DEA Report Reflects Average Potency of THC in Illegal Cannabis at 16%

The DEA’s report assesses the status of a variety of federally illegal substances, including fentanyl, heroin, and cannabis.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently released a report on May 9 with details about its 2024 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), which is dedicated to compiling data in relation to illegal drugs and trafficking trends within the U.S.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram introduced the report to warn of the many threats to public safety as well as national security. “The shift from plant-based drugs, like heroin and cocaine, to synthetic, chemical-based drugs, like fentanyl and methamphetamine, has resulted in the most dangerous and deadly drug crisis the United States has ever faced,” Milgram said. “At the heart of the synthetic drug crisis are the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels and their associates, who DEA is tracking world-wide. The suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and money launderers all play a role in the web of deliberate and calculated treachery orchestrated by these cartels. DEA will continue to use all available resources to target these networks and save American lives.”

Individual chapters include the Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels and their reach within the U.S., and individual substances such as fentanyl, nitazenes, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, “marijuana,” controlled prescription drugs, new psychoactive substances, illicit finance, and DEA response.

The chapter on cannabis explained that legalization on a state level illegal cannabis continues to thrive. “Despite these measures, the black market for marijuana continues, with substantial trafficking by Mexican cartels, and Chinese and other Asian organized crime groups profiting from illegal cultivation and sales, as well as exploitation of the ‘legal’ market,” the DEA wrote. “The price of marijuana in illegal U.S. markets has remained largely stable for years, even as the potency of marijuana has increased exponentially.”

The administration noted the increase in “average Delta-9 THC Potency in Marijuana” between 1977-2022, as according to information provided by the University of Mississippi Marijuana Potency Monitoring Program. In 1977, the percentage of potency was recorded at approximately 1%, followed by approximately 3% in 1982, 1987, and 1992. This rose to 4% in 1997, 6% in 2002, 8% in 2007, 12% in 2012, 15% in 2017, and finally 16% in 2022. “The potency of THC in leafy marijuana is at an all-time high, increasing the potential risk of negative effects on users of any form of the drug, and on children who may consume edibles made with these substances,” the DEA stated.

The rest of the DEA report focuses on Asian organized crime and illegal cultivation. “Many of these home-grows pretend to operate under business registrations granted by state licensing authorities in jurisdictions where marijuana cultivation and sales are ‘legal’ at the state level but, absent overt evidence such as the trafficking of marijuana across state lines or the commission of non-drug crimes such as money laundering and human trafficking, it can be difficult for law enforcement to immediately identify violations or discover an illegal grow,” the DEA explained. The administration’s Dallas Division seized $2.8 million in cannabis linked to four Chinese nationals growing illegally in Oklahoma. Two of those nationals were convicted of drug trafficking in January 2024.

The report also described the rise in emergency room visits by children, as well as the environmental damage caused by illegal cultivation.

The University of Mississippi’s potency percentages pale in comparison to the potency percentages of current cannabis strains. In March, a study analyzed Colorado cannabis samples to determine if the THC percentages were accurate, and found that more than 70% of products were at least 15% higher than reported. Many THC potency reports showed a range between 12.8%-19.3%, as well as a higher range of 28.07%-31.28%. “THC levels averaged 9.75% back in 2009, based on testing of DEA-seized cannabis flower,” wrote report author Anna Schwabe, a professor at University of Colorado, Boulder. “Today, levels reportedly surpass 35%, though they’re not as common as consumers have been led to believe. DEA-seized cannabis flower averaged 13.88% in 2019, which is closer to my observed mean of 14.98% than the reported mean of my samples, which was 20.27%-24.10%.”

According to Headset data obtained by SFGATE, the median THC potency for cannabis has decreased over the past six months in California, with a 7% decrease in the past three months. In December, the average potency levels were recorded at 30.7%, but dropped to 28.5% in March. The potency shifted due to new regulations on cannabinoid testing, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. According to Zach Eisenberg, Anresco Laboratories vice president, the potency decrease was an expected result. “We certainly heard from customers and potential customers that they’re seeing potency values dropping at other laboratories,” Eisenberg said to SFGATE. “Some labs were even proactively saying, ‘Be prepared for our results to be lower after this change.’”

In reality, the more recent reports are just reflecting current potency percentages. “I highly doubt anything has changed in terms of the actual composition of the cannabis products,” Eisenberg told SFGATE. High Times received a statement from Vicente LLP attorney Andrea Golan, based in Los Angeles, about the recent change. “For years, the efficacy of cannabis lab test results has been widely discussed across the California cannabis industry due to inflated potency test results and inconsistencies in results due to labs using different methodologies for testing cannabis,” Golan said. “The change in law ends the practice of shopping for labs with less strict testing methods in order to inflate THC content. Therefore, rather than cannabis getting weaker, recent changes may now provide a more accurate reflection of true potency.”

  1. What a bunch of bullshit…. harmful affects of cannabis. 1% to 16%…ya right. Won’t deny today’s weed is more potent but Colombian Gold, Panama Red and Thai was as potent 50 years ago as anything today.
    Bottom line…More DEA propaganda about marijuana. Stop the bullshit. Less federal controll not more lies.

  2. Robert Hilliard is absolutely right.
    Aside from differences in testing methodology, of course average THC levels looked crap in the 1970s; because most of the confiscated weed that was tested was garbage industrial scale produced Mexican brickweed. Similarly I think it would be the larger and ‘sloppier’ (that don’t care about post-harvest handling practices) growing operations that were then, and now, more likely to b e busted and so tested. The higher quality produce from small to medium operations that have attention to detail (quality) were then and now less likely to be busted, so their higher THC produce wasn’t/isn’t being added to the ‘average’ THC figures that are constantly regurgitated.
    When you here that the average THC values of weed in the 1970s was around 1%, you have to laugh because literally that’s right around the lowest THC level of weed that’ll get you in any way stoned via smoking – precisely why the legal definition of ‘hemp’ was set at 0.5% or 0.3% (depending on where you are).
    Yet at the same time there’s no shortage of tales from old ‘hippies’ (for want of a better better term) who describe how wasted they got ‘back in the day’ smoking the better stuff of the time.
    We’ve just about reached the maximum THC content possible in the strongest samples of today (~30%), so even giving ‘air time’ to anti-iweed prohibitionists who rant about how it (weed) is still getting stronger just pisses me off. Then there’s this BS mantra of how much more ‘dangerous’ stronger weed is; how can having to smoke a bit less weed to get the same effect be more harmful? It is actually healthier!
    As for the danger of stronger weed being more dangerous for kids who eat edibles – what absolute crap, edibles are made using concentrates or extracting/concentrating weed, so the initial potency is almost irrelevant to the end product and it’s funny you don’t hear people calling for Vodka or other spirits to be banned because they’re more of a danger to kids; even though many kids every year go to ER with alcohol poisoning and even die from it (unlike weed ‘poisoning’).

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