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Bach says teens who smoke pot may lose their memory forever

The mayor and the mind eraser



Recently, Mayor Steve Bach's been walking around, dropping heavy-handed hints about what he plans to recommend Colorado Springs City Council do about recreational marijuana at its May 28 meeting.

It started at his May 14 press conference, when he called recreational marijuana a "public-safety issue" and compared retail outlets to adult bookstores (see here), and continued at a town hall meeting the next day.

"This Amendment 64 that passed, the recreational use of marijuana, it's very, very serious," he told a crowd of around a hundred people at Broadmoor Elementary School. "The police chief's told me to expect many more accidents, more fatalities, more crimes."

And then the mayor made a full-scale descent into Reefer Madness.

"And by the way, I'm told, the young people who use this new grade of marijuana that's out there now — apparently it's far more potent than in past generations — are at risk of losing their memory for life."

We checked with the city communications office about whether the mayor meant that teens who smoke marijuana lose every memory they've ever collected, or whether they just lose the ability to ever create a new memory, but had not heard back as of press time.

Nonetheless, we felt compelled to investigate such a bold statement. Turns out, we can forget about worrying about forgetting.

"Well, that's not possible," says Dr. Randall J. Bjork, a neurologist with Colorado Springs Neurological Associates, of the memory-erasing. "Sure, while you're under the influence, yeah. While under the influence, yes, you're not paying attention. Without attention there is no memory.

"[Marijuana's] not an amnesic drug, except the fact is that when you're mellow and you're not concentrating on the situation at hand, you're not gonna remember what's going on," says Bjork. "Just like when you're sitting bored, watching the weather report, and your eyes glaze over, and pretty soon you wonder, 'What's the weather gonna be like tomorrow?' ... Being stoned is sort of like not paying attention."

What definitely is true, though, is that the local bud's packing a lot more heat than it used to.

"It's absolutely true, yeah," says Genifer Murray, owner of Denver laboratory CannLabs. "In the '80s, it was about 3 to 5 percent THC, and [these days] I've seen upwards of 30."

Murray attributes the increase to cannabis grows moving from the outdoors into specialized facilities; improved knowledge of how to give the plant exactly what it wants; and experienced growers getting to practice their craft in peace. As far as the plant performing a sort of remembrance lobotomy, though ...

"I don't know about all that," Murray says, before adding that she doesn't "condone teen use of anything, but I think that they really need to look at what really the problems are, and that's pills and alcohol. I mean, Adderall is crystal meth, basically. And kids and college kids are popping it like it's candy."

And the drive to suspend reality probably has a lot to do with what an average teen wishes they could forget, says Bjork.

"Just being stoned is sort of like a sanctuary from metal detectors at schools, and worrying about being blasted away, or lockdowns — we just had a lockdown last week here, over by Penrose Hospital," the neurologist says. "So, these kids find that when they're stoned they don't feel the chaos.

"But, no, they're not gonna permanently lose their memory."

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