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Opinion: As THC potency grows, is Colorado planting the seeds of destruction for our youth?

This isn’t the same plant that was grown when my grandparents were teenagers. Instead, bioengineering has created extremely potent products.

In the San Luis Valley, where I’m from, when late summer turns to fall, harvest is underway.

I remember the potato trucks going by, the piles of fresh-cut hay drying before they’re bailed.

I remember the canola seeds passed around in a coffee can to snack on while the men in my family played pool in the cool evening after a long day of work.

Hailey B. Dennis

Love for agriculture and all it can give us filled my childhood. 

Now, I worry about what else we are harvesting come fall.

Marijuana is slowly becoming a regular Colorado crop, but this isn’t the same plant that was grown back when my grandparents were teenagers.

Instead, bioengineering has created extremely potent products that appeal to adults and kids alike.

The plants, approaching 30% THC (marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient), are often then distilled into concentrates that can be nearly pure THC. Long gone are the days of passing around a skinny little weak joint.

Amid evidence that THC harms young people’s brains, these ultra-potent products present a great danger.

Colorado state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, a practicing pediatrician, wrote in an op-ed in the Colorado Springs Gazette that she sees the impacts firsthand.

Children, she said, are coming into the E.R. with a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) at increasingly alarming rates. This condition, which once was hardly seen, is now “occurring across the state,” Rep. Caraveo says.

She describes a teenaged patient who “required hospitalization and frequent follow-up from our office to control abdominal pain and electrolyte abnormalities from her rapid weight loss.”

Rep. Caraveo talks about both the physical toll the condition takes on kids as well as the psychiatric issues that are arising from the use of too-potent THC. 

She has said she favors a cap on THC potency to help prevent these harms, and that she has been considering ways to further limit youth access to the drug.

My generation uses the term “green out.” It’s what happens when you take too many edibles, dab, or smoke too big of a blunt.

Since moving to Denver for college, I realized what a comfortable bubble I lived in the San Luis Valley. 

I’m allergic to marijuana and stay away from it as much as I can. But I find myself hit with waves of smoke as I walk down the street of Denver.

Just because I avoid the drug doesn’t mean I don’t see what it does to people in my life. Green outs are common among my college peers now.

But what’s more startling is how common they are in high school; I worry about my 16-year-old brother facing this new reality in his freshman class.

I also think about a 19-year-old family member who started with weed, which became an appetizer for other drugs like speed.

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The San Luis Valley is losing its “bubble” more and more as time goes on. It’s physically separated from the rest of Colorado, but the dangers of weed are still seeping into the home I love and dream of coming back to someday.

It disheartens me to think about the marijuana bloom tainting our yearly harvest celebrations – the way it damages schools, the way it damages relationships, the way it can damage health.

We all know the saying that we reap what we sow. Colorado’s highly potent marijuana crops are poisoning Colorado kids and, unless we do something about this as a state, we are to blame for the damage to future generations.


Hailey B. Dennis moved from the San Luis Valley to attend college at the University of Colorado Denver, where she is a junior majoring in biology with plans to attend medical school. She is an advisory-council member of Smart Colorado, a group concerned about the impact of marijuana on youth.  


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