Whoever said that cannabis now is not as strong as it used to be got it wrong. Because marijuana these days is, in fact, more potent than ever!
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the potency of cannabis has increased consistently over the past several decades. This is based on annual reports that tested the THC percentage of weed samples from the supply confiscated by law enforcement from 1975 up to 2003.
To illustrate, here’s a table on the average THC levels by decade:
More recent study on THC levels
In a more recent federal study, researchers looked into more than 38,600 illicit cannabis plant materials that have been confiscated by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration over a period of 20 years and found that the samples have a consistently rising potency over time. In 1995, potency level was at 4% and, in 2014, it has reached 12%. According to the study, this rise in potency marked a shift in pot smokers’ use of dirt to mid-grade cannabis to hydro.
The researchers also looked at the THC to CBD ratio and found that it also climbed over the years. In 1995, cannabis samples had 14 times more THC content than CBD, and in 2014, the THC content was now 80 times higher than CBD.
It is worth noting that government stats do not include samples of cannabis from the legal market.
Why is weed getting stronger?
The low THC levels of weed during the 1970s reflected the times, when America’s marijuana subculture was only starting to take root and explode. Weed used in the United States all originated from outside the country, and this is evident in memorable brands like Panama Red, Thai stick, Afghani, Acapulco Gold, and Jamaican Sensi. These days, however, a lot of the cannabis used in the U.S. are already grown domestically and more advanced cultivation techniques and scientific testing methods are used instead of just traditional agriculture.
The study noted that another reason why cannabis is getting more potent is because the marijuana industry shifted its focus on sinsemilla production. Sinsemilla refers to the tops of the unfertilized female plant. This part of the plant contains the highest THC levels. Harvesters cut off trimmings then take out the large leaves, which contain lower THC levels.
Also contributing to the increased potency of cannabis is strain selection. Growers prefer cannabis strains containing high levels of cannabinoids or THC because these have higher cash value. And because THC produces tolerance among frequent users, the more tolerant these users get, the more marijuana they consume.
The strongest strains nowadays are hybrid crosses from other popular strains. Moreover, cannabis cultivators are discovering new combinations each day that are more potent.
More potent means more negative health benefits?
Mahmoud A. ElSohly, the lead author of the study and professor of pharmaceuticals at the University of Mississippi, said that increased potency in cannabis may mean negative health consequences for the users, especially the younger ones.
He explained that when you smoke weed with lower THC levels, you get a pleasant feeling, a sense of euphoria, and the munchies. However, smoking weed with high THC levels may bring about negative health effects like panic attacks and psychosis.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also noted that new trends in THC levels raise concerns that cannabis use will have consequences that could be worse than those experienced by users in the past, especially among new or young users, whose brains are still in the process of developing.