Between 1995 and 2015, tests evaluating levels of THC in illegal pot confiscated by the U.S. DEA discovered these levels had risen from four percent (1995) to 12 percent (2015). Another study examining THC amounts in pot over the past 20 years found that THC percentages and potency had increased by nearly 215 percent. At the same time, these studies also noted that while THC levels have risen exponentially, CBD (cannabidiol) levels have decreased. CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical that will not produce the “high” caused by THC.
Why are marijuana growers enriching their plants with as much THC as possible? Mainly, because they know that more THC will produce a more intense high that in turn will yield more revenue from their consumers. Yet it’s precisely because of that intense high that more and more pot smokers are susceptible to a marijuana use disorder. Getting people hooked on high amounts of THC translates into consistent demand for pot and a return on investment rates that pot growers and dealers years ago could only dream of.
How Do Pot Growers Increase Pot Plant THC?
In the 60s and 70s, pot growers used “grow” lights to cultivate indoor plants and simple sunlight to grow outdoor cannabis. Since then, pot-growing technology has advanced to include knowledge of strain genetics, improved grow lights, and curing processes for increasing THC levels.
Hydroponic cultivation of pot focuses on immersing roots in nutrient-rich solutions of water instead of soil to accelerate growth rate and potency. Pot grown in hydroponic “gardens” is usually more expensive on the street, since growers must invest in chemicals, maintaining large, enclosed facilities and monitoring pH levels every few hours.
The emergence of hundreds of different pot “strains” that have been genetically altered has also fueled the rise of marijuana’s purity and strength. For example, a popular strain called “Blue Dream” contains some of the highest amounts of THC available— up to 24 percent.
Another strain offering extreme levels of THC is the “Gorilla Glue” strain. A hybrid of sativa and indica pot plants, Gorilla Glue and other strains are readily available in states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use. Although purchasing potent pot strains on the street is more difficult and usually much more expensive, they can be tracked down and bought by regular pot users searching for better “highs”.
Why Today’s Potent Pot is a Potent Danger to Your Health
For people with serious medical problems such as cancer and severe osteoarthritis, medical marijuana may help them cope with chronic physical and emotional pain. Extensive clinical research on the benefits of cannabidiol and THC for health issues that do not respond to traditional treatment reveals that CBD and THC do seem to provide relief from crippling symptoms. However, individuals who use pot daily for the sole purpose of getting high are at an increased risk for suffering a variety of health consequences.
How Marijuana Affects Cognition
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported several years ago that long-term pot smokers performed much worse on attention and memory tests than short-term users. On auditory verbal tests, long-term pot users failed to remember “significantly fewer words” than those using pot for less than a year. People with a marijuana problem also showed impaired retrieval, retention, and learning of new information, as compared to their cohorts. The report also noted that declining performance measures correlated with how many years a subject had been using pot.
A 2020 research article suggests there is robust evidence to support a dose-response association between the risk of psychosis and the use of high-potency pot. Neurologists assert THC could induce psychotic-like symptoms in people with no history of mental illness. Alternately, pot strains with lower amounts of THC and higher amounts of CBD may not carry the risk of psychosis in otherwise healthy people. Molecular studies show that CBD seems to counteract the psychoactive affects of THC by acting as an inverse antagonist/agonist on cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
Marijuana’s Increased Purity and Its Impact on Physical Health
Although pot smoke does not contain the number of carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, other chemicals such as THC and hydrogen cyanide can damage your main organs. Studies of the lungs of daily pot smokers found abnormal changes to cells that resemble changes seen in the lung cells of tobacco smokers with lung cancer. Heavy use of pot is also associated with wheezing, coughing, sputum production, and symptoms of bronchitis.
A 2013 review of peer-reviewed articles revealed that smoking pot could increase a person’s risk for liver disease, particularly in people diagnosed with hepatitis C. Additionally, researchers have found that dose-dependent increases in heart rate and blood pressure may lead to cardiovascular problems, including stroke, heart attack and myocardial infarction.
Many pot users point to marijuana’s purity as making pot less harmful or carcinogenic than tobacco. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Pot smoke may not only increase the risk for lung cancer but for developing neck and/or esophageal cancer as well. However, this risk has so far been determined to affect only long-term (20+ years) marijuana users. Studies evaluating the risk of cancer in younger adults are currently ongoing.
Is Pot with Higher THC Levels Contributing to Addiction?
During the 60s and 70s, the U.S.DEA classified marijuana as a hallucinogen and therefore not addictive, because no withdrawal signs had yet been identified. Now that pot contains significantly higher amounts of THC, doctors have since discovered that pot is indeed addictive and can cause severe withdrawal symptoms in users trying to quit. These include depression, agitation, insomnia, irritability, and overwhelming cravings for marijuana.
Statistics on pot addiction suggest that nine percent of individuals who try pot once or twice will become addicted. This percentage (of those who get addicted) nearly doubles in users who began smoking pot as a teenager. If you are a daily pot user, your chance of developing an addiction is between 25 percent and 50 percent, just slightly lower than addiction rates associated with heroin or cocaine experimentation.
Getting Help for a Marijuana Use Disorder
If you or someone you know has tried to stop smoking pot but failed, continues using pot even though it causes problems at work or school, or is having pot-related financial trouble, it may be time to seek treatment. Marijuana is one of many substance addictions that can be effectively treated with medically supervised detox and behavioral therapies. Call us today to learn how you can help yourself or a loved one beat marijuana addiction and get a new lease on life.