a period of decreased parental monitoring and increase in peer affiliations, a “perfect storm.”

The marijuana of old used to be classified as a hallucinogen and was thought to not cause addiction because there was no identified withdrawal syndrome. This has changed and with the increased potency of THC there is a definite recognized withdrawal syndrome which includes increased anger, irritability, depression, restlessness, headache, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe cravings for marijuana. 9 It has been reported that 9% of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted; 17% of those who start using marijuana as teenagers will become addicted; and 25–50% of those who use daily will become addicted. 10 A 2015 study carried out in the UK found that high-potency cannabis use is associated with increased severity of dependence, especially in young people. 11

Addiction is a problem with the learning and memory part of the brain and all drugs of abuse work in the same “reward pathway” where we learn to do anything such as eat and procreate. All drugs of abuse cause a release of dopamine from the nucleus acumbens that signifies salience and starts the process of long term potentiation which reinforces the learning. At the same time, the hippocampus which is vitally important for new memory and learning is negatively impacted by the chronic use of any addictive substance. These substances decrease neurogenesis in the hippocampus and actually cause shrinkage of the hippocampus and impair the ability to learn new things. This is true for alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, nicotine, and THC. 12 Animal studies have demonstrated impaired learning with all of these substances but the good news is that recovery is possible. When the use of addictive drugs is stopped and the animals are allowed to be in a recovery environment where they are free to exercise (voluntary exercise being one thing that improves neurogenesis) they can again learn new things. 13

There are other important neurotransmitters that are very active during adolescence and include acetylcholine receptors (ACH) and endocannabinergic receptors (CB1). ACH helps us focus and concentrate and ACH innervation of the pre-frontal motor cortex reaches mature levels during adolescence. 16 These receptors in the brain are called nicotinic or nACHRs to differentiate them from the muscarinic receptors in the body. They are called nicotinic simply because nicotine binds to these receptors – not because we are supposed to use tobacco products. These receptors are involved in promoting or preventing neuronal cell death depending on the stage of brain development. Putting an exogenous form of nicotine in the developing brain, as in consuming tobacco, can dysregulate these fine tuning mechanisms during adolescence.

CB1 receptors regulate the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity utilizing our own natural anandamides. Exposure to cannabis during adolescence disrupts glutamate which plays an important role in synaptic pruning in the pre-frontal motor cortex; disrupting normal brain development. 17 This is most likely why there are many studies demonstrating the negative effect on cognition and IQ in people who are exposed to marijuana beginning in utero through adolescence. In spite of this, nearly 70% of dispensaries in Denver, Colorado, recommend cannabis products to treat nausea in the first trimester of pregnancy. 18 This is basically bud-tenders practicing medicine without a license.

A study in New Zealand with a 20-year follow-up showed an average loss of 8 IQ points with early persistent teen use of marijuana. 19 If you already have a high IQ, a drop in 8 points may mean the difference between making As and making Bs, however for the person with an average IQ of 100 (50 th percentile), a loss of 8 points can put that person in the 29 th percentile with significant difficulty in functioning. A study out of Yale University tracked 1,142 students who achieved similar SAT scores and were enrolled in college. 20 They found that those who used minimal alcohol or cannabis had an average GPA of 3.1 at the end of the semester. Those who drank alcohol without using marijuana had an average GPA of 3.03 and those who used both alcohol and marijuana had an average GPA of 2.66.

Marijuana use is also correlated with creating or worsening many mental health problems including anxiety, depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation. A prospective study in Australia followed 1,600 girls for seven years starting before they expressed symptoms of mental illness or substance abuse. 21 They found that girls who used marijuana at least once a week were twice as likely to develop depression than those who did not use, and those who used marijuana every day were five times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than non-users. A study of 307 adults with depression assessed symptoms, functioning and marijuana use at baseline, and three- and six-month intervals. 22 Researchers found that marijuana use was associated with poor recovery. Those aged 50+ increased their marijuana use compared to the youngest age group (p<.001) and the marijuana use worsened depression (p<.001) and anxiety (p=.025) symptoms. Marijuana use led to poorer mental health functioning compared to those who did not use marijuana (p=.01).

Numerous studies have demonstrated that using cannabis prior to the age of 15–18 significantly increases the risk of developing psychotic symptoms. 23 The risk is dose dependent and increases with greater frequency of use and with higher potency THC. A landmark study out of the UK analyzed 780 adults, ages 18–65, 410 with their first psychotic episode versus 370 matched healthy controls. 24 They found that use of high potency THC >15% resulted in a three times increased risk of psychosis, and if the use was daily there was a five times increased risk. Those using hash with

