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Assessing the risks of high cannabis potency 

The marijuana plant is enjoying a phenomenal renaissance, going from a prohibited and demonized substance to a medicinal marvel and in-demand legal recreational drug in the space of 20 years or so. Several states across America have embraced full legalization, while more than 30 permit cannabis for medicinal use. Uruguay and Canada have also legalized cannabis medicinally and recreationally. A long list of nations have also embraced medical marijuana to varying degrees, such as the United Kingdom. 

But while the new dawn for cannabis is a huge win for anyone in favor of natural medicine and, on a more fundamental basis, freedom, there is one key reason why all of us – including rmarijuana advocates – should be concerned about the 21st century weed industry: cannabis potency. 

Weed is getting stronger

There’s no getting around it. Today’s pot is many times stronger than what was being smoked in ancient times, and even that which was enjoyed during the 1960s and 70s. The average recreational cannabis user wants to get higher, and higher still, preferring weed with rich concentrations of the psychoactive cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

This is possible thanks to modern science, and savvy growers who have learned how to increase cannabis potency. Research showed that THC was responsible for the ‘stoned’ effect, and new cultivation techniques have taken levels of THC from single digits to in excess of 20 percent. A strain with 20 percent THC contains 200 milligrams of THC per gram. 

Less mentioned in this cannabinoid manipulation is the declining amount of non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD) in strains and cannabis products. Research has shown that CBD naturally reduces the ‘high’ caused by THC, hence why recreational growers have sought to breed it out of strains like Gorilla Glue and Girl Scout Cookies as much as possible.

But what are the consequences of stronger marijuana? While the proliferation of this type of weed has been seized upon by anti-cannabis organizations and journalists, the dangers of high-THC weed shouldn’t be simply thrown out as “reefer madness”. In this post, we’ll assess the legitimate risks of super-strength weed, judging from the existing scientific research. Then, we’ll analyze the role CBD may have in promoting more sustainable relationships with cannabis. 

By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll know all about:

  • How THC and CBD impact the brain
  • The dangers of cannabinoid manipulation
  • The short and long-term dangers of excessive THC consumption
  • How CBD can ease cannabis side effects
  • Why CBD may help to reverse THC-induced cognitive decline 

CBD vs THC for the brain 

The effects of CBD and THC on the brain occur mostly in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), although there is evidence that the former also influences the serotonin system. CBD is non-intoxicating and considered non-psychoactive. 

CBD products made from the industrial hemp plant are popular herbal remedies for managing anxiety. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved a CBD drug for Dravet’s syndrome, an unusual type of epilepsy – CBD helps to reduce seizures. Both the anti-anxiety and anti-epileptic properties of CBD are a result of calming brain activity. 

In contrast, THC has an excitation effect on the brain, increasing activity, and producing a psychoactive response through binding to CB1 receptors in the ECS. This connection also explains the analgesic and appetite-boosting qualities of THC. The cannabinoid is a highly potent version of the endocannabinoid anandamide, and binds to both cannabinoid receptors in the ECS. 

Which compound is ‘better’ for the brain depends entirely on one’s reasons for using marijuana. The high potency of a THC-rich recreational strain is essential for those who want the psychoactive effects of cannabis. However, for users who don’t want a ‘high’, but mental relaxation and a subtle mood boost, pure CBD products are preferable. Some even use cannabis with a higher CBD and lower THC content for balance – this extracts the synergistic ‘entourage effect’. 

Why interfering with a strain’s natural cannabinoid profile is risky

The ECS is new to modern scientists, but is not a recent evolution in humans. Researchers are confident that it has existed in humans and other life forms for hundreds of millions of years. It’s clear that the ECS is integral to our overall health. Understanding that the ECS is ancient and that our body has learned to interact with phyto-cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp just emphasizes how important it is to keep the plant as natural as possible. 

Some marijuana users fall into the trap of thinking that today’s potent strains pose no risk, because it’s natural and non-synthetic. While this is true to an extent, the 20% THC strains we see now are novel, having emerged only in the past few decades. Our bodies may have worked with cannabinoids for thousands of years. But never have humans been taking such high concentrations of THC before, nor weed with such a lopsided THC to CBD balance. 

The damage this may be causing cannot be fully appreciated, as there simply hasn’t been enough research yet. We simply know that cannabis users are being exposed to a new chemical cocktail. 

However, it’s the fact that CBD and THC can have distinctly opposite effects that is concerning. For instance, research points towards CBD growing the hippocampus, a brain region in the medial temporal lobe. However, large amounts of THC are neurotoxic to the hippocampus. That memory loss and lack of motivation are often experienced by heavy marijuana users perhaps makes more sense now, since the hippocampus is implicated in memory and motivation regulation. 

