Is The Speculation True? Has Marijuana Potency Increased?
If you’re a millennial, then you’ve probably heard your parents say something along the lines of “the weed you guys are smoking today is much stronger than what we smoked at Woodstock”. Is it true? Does one puff of today’s marijuana equal a joint of yesteryears’? Has marijuana potency increased whatsoever?
Is the marijuana of today more potent than what they were smoking at WoodStock?
A 20-Year Scientific Study
A recent study by ElSohly et al. (2016) aimed to quantitatively assess the change in cannabis potency over the last two decades (1995-2014) in the United States. The researchers were provided almost 40,000 cannabis confiscations, in the form of plant material, hashish, and hash oil, from the Drug and Enforcement Administration (DEA). This was part of an ongoing contract the DEA had with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
While the samples were indeed confiscated by DEA officials, this does not eliminate the possibility that the origin of the product was not imported from countries famous for their advancement in cannabis genetics, like the Netherlands. However, the samples attained were realistic since the seizures were made as the materials were on their way to illicit market distribution. This allows for the assumption that the plant materials had matured enough to exhibit a realistic cannabinoid content.
While cannabis is a complex plant with a vast array of cannabinoids and terpenes that determine their subjective effects and potency, the authors made the choice to determine potency as the expression of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They used a Varian gas chromatograph with a flame ionization detector (GC/FID) and then performed solvent extraction with analysis by capillary gas chromatography to determine the relative content of THC in each sample.
The initial results were striking and in-line with the anecdotes that posit cannabis has gotten more potent with time. As you can see in the graph below, the proportion of samples with a higher THC content increased from averaging about 4% in 1995 and rising to approximately 12% in 2014, thus allowing the researchers to make the assertion that marijuana potency has increased 300% since 1995.
There was no trend one way or the other for the content of the other cannabinoids except for Cannabidiol (CBD), which has shown a general decline over the last decade, going from approximately .5% in 2004 to less than .2% in 2014 and Cannabigerol (CBG) which increased from .13% to .46% in the same timeframe.
This isn’t the best news for cannabis users, as CBD has been shown to help negate some of the neurological side effects of heavy cannabis consumption.
However, this doesn’t necessarily account for the emergence of new CBD-heavy strains like ACDC and Charlotte’s Web which would certainly bring up the CBD average if they were included in this analysis.
CBD ratios have decreased since 1995.
The researchers also labeled the cannabis samples from each year into marijuana and sinsemilla. They saw that while the number of the samples in the marijuana type showed a strong declining trend over the last decade, the number of sinsemilla samples has shown a strong trend of increase. The authors posit that the increase in the proportionate number of sinsemilla samples vs. marijuana has been the cause of the overall increase in potency of confiscated samples.
Sinsemilla has increased in comparison to marijuana when categorizing cannabis samples collected from DEA seizures. This increase in sinsemilla is posited to be responsible for the increase in potency.
Hold up, though. What is Sinsemilla? We know that marijuana consists of the dried flowers and subtending leaves and stems of the female Cannabis plant type, but what makes sinsemilla different?
Sinsemilla is the term used to describe the marijuana often found across top-notch dispensaries in California, Colorado, and Oregon—that “good good”. Sinsemilla represents the apex of potency when it comes to female cannabis flowers. Flowers of this type are meticulously grown with the intent of preventing pollination (no seeds!) and inducing high resin content.
Finally, here is a graph from the paper showing the full suite of non-THCD9 cannabinoids they tested for across time.
A graph of marijuana consumption as a function of cannabinoids present over time
In conclusion, this study marks one of the largest longitudinal samplings of cannabis potency – with the conclusion that cannabis potency has increased. This potency is benchmarked by an increase in THC over the past decade. Unfortunately, the more classically medicinal component of cannabis, CBD, has been shown to decrease with time. Conversely, the advent of new cannabis strains that focus on CBD can and should be used as a supplement to strains with high THC content.
Whether you are looking for cannabis with the highest THC content or just trying to find the right product to match your plans, WoahStork will help you find and order it online.