The Strength of Cannabis Products is Spiking – What Consumers Should Know


t’s true: the cannabis we have right now is definitely not the same stuff your grandparents used to be smoking back in the day.

Today’s pot is legitimately stronger, and there are studies to prove it. The latest study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Addiction and Mental Health Group of the University of Bath. They analyzed 80,000 cannabis samples that have been collected from various countries including the USA, UK, New Zealand and other European countries including France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Denmark.

When checking for the levels of THC, they discovered that it has changed through the years. Specifically they discovered that from 1970 to 2017, THC concentrations jumped 14% which was attributed to the increasing market share of strong strains such as sinsemilla, compared to traditional cannabis strains where people consumed the seeds and had less THC.  

Another study conducted in 2016 where researchers analyzed over 38,000 samples of confiscated cannabis obtained by the US Drug Enforcement Administration over the course of 20 years found that THC levels in cannabis increased from 4 to 12% from 1995 to 2014. “We can see that the ratio of THC to CBD has really, really increased and climbed so much higher,” explains Mahmoud A. ElSohly, study’s lead author who is also a professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Mississippi.

ElSohly says that there are many reasons behind this, though he points to the fact that “the higher the THC content is, the more expensive the product.” For this reason, it’s become more lucrative for cannabis growers to breed strains that have higher THC content. Another reason is that cannabis users tend to develop a higher tolerance to cannabis over time, meaning that they would need more THC just to get high. These situations result in more demand for stronger cannabis.

These days, the average strain in a dispensary would contain around mid 20% THC. But when you look at the stuff that was available over 2 decades ago, the average THC concentration was just 10% or even less. However, these concentrations can change over time; during a March 2015 meeting of the American Chemical Society, it was discovered that some cannabis samples in Colorado contained 30% THC.

So, Why Is Weed Getting Stronger?

Before we get down to reasoning why weed has gotten stronger through the years, it’s important to understand that testing methods back then were inferior. Additionally, the longer cannabis has been stored, the lower THC levels will be because it tends to degrade, so there’s no completely rational way to compare weed today and back then, apples to apples, unless you can travel back in time.

Then we also have to consider the business aspect of the cannabis industry. These days, sinsemilla, the bud of the cannabis which is produced by the female plant’s flowering tops that aren’t fertilized, has the highest THC content. This part of the plant is now cultivated and preferred, while the practice of smoking the larger leaves with lower THC content is no longer done.

Farmers and businesses really don’t have much use for low THC cannabis – otherwise, they could be making money from farming hemp instead for its CBD content. The higher the THC levels, the more money they can make.

There’s also the fact that we are no longer living in prohibition: back when it was illegal, it made more sense to consume less cannabis to get high and traffickers would need to transport and hide much less pot. This was the same thing that happened during the era of alcohol prohibition.

Another reason is that there are now more patients that need cannabis for medical purposes, and most of them rely on instant yet effective pain relief that would be difficult to achieve when they are medicating with low-THC cannabis.

What Does This Mean For Cannabis Consumers?

Though many people believe that stronger cannabis is actually bad news, don’t believe the hype. It’s not going to drive you to psychosis or cause you to get addicted. Here’s what you should know about buying and using cannabis these days now that it could be stronger:

Educate yourself: There is a lot to learn about the world of cannabis, from the various strains, CBD and THC levels, effects, and flavors. Experiment with different kinds of cannabis in low doses at first (start out with around 10mg of THC and work your way upwards), and always be sure that you are at home when you are trying something new. Write down memorable things about a certain strain or the way a certain method made you feel, such as the impact of edibles on your headaches, or how indicas helped you sleep better (or not).

Hydrate like your life depends on it: Be sure that you always have lots of water beside you when you are medicating. Cotton mouth is a real thing and while it’s not going to cause any serious side effects, it’s an uncomfortable sensation that can ruin your hit if you can’t hydrate. Many people find that hydrating before you start medicating helps a lot.

Go for quality products: When you buy cannabis on the street, from a dealer, or from the black market, there’s no guarantee that what you are consuming is the real deal. Any dealer can tell you that the strain he has is 15% THC when in reality it’s over 25%; this 10% makes a huge difference in how you feel. When you buy from legitimate sources such as dispensaries or reputable brands, you can have peace of mind that you know what you are getting into.

Understand your limits: Learn when it’s time to say no, especially if you are smoking in a social setting. With stronger weed, many people don’t need more than one or three puffs at most, depending on your tolerance and experience.

Keep an open mind: Cannabis isn’t a one-time experience, it’s a journey. New varieties and products will always be developed, and there will be many experiences that will make you fall in love with the herb. If you have had one bad hit, keep an open mind that there will be better times especially when you experiment with various methods of consumption.

(Originally published on

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