How Strong is Cannabis Nowadays?

How Strong Is Cannabis Nowadays?

A recent study, published in the journal Addiction, has confirmed what we have suspected for a long time. The strength of cannabis has been increasing steadily over the last decade. So much so that, the researchers confirmed that the potency of cannabis has more than doubled across Europe in the past ten years.

The study found that THC concentrations in cannabis resin had been stable between 2006 and 2011. However, after then, a rapid increase was seen, with levels upping from 10% to 17% by 2016.

It is thought that the rise in the potency of cannabis resin is mainly a result of new production techniques employed by drug manufacturers in Morocco and Europe.

So, what exactly is THC?

The cannabinoids known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC in short happen to be the main ingredient of cannabis that causes many of the moods altering and psychoactive behaviour. The strength or potency of the drug is determined by the amount of THC contained in the cannabis in combination with other cannabinoids. The concentration of THC in cannabis doesn’t remain the same and varies according to various factors such as the strain or the plant variety, the way the plant is grown, the methods of preparation and storage and the part used to manufacture the drug.

Strain and Cultivation technique

As mentioned above the strength of cannabis depends upon the amount of the THC which also depends upon how the plant is cultivated. The species of the plant that are more usually associated with hash or hashish, and cannabis manufacturing belong to the Cannabis Sativa. The plant is subject to cross fertilisation in which the male cannabis plants are separated and fertilise female plants. The female plants are generally kept in isolation because unfertilised flowering tops called sinsemilla to contain a high level of THC. The technological improvements relating to genetic engineering and cross-breeding also produce the newer strains of cannabis Sativa that contain high levels of THC.

Some agricultural scientists advocate that cannabis when grown hydroponically is much stronger than bush weeds. Hydroponics is the branch of science that excels in plant cultivation in water and artificial lighting rather than bush-weed technology where plants are naturally grown. The scientists believe that hydroponics allows the plants to reach their maximum genetic potential and thus the plants contain a maximum THC potency. Even the users of the drug claim that they can differentiate the hydro cultivated cannabis because they are very strong. However, many people don’t seem to agree with the logic that mere hydroponic cultivation can lead to stronger cannabis. They argue that large-scale hydroponic cultivators might be growing stronger strains of cannabis under optimal procedures that lead to full potential cannabis growth. The Australian test is the only published test that used merely ten plants for testing the differences between various cultivation techniques such as indoor cultivation, bush-weed cultivation and hydroponics cultivation and shown a wide variation in results for their THC potency. This small study failed to indicate any specific growing techniques that are attributed to producing more potent plants.

Part of Plant Used

As already mentioned, the flowering buds of the female cannabis plant contain high levels of THC followed by the leaves. The deeds and stalks of the plant contain very low levels of THC.

Preparation for Use

The cannabis plant is processed in a number of ways, and the method used in preparing the plant directly affects the potency of the cannabis. The hash oil that is obtained by extracting THC from the plant in the oil form happens to be the strongest preparation of the cannabis plant. The hash oil contains about 15 – 30 per cent THC. The hash can also be prepared by drying the resin produced by the plant, and it is the neat strongest preparation containing about 10 – 20 per cent THC. Cannabis is prepared from the lower concentrations of THC derived from the buds and leaves of the plant. In Australia, cannabis happens to be the most common preparation of the cannabis plant with potency ranging from 1 to 20 per cent.

Cannabis Has Become Stronger?

Some people realise that present-day cannabis has become stronger than it used to be. During the 1970s, there was media coverage as well documenting that cannabis became 30 per cent stronger during those days. If this is really happening, it’s a major cause of concern for cannabis users because they are now subject to more severe side effects than before. Over the last 20 years or so there has been growing health problems associated with cannabis consumption, but it is not yet clear whether this is because cannabis has become stronger or there are other causes.

Until the recent study in Addiction, there were no recorded data to clearly find out whether cannabis had become stronger over the years. The growing health complications might be the result of people using more potent parts of the cannabis plant than before. For example, during the 1970s, people generally smoked the leaves of the plant that contained relatively fewer amounts of THC than the flowering buds that are used to smoke nowadays. Moreover, the age at which people start using cannabis is progressively going down over the years and there is evidence to prove that. According to the ongoing research, regular young users who generally use cannabis daily are prone to the severe side effects of the drug, including dependency and mental health problems.

So What’s the Story?

The users who are using cannabis over long periods of time claim that cannabis has become stronger over the years. The available evidence does indicate that the potency of cannabis has enhanced over the last 25 years or so. However, there is nothing to show that the potency has drastically increased by 30 times. The fact is cannabis users are now using more potent parts of the plant.

The age at which the cannabis users start using the drug, and the part of the plant involved in smoking makes all the difference to the story. It’s clearly evidenced that nowadays people are smoking the female buds of the flowering plant which are more potent than the leaves of the cannabis plant. Moreover, the intake pattern has also changed, and people usually smoke cannabis using a bong. Therefore, users are nowadays consuming a higher amount of THC than in the past.

The age at which cannabis users start taking the drug has become a very important aspect in combating cannabis addiction. When people start at a very young age, they are subject to severe side effects of cannabis as they are consuming the drug for a longer span of their lives. Simply focusing attention on the potency of the drug might dilute the attention required to comprehend the more severe problems associated with the age and usage patterns of the drug.

Photo by Panos Sakalakis on Unsplash

This post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated since.