The line that cannabis is “stronger than it used to be” has been repeatedly mocked and derided in the cannabis community, discarded as a cheap insult from anti-marijuana forces. However, it’s apparent to anyone who knows anything about the cultivation methods of recreational marijuana that the herb has indeed changed over the past 40 to 50 years.
The discovery of the psychoactive THC compound effectively put growers into a competition to see who could make the most potent cannabis of all. Whether you’re buying pot legally or on the black market, these super-strength THC-rich strains are readily available. Unfortunately, the pay off for increased THC levels is often a reduction in non-hallucinogenic CBD levels.
The lack of awareness and inexperience about just what cannabinoids are in a joint, bowl or edible goes a way to explaining why there has been an increase in people having unsettling experiences on cannabis. While some of these stories are humorous, cannabis-related hospitalizations have risen due to people who have panicked after taking more than they can easily handle.
The pioneering pot state of Colorado has seen a 200 percent rise in hospitalizations due to cannabis exposure, from 803 per 100,000 hospitalizations to 2,413 since legalizing recreational weed in 2014.
Usually, the worst-case scenario of consuming high quantities of THC is a short period of panic and freaking out, which can typically be solved providing somebody in the scenario keeps a calm head. However, the obsession with THC-rich cannabis has meant that some medical marijuana patients, who are using the herb to treat mental health disorders and chronic pain for example, aren’t using the cannabis that may help them most.
While there are plenty of sensible dispensaries which can offer detailed explanations to customers about the distinct effects of medical and recreational strains, there are others which seem more focused on showcasing the ever-increasing potency of strains.
There is simply no justification for a dispensary trying to lure customers toward stronger and stronger cannabis, just for the sake of it. Consider this: if you went into a liquor store with the intention of buying beer, the store clerk isn’t about to try selling you a bottle of vodka. With cannabis, each user knows what effects they are seeking, and it’s not necessarily about getting as high as can be.
Mental side effects of high-THC marijuana
While most of THC’s effects are short term (i.e. the concentration of the compound influences the type of high you have) the mind-altering properties of the cannabinoid can have a long-lasting effect with sustained use.
It’s apparent that THC interferes with dopamine supply to the brain. Dopamine is an important chemical which controls mood and can also help us to moderate addictions. Dopamine definitely has an impact on cannabis withdrawal. Dopamine is typically regulated by endocannabinoids, compounds produced by the body that feature in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). When you use cannabis, your body takes in a glut of new cannabinoids that can affect dopamine regulation, which in turn can have a negative effect on mental health.
The amino acid GABA is also inhibited by the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). GABA, a crucial neurotransmitter which is highly concentrated in the central nervous system, works primarily in the cerebral cortex, a section of the brain responsible for advanced brain operations, such as thought, memory, perception and voluntary physical action.
GABA is known to have a calming effect on the body, quelling anxiety, stress and tension by stopping nerve impulses from sending too many signals. GABA’s blockage of nerve impulses can also help people with a short temper, migraines, insomnia, mood swings and addiction. THC has a double-whammy effect on GABA – it stops new amino acids from being released and stops those already present from binding with its receptor.
Thankfully, not all cannabinoids have such an adverse effect on GABA. In fact, non-intoxicating CBD has a stimulating impact on the amino acid, facilitating its release and posing less of a threat when it tries locking with a receptor. Given that CBD’s influence on GABA is similar to that of Klonopin and Xanax, it’s unsurprising that the cannabinoid is touted for its anti-anxiety qualities.
Should dispensaries act more responsibly?
Coffeeshops, establishments which sell marijuana, have become synonymous with Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The country has decriminalized cannabis, however the country’s relaxed attitude toward “soft drugs” such as cannabis could potentially change. The Dutch government has, in the past, expressed concerned about Nederweit – cannabis with large concentrations of THC. Some government ministers have called for an investigation into whether coffeeshops should be banned from selling such potent strains of marijuana, arguing that the THC levels are high enough for them to be categorized as hard drugs.
The past 10 years has seen an astronomical – in cannabis terms! – amount of research into cannabidiol (CBD), and there are 100-plus cannabinoids in marijuana, many of which we still know next-to-nothing about. Therefore, we need to realize that the cannabis industry is about much more than THC. Indeed, it’s important that with the growing interest in CBD, that such products aren’t merely classified as niche. High-CBD strains are just as crucial to the cannabis world as high-THC strains.
Sadly, some dispensaries are still not giving CBD-dominant strains the respect they deserve. A common complaint is that dispensaries are often sold out of high-CBD cannabis, which says two things: one, that these strains are very popular, and two, that dispensaries aren’t purchasing enough stock to meet the demand. Other dispensaries have frustratingly limited selection when it comes to high-CBD strains. It’s time for CBD products to stop being thought of as specialty products and incorporated into mainstream cannabis medicine. In fact, if marijuana does have neuroprotective properties, that’s probably thanks to the CBD.
Furthermore, cannabinoids have been shown to be more powerful in strains with a good balance of CBD and THC. The interactions between the two are synergistic or, as cannabis connoisseurs call it, the entourage effect. Some companies have attempted to maximize this effect by developing vape oils with a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio. However, finding dispensaries which sell such products can be a challenge.
At some stage, the cannabis industry is going to have to ask itself what it hopes to achieve with medical and recreational marijuana. With all the research taking place right now, it’s never been more apparent that cannabis should be recognized for all its qualities, not just the hallucinogenic ones. THC is a mighty compound with a ton of wondrous therapeutic qualities, and high-THC cannabis certainly serves a market which loves it – it’s not about restricting these strains but promoting others.
It makes no sense that customers in legalized states cannot always purchase the best of what modern marijuana has to offer. Nor is it right that some dispensaries are leaving people in the dark about their full range of cannabis options. A re-education is needed, from those simply using cannabis to budtenders tasked with selling it to others. There is a lack of easily available, quality information in both the mainstream medical community and the cannabis community. If dispensaries could provide people with detailed advice about the strains they sell, medicinal users just may stumble across the perfect strain they didn’t even know existed.