The strength of Australia’s marijuana compares favourably to that found overseas, a recent study completed in part at the University of Sydney has shown.
A collaboration between the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and USYD, the study analysed 206 samples of marijuana obtained from small scale seizures. The analysis looked at the content of THC (the main psychoactive component in marijuana, responsible for most of the drug’s effects) in the bud of the plant, which is the component most often consumed, due to its high THC content.
The average level of THC in the samples tested was around 15%. This is way up from the THC levels of about 3% found in typical dope in America in 1993, although is about on par with an analysis of US dope from 2008.
Cannabidiol (CBD), another component of marijuana, was also analysed in the study. Cannabidiol has no psychoactive properties, but is of interest because it’s thought to counteract some of THC’s negative effects such as tendencies towards psychosis and memory loss. While CBD levels used to be around 0.3%, this study found an average of just 0.1% CBD. A similar decrease in CBD levels has been seen in studies of pot in the US and UK.
It has been argued (most vocally by pro-legalisation groups) that levels of THC are irrelevant to the safety of marijuana smokers. They have suggested that people will typically smoke until they’re as stoned as they want to be: for example, a stoner with a joint full of 3% THC weed might have ten tokes, but the same smoker with a spliff of 15% will only take two. If this is true then the main concern for Australian pot smokers to be taken from this study is the low CBD levels of what they’re smoking. Research suggests CBD may protect against the damaging effects of THC, and a high THC/low CBD ratio is implicated in poorer outcomes for pot smokers. If we go back to our hypothetical stoner, with his 15% weed he’s getting less than a 10th of the protective CBD that he’d receive smoking the lower THC weed.
It may be that high THC cannabis is more harmful than the weed your parents were toking on in the 70s. As the study states though, “there is little research systematically addressing the public health impacts of use of different strengths and types of cannabis”. One thing that this study does show is that despite the illegal status of weed in Australia, we still have access to some of the most potent weed in the world.