As more states follow suit in legalizing marijuana, more people in the United States are buying and using the herb. And the kind of cannabis that one can buy has become a lot stronger.
This is a big concern to scientists who report on the effects marijuana has on the body and ER doctors who report treating more patients with weed-associated issues. With the increasing popularity of marijuana, the question on everyone’s mind is whether weed is bad for your health.
Marijuana is a complicated topic. It’s composed of hundreds of different cannabinoids – the most well-known being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These two compounds have very different effects. THC is the main psychoactive and mind-altering ingredient that makes users high, while CBD is non-psychoactive and has therapeutic health benefits.
According to a 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 26 million Americans above the age of 12, were current marijuana users. How many users have had serious health issues linked to weed use isn’t clear. There’s also still a lot we don’t know about the potential risks, but scientists are starting to learn more about some of the dangers of marijuana.
In this article, we will explore how potent marijuana may affect your health.
There’s a big debate going on concerning whether marijuana is more potent today than it was 30 years ago. The federal government reports that the potency levels have risen anywhere between 10 to 25 times since the 1960s. But is this myth or reality?
There’s no denying that marijuana is more potent today. However, looking at the average potency, which is 3.5%, it’s been fairly stable over the last 20 years. That said, it’s essential to acknowledge that we now have a more extensive range of potencies available compared to the 1970s, specifically.
THC levels, which determine the potency of marijuana, typically range between 0.3 to 4%. However, certain specially grown plants can contain THC levels as high as 25%. This has led some users to call on producers to put out milder Mary Jane. There are several factors involved in determining the potency of a marijuana plant. These include:
- Plant genetics
- Harvesting and processing
- Growing climate and conditions
- Desire by small growers to maximize profit
The time that the plant is harvested will affect the THC level. Also, female varieties have higher amounts of THC than male varieties.
THC is the main psychoactive/mood-altering ingredient found in marijuana. The level of THC varies and determines the host of effects on both the body and brain. In other words, the potency of marijuana depends on the amount of THC present.
What the Research Says
Researchers do not yet know the full extent of the consequences marijuana has on the body and brain. However, studies do exist, and higher levels of THC are likely to be more detrimental to one’s health. The amount of THC in weed has been steadily increasing over the past few decades.
One study of marijuana products seized by the DEA determined that the potency increased from about 4% THC in 1995 to 12% in 2014. By 2017, another study found that the potency of illicit drugs had increased to 17.1% THC.
We also need to consider that some products with concentrated forms of weed, like hash and hash oil, may contain as much as 80% or 90% THC.
The big problem is that most people may not be aware of the potential health risks associated with highly potent marijuana. The negative effects of weed have been primarily isolated to THC. Thus, it makes sense to assume that higher levels of THC could confer a greater risk of a negative outcome.
Potent Marijuana and Mental Health Risks
Frequent marijuana use and high-strength varieties may increase the chance of mental health issues among users, according to researchers. Previously, experts have flagged a link between marijuana use and psychosis – especially in vulnerable people with heavy drug use. More recently, research suggests that the potency of marijuana is also important.
According to one particular study, high-potency marijuana causes psychiatric issues, including memory problems and addiction. The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, evaluated marijuana use in 280 people and compared them to a control group of 174 non-marijuana users.
The study reported that people who experienced their first psychotic episode were more likely to have used a stronger form of marijuana.
High strength marijuana, like skunk, has levels of THC that exceed 10%. These varieties also contain very little CBD – the compound that could protect you against psychosis.
Because CBD and THC are produced from the same material in the plant, more of one means less of the other. Some studies have reported that those who use marijuana strains that are also high in CBD (not only THC) are less likely to experience mental health issues.
Other Risks of Using Potent Marijuana
At this point in time, the main health risk that experts associate with potent marijuana appears to be mental health issues. But, there are also a few other potential problems.
In high doses, marijuana can trigger anxiety and paranoia, sometimes bringing about panic attacks. High doses of THC can also cause a rapid heartbeat, which continues to be a concern in the scientific literature on the marijuana plant.
Studies have reported that THC stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter melatonin – a chemical responsible for managing the body’s internal clock. Although this may be helpful to those in need of a natural sleep aid, continuous, long-term consumption and potent strains could cause changes to the sleep cycle and result in withdrawal symptoms for those who try to lay off the herb.
Another thing to consider is the biphasic effects of marijuana. The overall effects of THC depend on how much you consume. It’s now fairly well-documented that the psychoactive compound has a biphasic effect. This means that while THC may be helpful in low to moderate doses, it begins to produce the opposite experience once you exceed a certain dosage threshold.
For instance, a study at the University of Illinois reported that low to moderate doses of THC helped to ease stress symptoms in a mock interview. However, participants that used doses reported more stress and agitation.
Different Risks for Different Users
Some people are more vulnerable to the potential negative effects of THC than others. For instance, adolescents and young adults who use marijuana recreationally are more susceptible because the brain is still developing, and they are more sensitive to drugs in general.
There are also a number of other factors at play regarding how marijuana affects each person. Weight, metabolism, individual body chemistry, and genetics are all some of the things that determine how each person will react to the effects of marijuana.
The reality is, each person is different and will, therefore, respond differently to the effects of marijuana.
Final Thoughts on Weed Potency and Your Health
The biggest concern about how potent marijuana may affect one’s health has got to do with mental health issues. Research suggests that higher THC levels could increase the risk of developing psychosis or another mental health problem.
Whether you are using marijuana medically or recreationally, you should educate yourself as much as possible and remain cautious while using it. Avoiding higher THC products is a good way to reduce your risk of developing any kind of health problem. The key is to start low and go slow. You can always increase the potency if necessary. But you first need to test how much your body can handle.