A growing number of states have identified PTSD as an approved condition for medical marijuana. However, this is not based on any research. There is no evidence that marijuana successfully treats PTSD and there is evidence that it can make it worse. Marijuana is not the answer for PTSD similar to the reason why benzodiazepines or alcohol are not the answer for PTSD. All these compounds do is provide temporary relief by numbing the individual and disconnecting them from the traumatic emotion. It does not resolve the trauma, and they have to continue to use multiple times a day in order to continue with the benefit. This can lead to increased addiction potential and withdrawal symptoms, cognitive impairment, a-motivational syndrome, and the potential for psychosis or worsening psychosis from the PTSD. An observational study done by the VA followed 2,276 Veterans who were treated for PTSD in one of the VA PTSD treatment programs around the country. 25 It compared those using marijuana and those not using it and found those who never used marijuana had significantly lower symptom severity four months after PTSD treatment. Those who were using marijuana but stopped using it in treatment had the lowest level of PTSD symptoms four months after treatment, and those who started smoking marijuana had the highest levels of violent behavior and PTSD symptoms four months after treatment. Another conundrum that impacts treatment for PTSD is the possibility that cannabis users have an increased susceptibility to memory distortions even when abstinent and drug free which can compromise reality monitoring. Riba et al. studied 16 heavy cannabis users (daily for last two years – average of 21 years) to 16 matched cannabis naïve controls. 26 The cannabis users had to abstain from cannabis use for four weeks prior to the study. The study involved a memory paradigm including a study phase and a testing phase with the participant in an MRI scanner. They were given lists of four words to memorize and then shown a different list and they had to report if the words were on the previous list. Marijuana users were significantly more likely to have false recognition of the words and were less likely to reject that they had a false memory compared with the non-users.

Multiple studies have documented a relationship between cannabis use and suicidality. A large, longitudinal study in Australia and New Zealand of over 2000 adolescents and maximum frequency of marijuana use found almost a seven fold increase in suicide attempts in daily marijuana users compared with non-users. 27 A Congressional Hearing on April 27, 2017, reported that Veteran suicides were up 32% since 2001 compared to a national increase of 23% during the same time period. A 2017 cross-sectional multi-site VA study of 3,233 Veterans found that cannabis use disorder was significantly associated with both current suicidal ideation (p<.0001) and lifetime history of suicide attempts (p<.0001) compared to Veterans with no lifetime history of cannabis use disorder. 28 This significant difference continued even after adjusting for sex, PTSD, depression, alcohol use disorder, non-cannabis drug use disorder, history of childhood sexual abuse, and combat exposure. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, marijuana is by far the most frequently encountered drug on toxicology screens of suicides among adolescents ages 10 – 19 and has been increasing over the last eight years. 29

Misguided marijuana advocates have recently been suggesting that marijuana is a solution for the opioid epidemic. There is no clinical evidence of this and in fact, marijuana is found to be more of a “companion” drug rather than an “alternative” drug for most patients seeking addiction treatment in Colorado. A study of 5,315 adolescents in the UK with three or more measures of cannabis use from age 13–18 found a dose-response relationship between cannabis use trajectories in adolescence and nicotine dependence, harmful alcohol consumption, and other illicit drug use by age 21. 30 A large study of 34,653 individuals using NESARC data compared cannabis use at wave 1 (2001–2002 – 81% response rate) to prescription opioid use disorder at wave 2 (2004–2005 – 70.2% response rate). 31 Cannabis use at wave 1 was associated with a significant increase of having a prescription opioid use disorder at wave 2, with over four times the risk for those who had frequent use of marijuana.

There is evidence that prenatal exposure of cannabis can alter opioid gene function in humans. Fetal brains obtained from aborted fetuses from women who were using marijuana during their pregnancy were compared to those from women not using marijuana during pregnancy. 32 The researchers discovered impaired opioid-related genes in distinct brain circuits that they hypothesized may have long term effects on cognitive and emotional behavior. These findings are comparable to findings with animals. One study of prenatal cannabis exposure in rats found that the THC exposed rats exhibited shorter latency to first active lever press for heroin and had higher heroin-seeking during mild stress and drug extinction than animals not exposed to THC. 33 The THC exposed animals exhibited allostatic changes in the limbic encephalin systems in adulthood.

Another interesting study that supports the idea that cannabis use and opioid use are linked was in a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial of naltrexone in non-treatment seeking cannabis smokers. 34 In a laboratory setting those receiving a placebo had 7.6 times the odds of self-administering active cannabis compared with those receiving daily naltrexone, an opioid receptor blocker.

If states continue to commercialize marijuana as has been done in Colorado we are destined to see many more people requiring treatment for addiction, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and psychosis. We need to continually educate every one of the risks and increase prevention efforts to prevent children and adolescents from initiating marijuana use. This should include a strong ban on any advertising that appears to be directed toward youth – for all drugs including marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol. States will need to commit to increased funding for and availability of treatment options. The strongest recommendation would be to initiate regulations to limit the concentration of THC. Ideally this would be to less than 10% as there is no good research on concentrations greater than this for any medical condition and there is significant literature on the negative effects of high potency THC.

Footnotes

Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Stuyt, MD, is a board certified Addiction Psychiatrist and a Senior Instructor for the University of Colorado Health Science Program, Department of Psychiatry. She is the medical director for a 90-inpatient dual diagnosis treatment program in Pueblo, Colorado.