Science

Marijuana: Is It Getting Too Strong?

By Matthew Klickstein , Mar 21, 2013 06:13 PM EDT

Here's an odd one: Apparently a growing contingent of folks using medical marijuana are asking for the green stuff to be dialed down a notch.

They may have a point, too, because there's no doubt about it: Marijuana is far more potent than it was when your parents snuck a doob in the alley back when it was "really" illegal.

According to a recent report by Slate, many of the strains of marijuana on sale at medical dispensaries these days are reaching 25 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound that gives you that "high" feeling.

Typically, marijuana has a THC potency of 0.3 to 4 percent, with the truly high-grade stuff going up to the 15 percent margin. If Slate thinks weed can reach 25 percent potency, we may first wonder what the folks are smoking over there, but then shrug our shoulders and say, "Hmm, it sure is getting powerful potent, ain't it?"

"There's no question that marijuana, today, is more potent than the marijuana in the 1960s," director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Alan Leshner said in 1999 while testifying in front of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime. "However, if you were to look at the average marijuana potency which is about 3.5 percent, it's been relatively stable for the last 20 years. Having said that, it's very important that what we have now is a wider range of potencies available than we had in the 1970s, in particular."

Even celebrities are getting in on the act when it comes to pointing out how much stronger the weed today is versus what they might have smoked in the '60s or even '70s. Slate makes reference to comedian Louis CK's Live at Beacon Theater gig in which he laments, "When I was a kid you could just smoke a joint for a while. Now you take two hits and you go insane."

Slate suggests the reason weed is so much more potent these days is because of A) Profitability (the bigger the buds and thus higher the potency, the more money dispensaries and the like can make), B) A lot of the growers are also smokers and therefore have higher tolerances than (probably) we do.

As Slate notes, there's weed for the guy who wants to get totally wonked out for a concert and weed for those who just want "ditch weed or Mexican brick weed," so it's a crying shame there's yet to be anything out there for those who want some low-intensity, high-quality greenage.

Aroma may have something to do with the way weed is being developed, too.

"We'll learn we like the 15 percent THC lemon haze with [key intermediary in the production of smells] myrcene way more than the 20 percent THC lemon haze with no myrcene," director of the Evergreen State Cannabis Trade Alliance Muraco Kyashna-tocha said, as relayed by Slate.

Although according to longtime grower and co-founder of Colorado Marijuana Marketing Todd Ellison, most of his market just "want to party and get wasted," he does surmise that should weed become truly free in the streets the way Colorado and Washington state citizens have been pushing for, a large corporation may create the "middle grade" market that may exist out there.

Despite the bigger bud/bigger profit/higher potency logic, Ellison also says a lower potency plant could be a business strategy, too.

"Oftentimes the dispensary will have the shake and the leaf, which is going to have the same taste, but what you end up with is a less potent pot," Ellison said. "That way you maintain the taste and the high but you are not overdoing it."  

What do you think? Is there a market for "middle grade" weed? Or is it just there to get you flying? Let us know down in the comments.

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