What Hippies knew as pot is infinitely different from contemporary cannabis: points to future research
A study on the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of street marijuana over the past three decades shows that the THC content has increased three fold over time to show that what was called marijuana in the 1980s is a vastly different beast from what we now call marijuana. Further our growing understanding of other therapeutic molecules show that what Hippies new as cannabis does not exist anymore, except perhaps in recurring psychedelic flashbacks. This is yet another example urging the legalization and oversight of the marijuana industry.
In the USA the THC content of confiscated street marijuana (Figure 1), has been steadily increasing from about 3% in the 1980s to 12% in 2012 (ElSohly 2013 cited in Volkow et al. 2014 accessed, click here).
Figure 1: THC content over from seized street marijuana (From Volkow et al. 2014)
This increase in THC content raises concerns that the consequences of marijuana use may be worse now than in the past and may account for increases in emergency department visits by persons reporting marijuana use as well as an increase in fatal motor-vehicle accidents. However, the supporting data for these observations spans only over a 9-year period (source, click here).
A bottle of Budweiser beer has an alcohol content of 5.0%, Malbec wines have an alcohol content of 13.5-15%. If THC were the only active ingredient of marijuana, smoking today’s street marijuana like Hippies smoked pot would be like drinking wine like it was beer. Notwithstanding the difference in taste and texture, it would be irresponsible and dangerous. Regardless governments need to regulate the marijuana industry to provide product labelling and report THC content. For this, of course, recreational marijuana has to be legalized, which is another debate.
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But using only THC as the single point of comparison is a shallow assessment at best because the diversity of cannabinoids of marijuana offers an additional layer of complexity.
Traditionally, cannabis users attributed strain potency to high levels of the cannabinoid THC, which has led to the proliferation of strains with increased THC concentrations. While THC may be the most prevalent active compound in marijuana, it is only one of at least 85 cannabinoids that are catalogued.
Thanks to marijuana’s growing legitimacy as a medicinal option, cannabidiol (CBD) is starting to emerge as the cannabinoid poised to complement or even displace THC in medical applications.
The THC of commercial medical marijuana in Canada content varies broadly from 1% to 23% depending on the strains grown by the licensed producers. Some low THC strains are bred for high CBD content, which has medical purposes of its own. These strains have a medical effect that is unique as supported by experimental evidence. Notably, the National Cancer Institute published an excellent synopsis of the potential for CBD in medicine, including antitumor effects, analgesia and appetite stimulation (source, click here).
For example a 2007 study showed that CBD reduced the proliferation of cancerous breast cells in vivo through the inhibition of cancer gene expression in laboratory experiments, though there is no clinical trials making that demonstration. But this data and a great deal of anecdotal data was enough to support the effort of breeders.
Charlotte’s Web is a sativa strain that has gained popularity for the treatment of seizures as well as a range of other medical conditions. The medical efficacy is a high-CBD content, which was specifically cultivated by Colorado breeders The Stanley Brothers for a young epileptic patient named Charlotte. However, the thick “web” of trichomes on Charlotte’s flowers are also storied to have led to the name. Because the strain has low THC content, it is effective with little to no psychoactive effects, making it great for those who don’t want their medication to affect their daily tasks.
Sour Tsunami is a strain that became famous for being one of the first to be specifically bred for high CBD rather than THC content. The result is a strain that’s effective at treating pain and inflammation without producing a significant “high” that is linked to high THC.
In short what we call marijuana now is not what was called marijuana three decades ago: it might smell more or less the same skunky bouquet but their potency and effects are hugely distinctive. The new strains emerging in response to breeding efforts push the frontiers of three thousand years of medical marijuana history.
This makes me wonder what cannabis will be in twenty years from now as we investigate the effects of other cannabinoids.
Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>