One of the most enduring myths about marijuana these days is the idea that today’s “bud” (or “skunk”, for my UK friends) is so much more potent than the grass of the 1960s. Just recently this myth was used by Barbara Kay of Canada’s National Post:
Since then, “skunk,” as Britons call the hybrid form of cannabis in current usage, has offered users a 25-fold increase in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabis’s psychoactive ingredient.
This myth is critical to the drug warriors’ message. There are so many parents alive today who enjoyed pot in the 1960s and 1970s and they don’t recall any of these exaggerated harms of marijuana so often touted by the prohibitionists. They didn’t go schizo, become violent, end up homeless (because amotivation cost them their jobs), become psychotic, suffer loss of fertility — in fact, most people of that generation have generally good memories of their use of marijuana.
So the only way the drug warriors can enlist these aging Baby Boom parents in the crusade to convince their kids that reefers are the devil’s tool is to convince them that today’s pot isn’t the happy drug it was in the 60s and 70s, that it has transmogrified into something more harmful than meth, more addictive than cocaine, and more destructive than heroin.
Unfortunately for Barbara Kay, scientists actually measure and study things like the percentage of THC in seized marijuana. (For a look at the evidence, see the Full Story…)
STUDY: ElSohly et al. USA (1980–97) = 35,213 seizures measured; 91% marijuana, 4% sinsemilla, 6% ditchweed; THC Average 2.0% (1980)–4.5% (1997); Minimum 0.0%, Maximum 29.86%, Sinsemilla Max 33.12%
STUDY: ONDCP USA (1983–2006) = 59,369 seizures measured; no breakdown of type; THC Average ~4.0% (1983)–8.5% (2006)
STUDY: Poulsen and Sutherland New Zealand (1976–96) = 1,066 seizures measured; 57.5% leaf, 42.5% bud; THC Average Leaf 1.6% (1978–82)–1.0% (1994–96), Buds 3.8% (1976–82)–3.4 (1994–96); Leaf Minimum 0.2%, Maximum 4.2%, Bud Minimum 0.7%, Maximum 9.7%
STUDY: EMCDDA Austria (1997–2003) = 2,268 seizures measured; 100% Marijuana; THC Average ~2% (1997)–~2% (2003);
Czech Republic (1997–2003) = unknown seizures; 100% Marijuana; THC Average ~2% (1997)–~6% (2003)
Germany (1997–2003) = 17,403 seizures measured; 100% Marijuana; THC Average ~5% (1997)–~8% (2003)
Netherlands (1999/2000– 2001/2002) = 523 samples from coffeeshops; 28% Marijuana, 72% Sinsemilla; THC Average Marijuana ~5% (1999/2000)–~5% (2001–02), Sinsemilla: ~8% (1999/2000)–~13% (2001–02)
Portugal (1997–2003) = 149 seizures measured; 100% Marijuana; THC Average ~1% (1997)–~1% (2003)
STUDY: Niesink et al. Netherlands (2000/2001– 2006/2007) = 562 samples from coffeeshops; 26% Marijuana, 74% Sinsemilla; THC Average Marijuana 5.0% (2000/2001)–7.0% (2003/2004)–6.0% (2006/2007), Sinsemilla 11.3% (2000/2001)–20.4% (2003/2004)–16.0% (2006–07)
STUDY: Baker et al. UK (1975–81) = 335 seizures measured; 100% Marijuana; THC Average 3.4% (1975)–4.9% (1981); Minimum 0.2%; Maximum 17%
STUDY: Eaton et al. UK (1998–2004) = unknown seizures; no breakdown of type; THC Average 7.9% (1998)–12.7% (2004)
STUDY: Licata et al. Italy (1997–2004) = 947 seizures; Loose marijuana (5%), Kilobricks (55%), Buds (26%), Home produced (15%); THC Average 2.5% (1997)–15.0% (2004)
We don’t have data going back to the 1960s, but if we look at data from 1975-1983, we find the average THC content hovering around 2%-4% for the “grass from the past”, and in the 2000s the data show an average between 5%-8.5%. At best it would be intellectually honest to say that marijuana’s potency may have doubled. Kay and her kind dredge up their numbers by comparing the 0.2% THC leaf samples to the 33.14% sinsemilla samples, which would be like saying beer is so much more dangerous now because we drank 3.2 beer in the 1960s and nowadays there are Jager shots.
If Ms. Kay really wants to be frightened, she should compare the legal synthetic THC products, Marinol and Sativex*, which are 100% pure THC, to the dreaded “skunk”. If you start by comparing them to the best sinsemilla, the legal THC products are three times as potent! If you go with her baseline leaf samples, then legal THC products are 500 times more potent!
But of course, potency is irrelevant with respect to THC content. THC makes you high. More potent weed doesn’t give you a different or more dangerous high, it just gives you that THC dose in a smaller package. Just like you can get the same buzz on 3.2 beer or drunk on Jager shots, but you’ll need less Jager than beer to get there.
And even that’s not entirely accurate, because alcohol overdose can kill you. Chug 72 ounces of beer and you’ll get wasted. Chug 72 ounces of Jager and you’ll be dead. So it is (sadly) very easy to misjudge your intoxication, because you don’t feel the effects of alcohol for 30-45 minutes.
But with inhaled marijuana, you feel the effects immediately. If you smoke a joint of leaf, you’ll puff and puff and puff and puff and eventually you’ll feel a little high. However, if you vaporize a kind bud, you’ll puff and be quite high immediately, no need to keep puffing.
Finally, the effects of the intoxication relative to the potency are important to note. Drink a little, you get relaxed; drink more, you get outgoing; drink more, you get obnoxious; drink more, you get violent; drink more, you get pukey; drink enough, you die. With weed, smoke a little, you get relaxed; smoke more, you get giggly; smoke more, you get introspective; smoke more, you get the munchies; smoke more, you get cemented to the couch; smoke enough, you fall asleep.
As Flavor Flav once said… don’t believe the hype. It’s not your father’s 1960s marijuana – and that’s a good thing, because you’ll smoke less of it, saving a little more of your lungs and your paycheck.
*UPDATE: My mistake – Sativex is neither synthetic nor 100% THC. See the comments for details. — “R”R