Anyone at all familiar with the cannabis community—and since you’re reading this right now, we’re assuming you are very familiar with the cannabis community—has heard stuff similar to this, about how today’s pot is supposedly way more potent and powerful than the pot your hippie parents or grandparents smoked back in the 60s and 70s.
But is this really true?
A video released by the American Chemical Society tried to provide a scientific answer to that question.
“We’ve seen a big increase in marijuana potency compared to where it was 20 or 30 years ago,” And LaFrate, founder and director of research at the Colorado-based pot lab Charas Scientific, said in the video.
“I would say the average potency of marijuana has probably increased by a factor of at least three.”
“We’re looking at average potencies right now of around 20 percent THC.”
That’s a huge jump up from the 4 percent THC levels the federal government reported in the 1980s.
But before you get all pot proud about your super-potent, modern strains, consider the reasons some experts cite for being skeptical of these conclusions.
“It’s fair to be skeptical,” Michael Kahn, president of Massachusetts Cannabis Research, told The Atlantic. “Back then the predominant method for quantitation was gas chromatography, which is not quite appropriate for cannabinoid quantitation.”
“This is because heats up the test material before analysis, which also alters the chemical profile—including breaking down the THC molecule.”
Check out this clip of David Letterman discussing marijuana with one of pot’s poster children, Seth Rogen:
Put simply, some of the older testing techniques may have actually damaged THC, potentially producing readings that were too low.
Another possible problem with the way weed potency was tested in the past is that these tests relied on whatever officials could get their hands on. Who knows what they were actually testing since a huge proportion of the weed they tested came from whatever cops were able to seize from people caught with it.
Stats about the potency of pot in the 80s were based largely off cannabis that turned out to come from a weak domestic crop, for example.
And then you also have to consider the age of the pot that experts are testing: is it fresh or old? Well cured or too dried out?
For many experts it boils down to the fact that there are simply too many variables impacting lab tests to establish any sort of reliable patterns in pot potency fluctuations.
“It’s difficult if not impossible to classify average potency in a way that can be tracked meaningfully over time,” Adrienne LaFrance concluded.
“So while there’s almost certainly more super-strong pot available today—if only by the fact that it’s now legal to buy in multiple states—it doesn’t mean that all marijuana is ultra-potent today, which is how the narrative about potency is often framed.”
Whatever the case, pot smokers today definitely have access to a wide range of strains and potency levels, especially those of us lucky enough to live in a 420-friendly state.
And this increased accessibility, coupled with the ability to hand select a precise strain or potency, may make it easier for people to have a more direct say in the type of pot smoking experience they have.