As you probably already noticed, in the world of cannabis, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Things have changed drastically over the years, and in so many ways. The days of sketchy dealers, seeds and stems, and brick weed are long gone. So how did we get so far so fast?
How strong is todays cannabis?
A police study conducted 20 years ago tested tens of thousands of cannabis samples from 1995–2015 and showed how THC content has increased over the years. The study does have to be taken with a grain of salt because samples were processed using gas-chromatology, a testing method that heats the plant material, and, in the process degrades THC and the chemical structure of the plant. This can lead to inaccuracies in the testing and the results, especially when compared to the technology we use today. Nonetheless, earlier ranges were 4% to 12% average THC whereas today we are seeing a 15–30% THC range.
Where the cannabis originated also played a part in its THC evolution. Seeds and stem brick weed back in the day came from south of the U.S. border. Shipping takes time, and time degrades THC, meaning the potency by the time you got it was already much lower. Not to mention the transportation and storing methods of the product in transit, all further degraded THC. You were also getting virtually no real flowers. These are the days before “sinsemilla” (female flowers only) where the whole plant, sticks and stems were all included.
The government helped make weed stronger.
In the 1950’s the government passed bills called the Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act to scare people into not consuming cannabis. They forced hefty jail times and a $2,000+ fine. The government started the war on drugs and failed, thus cementing cannabis into the heart and culture of American society by the 60’s and 70’s by ultimately making it cool. This increased demand and thus made it more profitable.
Before the 70’s, cultivators of cannabis didn’t know that separating male plants from the female plants in the flower phase led to bigger, more potent flowers. Male plants produce pollen, and interrupt the females flowering cycle, making it produce seeds and not flowers. A female plant will produce more cannabinoids (THC , CBD) and terpenes when not pollenated because they are using all their energy to create flowers, cannabinoids, and terpenes instead of creating seeds.
Strict criminal consequences took cannabis from being grown outdoors under the sun where it belongs, to indoor growing environments like bedrooms, garages, and barns to stay out of the view from neighbors and helicopters. Growers started to experiment with new growing methods like hydroponics, were the roots would be submerged in a nutrient solution instead of soil. Indoor cultivators began to breed and select genetics that were shorter (to ease heights needed to grow indoors) and shorter flower times (to help with the light bill) and selected for higher THC content. This revolution ultimately exploded cannabis genetics and was the genesis for the THC content we have today.
This is where cannabis has stayed for many parts of the country, including California. Breeders today select cultivars of cannabis based on leaf to bud ratio, yield, resistance to pest/molds, bag appeal, and THC content. Usually the higher the THC, in the eyes of a majority of the consumers, the more value that flower has. Only now has a small shift in the consumer brain shifted to the power and importance of terpenes (fragrance) in cannabis and high-CBD ratios.
Is this the new norm? High potency cannabis? For the time being and the immediate future, yes. As the consumer becomes more educated on the relationship of cannabinoids and terpenes which we call in the industry, “entourage effect”, the more they will lean towards cultivars that have different ratios of cannabinoids (THC/CBD) and terpenes looking for a more thorough and more medicinal or complex high. We think the consumer will have 2–3 favorite terpenes they will look for when choosing a flower or concentrate product for any particular occasion.