Summit County first responders get crash course in cannabis safety
The Summit County Ambulance Service’s 22nd Bi-Annual Skills Day Mini Conference was held on Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco and among other workshops included a crash course in Marijuana called “Understanding Cannabis.”
The course was lead by Joe Lindsey, director of customer relations at High Country Healing, who noted HCH is a major advocate of cannabis education and information. Commenting on his qualifications, Lindsay, while acknowledging a lack of medical training, said he has researched the topic broadly.
“I’m not a doctor, but I have studied it for two years extensively,” he said.
James Woodworth, director of the Summit County Ambulance Service, explained the purpose of the course.
“We need experts to train us on the reaction of the body to cannabis,” he said.
The room full of emergency responders, who included fire fighters in addition to EMTs, got a primer in understanding cannabis, which Lindsey described as one plant with many forms.
The lengthy history of cannabis use was discussed by him, who noted medicinal use of cannabis goes back thousands of years.
In 2007, a nearly two-pound stash of marijuana found in a grave near the Gobi Desert was analyzed and discovered to be approximately 2,700 years old. The cannabis was discovered in the Yanghai Tombs, near Turpan, China and was placed near the head of a blue-eyed Caucasian male whom researchers believe was a shaman. Testing confirmed that the ancient marijuana contained highly-potent psychoactive properties.
Despite marijuana’s federal classification as a Schedule I drug — prohibiting the government from conducting scientific research — Lindsey said private industry is leading the charge towards a better understanding of the medical value of cannabis.
“In the last several years, there have been over 70,000 studies conducted,” he said.
THE MANY FORMS OF Marijuana
The different forms of cannabis include flowers (or buds), keif (or trichomes), concentrates (hash, wax, shatter) and edibles.
Marijuana consumers have a more difficult time gauging the strength of concentrates and edibles, Lindsey said, and emergency responders who encounter patients who have consumed too much marijuana are typically looking at the use of concentrates or edibles.
The best approach in this situation is to inform the patient that everything is going to be OK, he said.
The relative strength of concentrates or edibles is where some cannabis consumers encounter problems. While marijuana flowers top out at about 20- to 25-percent THC content, concentrates like bubble hash can reach more than 60-percent THC content, with wax or shatter going up to 90 percent.
Another problematic issue with concentrates like wax or shatter, which use either butane or propane in the production process, is the propensity for igniting fires. Since it is heavier than air, butane will travel until it finds an ignition source, which causes an instant explosion.
As of July 1, with the passage of Colorado House Bill 1035, it is illegal to use combustible gas, like butane, or an open flame in the extraction process. In 2014, there were 32 explosions related to concentrate production. The legislation makes it a class two felony, punishable by up to 16 years in prison.
Lindsey explained that only licensed professionals are now allowed to produce concentrates, and they must use a closed-loop system, which has to be inspected for safety.
Home production typically involves the use of glass tubes that are filled with cannabis or discarded remnants like trim leaves, which then has butane poured over it to freeze the THC crystals. He said this method is often referred to as open blasting.
“When you open blast, any spark could ignite a fire,” he noted.
The Chemistry of cannabis
The first responders in attendance were also instructed on the proper use of edibles, or foods infused with cannabis.
Since the mental and phyiscal effects can take up to two hours, Lindsey said he advises taking a 10 mg dose and waiting a sufficient amount of time to gauge your reaction.
“THC is fat soluble, so you need fat in your stomach for it to attach and allow the body to process,” he said.
Despite some concerns over the strength of edibles, he said a lethal overdose is impossible.
“If you eat too much, nothing’s going to help except waiting until the THC leaves your body,” he said.
The effects from edibles can last for 8-12 hours, he noted, and the best advice if you overindulge is to find a “chill place” to relax and recuperate.
“You can overmedicate but not OD,” he said. “You can get to the point where you will pass out, and an increased heart rate might cause you to think you are having a heart attack.”
The emergency responders were also taught about cannabinoids. Marijuana has at least 90 known cannabinoids, of which THC is the only psychoactive example, he said.
One of the more researched cannabinoids is cannabidiol, or CBD, which has proven anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects, he said. He went on to explain that it has also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, is helpful with auto immune diseases and can be used for anxiety issues. CBD oil has even been used to reduce seizures in epileptic children.
Lindsey noted that with many pharmaceuticals the side effects outweigh the positives, but, with cannabis, there are no side effects.
Firefighter Aaron Ferdig, with the Lake Dillon Fire Department, said the educational session was quite useful. He said most of the calls he responds to involving cannabis use are from out-of-town guests.
Woodward noted the county has seen an increase in calls associated with marijuana use. With more knowledge, he feels emergency responders will be better equipped to treat those who may have overmedicated.
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