Is Weed Stronger Now Than When My Parents Were Teens?

By Marlena Turner

There’s no doubt that weed and the way it’s bought and used has changed dramatically over the last few decades. In your parents’ day, those looking to get high had to find someone to illegally sell them pot, and it came in one form—a leafy, dark green or brown plant usually comprised of visible stems and seeds.

Today, Californians looking to buy weed can walk into a cannabis shop and buy it the form of anything from oils to cookies, and the plant form—usually covered in crystal-like trichromes—is a far cry from the weed of yesteryear. But the form marijuana takes and the way it’s purchased are just some of the ways weed has changed over the years.

Pot’s rising potency

As marijuana continues to be decriminalized across the country, the rise in its popularity has increased the interest of investors. These investors have put money into revolutionizing how pot is grown, and have found ways to alter its potency and the effects it has on the user. The NIH reports that the average THC content of pot has increased more than 8 percent since the early 1990s. What is THC? The short acronym for Tetrahydrocannabinol is one of the 113 chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. It’s known as a potent psychoactive, which just means that it has an effect on the mind.

According to a BusinessInsider.com interview with Christian Hopfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus and one of the lead researchers on a forthcoming $5.5-million study of cannabis, findings showed a variety of marijuana today is sold with a content breakdown of around 25% THC. To get an understanding of how potent this actually is, back in 1978, the highest THC reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) was 1.37 percent,; in 2003 it was 6.4 percent.

Altering marijuana’s potency

If it’s the THC percentage that determines how “strong” weed is, how are growers extracting THC to make it more potent? With today’s cannabis cultivation techniques, weed can be grown under the best lighting and nutritional conditions to help increase its potency and quality. Many domestic crops are grown hydroponically, meaning without soil. With the use of hydroponics, artificial lighting systems, and the mixing of different cannabis strains, highly potent marijuana with levels of THC up to 29 percent can be genetically engineered and cultivated.

Celebs dish on why they quit

With the weed landscape evolving, many celebrities are choosing to give up weed altogether.

Last spring, Miley Cyrus told Billboard, “I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open, and I was noticing, it’s not the people that are stoned.” And Lady Gaga attended a retreat to get sober after realizing she was relying on weed to “numb the pain” after hip surgery and smoking up to 15 joints a day.

Why is weed getting stronger?

So yes, the potency of weed is going up, and we can expect this trend to continue as decriminalization spreads across the United States. According to Hightimes.com, there are several reasons for this trend. One is the shift in the usage of female plants called sinsemilla, which is an unfertilized top portion of the plant that contains the highest levels of THC. The higher potency can also be attributed to harvesters cutting off trimmings and removing the larger leaves that contain less THC. New hybrid strains are another reason for the increase in weed’s potency.

There are also new tools that allow marijuana smokers the ability to simply smoke THC extracts instead of the leaf itself. This THC-rich resin is called dabbing. These extracts come in various forms including hash oil, honey oil, wax, balms, or shatter. These concentrates typically range between 50 to 80 percent THC, depending on the extract type and quality. What makes extracts so strong? They contain less plant material than the flower, so you’re inhaling more THC and less combusted resin.

Today, the interest in cannabis as a cash crop is changing not only the way it is viewed, but also the way it’s grown, cultivated and consumed. As the landscape of today’s society continues to push the boundaries of acceptance for weed, expect investors, growers, and users to become more knowledgeable in pushing forward the continued evolution of marijuana potency.