Not your Grandpappy’s 1970s weed
Ask any old-time weed smoker if weed is stronger now than it was back in the 1970s, and they’ll likely tell you the same thing. Definitely!
It’s a phenomenon of the industry. And as cannabis becomes a mainstream product across American households and grows into a big and legal business enterprise, it’s only natural that more and more super-strong designer strains start cropping up.
Give someone the opportunity to try something extreme, and plenty of people will go for it. Cannabis culture, celebrating its newfound freedom, is after the biggest, the strongest, the best, the craziest. Who knows how long the party will last?
But does that mean that cannabis, in general, is stronger now than it was in the 1970s? The idea that cannabis is increasingly potent and much stronger than what got passed around at anti-Vietnam war rallies is basically conventional wisdom. However, maybe it shouldn’t be.
How strong is cannabis now?
Bruce Banner #3. That’s the name of one of the strongest strains of cannabis known to man. The reference to the comic-book scientist who transforms into the Hulk. And it’s a very fitting nickname.
With a THC content that’s an earth-shattering 28 percent, to say that Bruce Banner #3 packs a punch is an understatement.
But that kind of cannabis is at the extreme end of the spectrum. A 28% THC concentration does not represent your average bud or joint. And it pales in comparison to the cannabinoid content in concentrates like shatter and butane hash oil.
How strong was cannabis in the 1970s?
The federal government has been testing the strength of cannabis for more than four decades. The problem is that it hasn’t always had the best methods. And the samples that have been available for testing have varied widely.
For example, there have been tens of thousands of test samples that the government’s Potency Monitoring Program has had access to since 1972. Nearly all of it came from pot busts by law enforcement.
All kinds of factors make the data worthless from a statistical and scientific perspective. Domestic samples tended to be weaker. Samples were different ages, and older ones had lost potency.
According to a 2010 paper from the Journal of Forensic Sciences, “The change in cannabis potency over the past 40 years has been the subject of much debate and controversy…”
The Bottom Line on Pot Potency
So what all of this means is simple. There’s really no way to meaningfully measure the average strength of pot over time. Unless, of course, we figure out how to go back in time with today’s more accurate methods for testing potency.
And how do we measure “strength” anyway? Is it simply a scientific measurement of THC content? Is it how “high” people feel after they smoke it?
Over 500 parts of the cannabis plant pay a part in the strength of its psychoactive effects. And anyway, it’s basically extremely hard to grow a strain of cannabis that goes above 25 percent THC. So there’s a hard limit to how strong cannabis can be.
But the problem with the “weed is stronger than it was in the 1970s” story is that it makes it seem like all cannabis is stronger. And therefore, the story goes, more “dangerous.” Sure, some weed is ultra-strong. As strong as it gets. If weed is stronger today, it’s only because those strains are becoming the norm.