The dangers of excessive THC consumption and how CBD helps

In addition to super-strength strains, concentrates are also making a splash on the modern marijuana market. These products – such as crystals and wax – are akin to a high potency cannabis strain multiplied by four or five. THC levels often exceed 80% and can go as high as 99%, with THC-isolate products not having any THC at all. While this may deliver a crazy high for weed lovers, the risks posed by such products are clear to see. 

Short-term

Not all users respond well to even a small dose of THC, from a joint or cannabis edible. The distorting effect that the psychoactive substance has on reality can cause bouts of paranoia and anxiety, which often do not subside until the THC wears off. This can be quite scary for first-time cannabis users with no psychoactive experience. Even though marijuana is only a weak psychedelic in comparison to other drugs, it shows the importance of a relaxing ‘set’ and ‘setting’ while tripping. A good mental state beforehand can be key to a happy trip. 

In the event of a THC-induced anxiety attack, CBD is great for cooling off a high. The anxiolytic effect is enhanced by CBD suppressing THC’s psychoactive effect as a CB1 receptor antagonist. A hemp CBD tincture oil promotes quick anxiety relief. All cannabis users could benefit by having a CBD product close by should a trip go wrong. 

Long-term 

In the long run, the effects of excessive THC consumption can be significant on mental health. Psychotic and schizophrenic outbreaks can occur in people who are predisposed to these illnesses. Prescription antipsychotic drugs are available for these disorders, but research suggests CBD may be more effective. 

Experts are studying the CB1 receptor antagonist mechanism that CBD functions in to determine if it could more efficiently treat these conditions, with fewer side effects. That said, it is not recommended that people with psychosis and schizophrenia treat their ailments with CBD oil or any other CBD product, without a doctor’s recommendation. 

For cognitive problems – and especially motivation and memory issues – attributed to abuse of THC, a study has shown that CBD may help. Going back to an earlier point on how CBD and THC are neuroprotective and neurotoxic for the hippocampus respectively, using the former could reverse hippocampal damage. A small investigation featured in the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research journal found that CBD repairs this brain region. And it appears that those worst affected enjoyed the most help from CBD. 

The best cannabinoid mix for hippocampal repair is not clear. Cannabichromene (CBC), another non-intoxicating cannabinoid, also has a neurogenesis effect. Moreover, further research, and a bigger study, is needed to confirm if CBD is a genuine solution here. But the good news is that CBD is safe and can be taken by any otherwise healthy person who has previously had cannabis addiction problems. 

How to test cannabis oil potency

Cannabis potency testing is a job typically left to third-party labs. These have sprung up to give validity to marijuana companies selling their products in an unregulated market. A test looks for the cannabinoid levels in various products. For a recreational weed product, this is usually to confirm the level of THC. For CBD products, a third-party test shows how much CBD is present. The test also shows whether the product is legal. The THC level in hemp-based CBD products must be less than 0.3% of the overall dry weight. 

Purchase a testing kit to find out the potency of a cannabis or hash oil product for yourself. Cannabis potency testing equipment kits vary in price, with some kits able to test for other cannabinoids (aside from CBD and THC), as well as terpenes. CBD potency is less of an issue, as it’s non-intoxicating and not possible to overdose on. Nor do drug tests flag up CBD. 

Which CBD products effectively moderate THC?

Any CBD product will help to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC. The ideal product for you depends on how quickly you want it to work. Standard potency CBD gummies made from hemp oil can take up to an hour to fully kick in. However, vape cartridges provide an active hit of CBD in just a few minutes. The ideal dosage will be decided on how much THC you have taken and need to suppress. 

Get more from hemp and CBD with a full-spectrum product. The likes of HempBombs and CBDistillery bring the whole plant into play. This makes their CBD more therapeutic than CBD-isolate solutions because of the entourage effect. Although, some find when calming their high that a product with just CBD is better. Trying both is the only way to know which is best for you. 

Final thoughts 

There are certainly risks with the high-strength weed that dominates the cannabis industry today. In the coming years, as cannabis research increases, our currently thin knowledge will increase. But while the dangers may become more apparent, the benefits of CBD products are  also incredibly promising. 

It could be that even those who have abused cannabis previously can recover their full cognitive abilities with CBD treatment. New cannabis users, however, may be best off using one-to-one strains. These balance the CBD and THC. And for no high at all, high-CBD strains work even better. The weed market has expanded so much, and there are now premium products for all users.

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