There was a recent documentary on CNN by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Marijuana (click here for more info). It was inspired by a recent change in his views on marijuana, supporting the idea that there are medicinal effects from it. But this blog isn’t about marijuana and it’s legality or the politics behind it.
What this blog is about is the change in marijuana over the past several decades. After watching some of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary on CNN, I heard him say that the content of THC has grown exponentially since the 1970s. THC is the active ingredient found in marijuana aka cannabis. I was intrigued by this and did some research of my own to find out that it is, in fact, true. One particular study that looked at confiscated cannabis in the United States found that THC content increased on average from 3.4% in 1993 to 8.8% in 2008 (Memmedic et al., 2010). The potency varied from 2.5-9.2% from 1993-2003 while increasing to 12-29.3% from 2004-2008. Why is this important?
Well, one interesting piece of the documentary was when it said that when you smoke a more potent plant, a higher concentration goes to your brain quicker, which increases its rewarding effect, which could translate into greater addiction. This increase in THC is interesting because it was reported in the documentary that while THC is the component of marijuana that gets you high, there is another ingredient, Cannabidiol (CBD), that is reportedly the component of marijuana that produces the medicinal effects. It was reported that it’s much easier to find high THC content marijuana plants these days as compared to high CBD, which undoubtedly presents implications related to the politics surrounding the legalization of marijuana.
Another aspect of marijuana use that the CNN documentary touched on is that THC is one of the feel good chemicals, or cannabinoids, in marijuana that you experience. They cause your brain to stop producing natural cannabinoids so when you stop smoking, you have fewer feel good cannabinoids of your own. Thus, until your body starts producing them again, you don’t have as many. However, THC isn’t the only cannabinoid – there is also what I talked about earlier, CBD. The difference is that some scientists believe that THC is the aspect that gets individuals high and CBD is the component that carries the medicinal properties.
Research on the THC and CBD difference is scant with much work to be done. Less than 10% of all marijuana research is on the medicinal properties of it, making it difficult to make sweeping generalizations quite yet.
Mehmedic et al. (2010). Potency trends of delta9-THC and other cannabinoids in confiscated cannabis preparations form 1993 to 2008. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55, 1209-1217.
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