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  • Alec Chenkus

Myths About Cannabis: Cannabis Is More Potent and Dangerous Now Than in the Sixties

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

A constant talking point for cannabis opposers is that cannabis potency has increased dramatically in recent history, and for this reason poses a dangerous threat to an individual's health, and even society overall. While there have certainly been advancements in cannabis cultivation knowledge and the technology that assists in cannabis manufacturing, this is not to say that we are starting to create dangerous cannabis.

According to Sensi Seeds, "the highest tested cannabis flower in the world has reached the peak value of 44% THC in 2010, with other strains testing at 37.9% and 39.7% THC in respectively 2009 and 2011. There may be other variables involved in these levels found in Berlin, Germany, as even Godfather OG, the 'strongest ever tested weed in the world' and High Times Cup Winner in the category 'Highest THC content' were allowed a maximum potency up to 34% THC when measured. With the exception of these varieties, only bred recently, even the cup winners in this category never reached 30% until 2016."

It is important to note that there have been arguments made proposing that raw cannabis flower itself is limited to a certain cannabinoid potency. According to Nick Jikomes of Leafly, there is a genetic limit in the increase in potency that is possible, often referred to as the "potency ceiling." This limitation is due to the relationship between CBGA and the primary cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, as both primary cannabinoids are ultimately derived from CBGA. As a result, "there are serious biological constraints on the THC:CBD ratios that strains can have...The biological limits on THC production mean that ~35% total THC by dry weight is a rough upper limit for strains. On average, high-THC strains contain ~18-20% total THC, while the more potent strains will contain ~25-30% total THC. You should almost never see a strain with more than 35% total THC by dry weight. Be skeptical if you do."

Furthermore, the ratio of CBD and THC is also constrained. As Jikomes argues, "Mixed strains are also limited in how much CBD and THC they can produce. They can’t produce as much THC as the more potent THC-dominant strains, and they can’t produce as much CBD as the more potent hemp strains. 20% total CBD by dry weight would be considered highly potent for a hemp strain."

This misconception that cannabis potency has increased at such a substantial rate that it is dangerous seems to be based on biased or misleading government data from the early 1970s. A NORML report by Dr. John Morgan found that samples that were tested from the early '70s came from "stale, low-potency Mexican 'kilobricks' left in police lockers, whose potency had deteriorated to sub-smokable levels of less than 0.5% THC." These flawed samples were then compared to later samples of "decent-quality domestic marijuana," making it appear as though cannabis potency had "skyrocketed."

In fact, Dr. Morgan found that the data had actually shown the average cannabis potency "by a factor of two or so during the '70s, and has been more or less constant ever since." Heck, even during the '60s there were potent cultivars including Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, among others, as well as cannabis in hashish and hash oil form - products inherently similar to today's concentrated cannabis products! These products were seemingly left out of the government potency data, leading to an inaccurate data set and misleading - and frankly downright inaccurate - results.

NORML does concede that the average potency of cannabis "did increase with the development of sinsemilla - which means marijuana without seeds - in the '70s, the range of potencies available have remained virtually unchanged since the last century, when extremely potent tonics were sold over the counter in pharmacies."

Contrary to adversarial belief, there is no current evidence to substantiate the concern that increased potency in cannabis is dangerous aside of individuals that are susceptive or have a family history of schizophrenia or psychosis. In fact, cannabis users and patients tend to adjust their dose based on the potency; logically speaking, higher potency cannabis allows patients to use less while receiving the relief they need, increasing lung health by cutting back on inhalation and, of course, saving money in the meantime!


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