Free Minds & Free Markets

The Year's Best Drug Scares

Impossibly potent marijuana edibles, formaldehyde in e-cigarettes, pills of war, MDMA disguised as Halloween candy, and superhuman flakka zombies.

Believability is key to a good drug scare, because if it doesn't catch on it's not much of a scare. At the same time, you have to admire claims that catch on even though a moment's reflection reveals them as ridiculous. The trick for an aspiring drug scare is to forestall reflection by being so compelling and repeatable that it gets passed around before anyone has time to think. In this annual list I recognize tall tales about drugs that rise to the challenge.

5. Invasion of the Super-Potent Pot

Jacob SullumJacob SullumIn their 2015 book Going to Pot, former drug czar Bill Bennett and New Jersey lawyer Robert White argue that rising THC concentrations effectively make cannabis, a substance that humans have been consuming for thousands of years, a new drug with unknown hazards. "You cannot consider it the same substance when you look at the dramatic increase in potency," they write. "It is like comparing a twelve-ounce glass of beer with a twelve-ounce glass of 80 proof vodka; both contain alcohol, but they have vastly different effects on the body when consumed."

Bennett and White completely ignore the possibility that people take potency into account when deciding how much is enough. Just as drinkers do not treat 12 ounces of vodka as equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, cannabis consumers adjust their intake based on the strength of the strain. Anyone who is accustomed to smoking a whole bowl of mediocre black-market weed will quickly learn he should not treat a Denver marijuana merchant's Chemdawg 4 or Girl Scout Cookies the same way.

While no one would accuse Bennett and White of bringing nuance to this subject, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, Sheriff Mark Overman outdid their pot potency panic in a March op-ed piece that sought to explain why he joined a lawsuit seeking to reverse marijuana legalization in neighboring Colorado. "Almost all of the marijuana that we see originates in Colorado," he writes. "The potency has increased dramatically."

Overman says "the smoking variety" of Colorado marijuana "commonly tests over 20 percent." That's rather misleading, since such super-strong strains remain the exception rather than the rule. The Green Solution, a chain of cannabis retailers in Colorado, lists 57 varieties of buds on its website, 36 of which (almost two-thirds) have THC concentrations below 20 percent, many far below.

Overman moves from exaggeration to fabrication when he claims that "'edibles,' in the form of candy, baked goods, and drinks, have [THC] levels as high as 90 percent." That can't possibly be true, since a lollipop or soda that was 90 percent THC would not be a lollipop or soda; it would be THC sprinkled with sugar. Furthermore, Colorado's regulations limit edibles to no more than 100 milligrams of THC per package. A legal edible that was 90 percent THC therefore would weigh no more than 111 milligrams, or 0.004 ounce. That's a pretty tiny candy bar.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Apparently these are the fast kind of zombies.


    And I'm sure not paying for a drug war just because you don't like that people use drugs. There better be a quantifiable societal detriment to drug use like fast zombies before I agree to it.

  • markskar||

    The author missed a chance to talk about how the bs formaldehyde in e-cig story led to the free market improving e-cig products. Despite the fact that study was fatally flawed, manufacturers started making temperature controlled devices that prevent an atomizer from ever getting hot enough to generate any formaldehyde.

    Manufacturers did this on their own because consumers wanted a safer product, and it was all done without any government intervention. This sort of innovation will come to a halt if the new, anti-ecig rules the FDA wants to implement are put into place. And the result will be a continuation of millions of tobacco related deaths as consumers go back to cigarettes.

  • macsnafu||

    The best scare stories come from people who don't understand what they're talking about! Especially if they're telling it to people who have no idea themselves.

  • CarolGuzman||

    Im making over $9k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,


  • lovelydestruction||

    Wait...from your link; "That spike went all the way through, entering in his thigh near the crotch, exiting on the other side, through the buttocks." Maybe a better example is in order.

  • lovelydestruction||

    In NBC's report, for instance, a guy who got stuck while climbing the fence around the Fort Lauderdale police station last March becomes "users…impaling themselves on fences."

  • HannahRoberts||

    These headlines are ripped from a classic 'reefer madness' style drug scare, where anxiety and irrationality supplant knowledge and reason.

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