Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
A global study of more than 80,000 samples of illicit cannabis has shown that concentrations in cannabis resin increased by 24% between 1975 and 2017. As for cannabis flower (or “herbal cannabis”), THC concentrations increased by 14% between 1970 and 2014.
Where THC percentages of just a few percent were more common prior to the 90s, it is now more common to see THC percentages reaching 15%, 20%, or even 25% – 30%. When these THC-rich flowers’ resin is made into concentrates, they are equally or even more powerful. Such high THC percentages have made healthcare professionals wary due to its potential effects on mental health.
However, is the data collected entirely reliable?
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How did the THC boom happen?
The homegrown revolution of the 60s and 70s brought with it whole new breeding techniques and hybrids. This was the era when many of the strains/cultivars available today were developed. This is also the era when tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in cannabis plants started to increase, as many growers started to focus their energies on breeding for THC content, as that’s generally what was most in-demand at the time. Although there were steady increases throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, it was throughout the 90s that big leaps in THC content started occurring.
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Is THC still the most sought-after cannabinoid?
Even though many people enjoy THC, for a lot of people, it’s not the be-all-end-all when it comes to cannabis’s effects. Indeed, for a lot of people, a wide variety of cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabichromene (CBC) is both preferable and ideal for medical uses in comparison to THC-dominant products. Over the past decade, it is arguably CBD that has become the most sought-after cannabinoid, thanks to the fact that it isn’t intoxicating. Many are also intrigued by the less-potent variant of delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC.
Has the strength of pot really increased?
It’s not just the cannabis plant that’s changed, but the way we measure its constituent chemical compounds has as well. In the past, gas chromatography was the way in which cannabis’s chemical makeup was determined. This method used heat to analyze cannabis flower and resin, which would in turn break down THC. This means accurate numbers from the past are hard to come by. In more recent times, liquid chromatography is the preferred method of testing cannabis.
Another factor to remember is that homegrown cannabis is a lot more common nowadays, whereas in the past most cannabis was imported from overseas. During transportation, many cannabis trichomes were lost, and what ended up on the streets was an approximation of the flower’s former glory.
With all this being said, it is likely that home growing and breeding techniques have had an effect on the amount of THC-rich cannabis flower and resin available on the market. However, the variability of the samples from the past has made getting an accurate number on THC concentration difficult.
Cannabis standards have generally improved
Another factor to consider is that the quality of cannabis resin has improved. In the past, it was not uncommon to get hashish filled with impurities, or degraded after a long transport. These days, as the need to import cannabis has been reduced in the US and Europe, making and finding high-quality resin and concentrates is a lot easier. Had the US and Europe had a bigger home-growing scene at the time, there is little doubt that similarly strong resin and concentrates would have been more common throughout the 60s, 70 and 80s.
The pros of strong cannabis resin
- Less needs to be used for the desired effect.
- Can be very useful for treating chronic pain, cancer, and addiction.
- A highly purified and versatile product that can be used in many things, including making edibles and canna oils.
- Not all resin and concentrates are THC-rich, and you can find some with more CBD in them if you do not want as strong a psychoactive effect.
- Live resin is made using cryogenic freezing and contains higher levels of flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids.
The cons of strong cannabis resin
- There are several studies suggesting that regular use of high-THC may increase the likelihood of suffering from a psychiatric disorder. However, it is those who are already susceptible to psychiatric disorders (i.e. those with a genetic predisposition for it, in particular, variations in AKT 1 and COMT genes) that are susceptible to THC-induced psychosis, and cannabis consumption is not always necessarily the sole cause of a psychiatric problem or psychotic episode. However, even if it’s relatively rare to get a psychiatric disorder attributable entirely to cannabis use, it’s still a concern.
- Many people may find strong resin to be overwhelming with regards to its effects. For a lot of people, dabbing resin and concentrates is not necessarily very pleasant.
- Using resin and extracts can rapidly increase tolerance to THC, which can diminish its efficacy if used too often.
- Resin can require specialist equipment to ingest properly (e.g. dab rigs).
Marijuana resin: overall
Stronger is not necessarily better, but this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be made available for those who need it. Granted, using extremely high amounts of THC is not necessarily ideal for those who are prone to anxiety and depression, and those who are prone to psychosis ought to avoid THC use altogether; but for those suffering from cancer, extreme chronic pain, or those who need to wean themselves off from opioid-based painkillers, strong, THC-rich resin could be ideal due for its sedative, painkilling and antiemetic (nausea-bating) properties.
Ultimately, all these show is that cannabis is just like any other medicine. You have to dose and ingest cannabis appropriately and according to your condition, it is not necessarily suitable for everyone, and you have to take any other medications you’re using into consideration when taking it. Thankfully, though, the use of medical cannabis alone will not kill you, so this puts it leaps and bounds above most if not all prescription medications in terms of safety profile, regardless of how strong the cannabis or resin is.
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