Today’s Marijuana Is Not Your Grandfather’s Pot – Why It Matters

Estimated read time 3 min read

I first began covering medical cannabis in the runup to Utah Proposition 2, the 2018 voter initiative that legalized medical cannabis in the Beehive State. In the roughly six years I’ve been at this I’ve read countless articles referencing the fact that marijuana has a very low potential for addiction. That may have been true in the 1960s, but today’s marijuana is not your grandfather’s pot.


State legalization has created a booming recreational marijuana industry. It is a largely unregulated industry inasmuch as the states tend to be more hands-off while the federal government has completely ignored the whole thing. This leaves cultivators and processors in a position of being able to do almost anything they want.


What do businesses free of regulation do? They compete. And the best way to compete in the marijuana business is to increase potency. That’s why this matters. The higher the THC potency in a marijuana plant or derived product, the greater the risk to those who use it.


Exponentially More THC


Researchers generally agree that marijuana potency has increased dramatically in recent years. How drastically? One report I read suggested that the potency of confiscated marijuana plants from the 1960s and ’70s was typically less than 1.5 percent. Today’s marijuana plants are likely to be closer to 30%.


Higher THC levels in the actual plants is just the beginning. Manufacturers of marijuana-derived products are creating vapes, waxes, tinctures, etc. with even higher concentrations. The same report noted THC concentrations as high as 90%.


Imagine consuming a liquor with a 90% alcohol concentration. A bad night is just around the corner if you accidentally drink too much. That is why federal law requires manufacturers to include alcohol concentration on their labels. People need to know how much alcohol they are consuming with every drink. But in the marijuana industry, there are no such regulations.


Higher Volumes Create Problems


So why does all this matter? It boils down to the natural cause and effect psychoactive drugs have on the brain. According to a scientific paper published in 2018, higher potency increases the likelihood of addiction and psychosis. And this truth is not exclusive to marijuana. It applies to all sorts of psychoactive substances. The more a person consumes, the greater the risk.


This matters in the marijuana realm for the simple fact that we are still talking of marijuana as though it is the same plant that was cultivated and sold on the black market in the 1960s. A plant with less than 1.5% THC would not even be considered marijuana in 2024. According to federal law, such a low-potency plant would be considered hemp.


The issue at hand is that larger doses of THC create a higher risk of addiction, psychosis, and long-term negative effects. Yet how many marijuana users really know how much THC they are consuming?


The Medical Cannabis Problem


Higher potency is definitely a problem in the recreational market. It is a more serious problem in the medical market. Consider a patient purchasing medical cannabis at Salt Lake City’s Beehive Farmacy. That individual assumes he is purchasing a legitimate medicine to help alleviate his symptoms. Does he know how much THC he is ingesting and the possible ramifications of taking too much?


It is easy to say that people have been using marijuana for centuries without harm. It’s easy to quote studies saying that no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. But comparing the past with the present is like comparing apples and oranges. Today’s marijuana is not your grandfather’s pot. And it matters.

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