Report: Marijuana Skyrocketing In Potency Levels, Researchers Shocked

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Marijuana is now turbo charged, according to research by Charas Scientific, a lab authorized by the state of Colorado to test the potency of marijuana.

Marijuana has seen a huge jump in its potency, as compared to 20 to 30 years ago. Researchers, discussing their findings at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting on Monday, estimate that potency has increased by a factor of three. That is markedly higher than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels back in the 80s and 90s. This is a much higher level than even the National Institute on Drug Abuse has previously stated, CBS News reports.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse noted in January 2014 that in the 1980s, THC levels were at about 4 percent, gradually climbing up to 15 percent in 2012.

THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis implicated in producing the “high” sensation. The new findings presented show that the average level of THC in legal Colorado marijuana is about 18.7 percent, but it can often reach as high as 30 percent, lead author Andy LaFrate noted.

“As far as potency goes, it’s been surprising how strong a lot of the marijuana is,” LaFrate said, according to CBS News.

Aside from THC levels, LaFrate’s analysis of 600 bud samples from authorized growers and sellers in Colorado’s market determined that some of the marijuana which passes in the retail market is not up to snuff. First, some of the marijuana buds had a serious problem with fungi and bacteria.

CBS News reported in 2014 that another Colorado lab discovered the presence of mildew, E.coli and Salmonella on some marijuana buds.

In later tests, LaFrate also found contamination problems, with solvents like butane being detected through test methods like high-performance liquid chromatography. Moreover, this same sample contained very little cannabidiol (CBD), which is what is supposed to add the medical element to medical marijuana. Average CBD rates clocked in at 0.1 percent. This places the ratio between THC and CBD at 150:1. LaFrate emphasized that the sample is representative of the market.

“It’s disturbing to me because there are people out there who think they’re giving their kids Charlotte’s Web. And you could be giving them no CBD — or even worse, you could be giving them a THC-rich product which might actually increase seizures,” LaFrate said, according to NBC News. “So, it’s pretty scary on the medical side.”

For Dr. Dustin Sulak, CBD, usually the subject of research for its role in mitigating schizophrenia, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions, inhibits the euphoria created by THC. And according to Sulak, while CBD has been eliminated by the underground market, the compound is making a strong comeback in the regulated market, Healthline reports.

Sulak emphasized that looking solely at the relationship between THC and CBD can’t make sense of the relief that patients have been able to obtain from marijuana. According to Healthline, Sulak argues that terpenes, a compound in marijuana, are “responsible for modifying the effects of the cannabinoids. So you can have two different strains, both with 10 percent THC and close to zero percent CBD, and one that smells like fruit might be sedating and a great treatment for insomnia, while the other that smells like pepper might be stimulating.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse in the meantime is looking to change regulations, so that higher potency marijuana is available for researchers to study. Additionally, the Marijuana Enforcement Division in Colorado is working on establishing rules for contamination testing. It is unclear when the rules will arrive.

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Jonah Bennett