It should come as no surprise that today’s marijuana is much more potent than the pot of yesteryear – but is there any scientific literature to back up this claim? As it turns out, there is.
Numerous studies over the years have been tracking the potency of marijuana and comparing the results year after year. Most of the research is limited to a certain geographic location, but the newest study took flower and resin samples from all over the world. The determination: THC concentrations have “risen significantly” in just a few decades. Let’s take a closer look.
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Most Recent Global Study
This study, published at the beginning of the month, was conducted but the Addiction and Mental Health Group at the University of Bath in England. Researchers analyzed over 80,000 marijuana samples from the US, UK, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Italy, and New Zealand to get their results.
They compared these samples to one obtained and tested by law enforcement in prior years. They found that average THC concentrations in flower had been rising consistently about 0.29% each year. In hash and resin products, the rise was about 0.57% annually. During this study they found no substantial increase in CBD concentrations.
Despite considering studies from around the world, the authors note that, “due to the majority of the studies included in their research coming from the US, the results are not globally representative. Additionally, non-randomized sampling by law enforcement may have contributed to potential bias in the study.”
Going Further Back
All the way back to the “golden age” of modern marijuana culture – the 1970s. Movies, music, and literature would have you believing that everyone was stoned out of their gourds back then, but the reality is that the weed they were smoking on was seriously mild compared to what we get these days.
Basically, good weed back then is equivalent to our bottom shelf product. It only cost about $20 per ounce, but a large portion of the bag would be seeds, stems, and leaves. It was completely illegal, so domestic production was at a minimum. Most of the flower in the 1970s and 80s was imported from south of the border, from Mexico to as far south as Columbia. Dealers knew that with demand being so much greater than the supply, they could provide crappy herb and people would still buy.
Since 1972, the Potency Monitoring Program has tested the THC of marijuana samples collected and provided by law enforcement. There was significant variation in the size and scope of the samples provided, so take the results with a grain of salt. Overall, the samples had just about 3-4% THC. Although this number might not be 100% accurate, it doesn’t negate the fact that weed is definitely much stronger today.
THCA vs THC – Different types of Chromatography
Back then, the most common method of testing for cannabinoid quantities was gas chromatography, which heats up the flower before analysis, resulting in a breakdown of THCA, which is the cannabinoid acid that is measured in the plant before it is smoked and converted to THC during consumption.
When you go to a dispensary and look at the cannabinoid percentages (ie 19.74% THC), what you’re actually getting is the levels of THCA, which is a precursor compound to THC. As the buds dry, cure, or when heat is applied, THCA eventually converts into THC. This process – when THCA loses its carboxyl acid group – is known as decarboxylation.
All that said, gas chromatography is much less accurate than the method we use for measuring cannabinoids today, liquid chromatography. High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is the most popular testing method for separating and measuring cannabinoid levels.
It’s Not All About the THC
Some people choose their flower based on THC content alone, and those people are often missing out on some seriously good buds. Don’t get me wrong, I always take into consideration the cannabinoid content while shopping, marijuana potency has so many more facets than that.
However, if it comes down to a strain that is dry, lacking aroma, but has 25% THC, versus a strain that looks and smells good, is properly cured, covered in trichomes and has around 20% THC – you had better believe I’m choosing the latter.
When it comes to categorizing marijuana as “high-quality”, there is much more to it than just cannabinoid levels. Those show-stopping, award-winning, jaw-dropping strains attain that level of quality because of their terpene content, which are the compounds that give plants their unique flavors and aromas.
Luckily, parallel to this increase in THC levels is a boost in terpene production among the more popular strains. Ideal growing conditions along with selective breeding as led to flowers that a more potent in nearly every way.
A bit More About Terps
If you’re looking for variety, terpenes are the key to differentiating the effects and flavor of a strain. Some terpenes are relaxing, like those found in lavender, while others are energizing. Some smell fruity, some are piney, some are musky.
There really is no limit to the variation. So far, over 100 different terpenes have been discovered in cannabis plants alone, and each strain typically has its own unique blend and composition of terps. Terpenes exist in most other plants as well, such as flowers, herbs, and fruit. Some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis are myrcene, limonene, terpinene, pinene, and caryophyllene.
Terpenes have long been known to hold great therapeutic value, and some of the more common ones have been studied more extensively, considering they’re found in many different types of legal plants. More research is needed to determine the extent of their medicinal effects when combined with other cannabis plant compounds.
Is marijuana getting stronger? Absolutely, without a doubt. Is it getting 0.29% stronger every year? Now that part is debatable. Regardless, flower potency is on the rise, and with the addition of marijuana concentrates on the market, we can see a clear-cut trend here that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
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