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Is The United Kingdom Being Flooded With High Potency Cannabis?

Brits want better weed, a new study shows. But is the United Kingdom being flooded with high potency cannabis?

Adam Drury

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Is The United Kingdom Being Flooded With High Potency Cannabis?

Even though the consumption of cannabis has fallen in the UK in recent years, weed is still the most popular illegal drug there. But it’s not the number of people using cannabis that’s triggering a new round of anti-cannabis concern-trolling in the UK. Instead, some are sounding the alarm over a new study that claims marijuana has become so strong it puts users at risk of developing psychotic disorders. Is the United Kingdom being flooded with high potency cannabis? And does it really pose the mental health dangers some experts say it does?

Is The United Kingdom Being Flooded With High Potency Cannabis?

A study published Wednesday in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis is once again raising concerns about cannabis use and mental health in the UK, where the drug is prohibited. In it, researchers aimed to update the findings of a 2008 study that examined the potency of “street cannabis.”

The current study analyzed 460 samples of cannabis from the same areas of the UK assessed in the 2008 report. The gas chromatography results indicate that illicit cannabis in the UK hasn’t gotten any stronger; there’s just more of it on the market.

In 2005, one study found that THC concentrations fell around a 13.9 percent median. According to the new study, the concentration of THC was just marginally higher, at 14.2 percent. So from the looks of it, nothing has changed in terms of the potency of cannabis in the UK. And 14.2 percent isn’t that high, considering many strains in the US are capable of topping 20 percent THC.

Yet the results of the 2018 study found something else that’s interesting. While THC levels have remained essentially the same, levels of cannabidiol (CBD) dropped significantly over the last decade.

CBD, a major phytocannabinoid with no psychoactivity, is the compound researchers believe imparts many of the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of cannabis use. Furthermore, CBD acts as an antagonist to THC. From a recreational perspective, this means CBD can help counteract some of the stronger effects of THC. Strains with a balanced or significant content of CBD can, therefore, provide users with a more mellow high.

Yet the samples analyzed in the 2018 study showed significantly decreased CBD contents and lower CBD:THC ratios. And this means that despite similar THC levels, the strains in the UK today could create stronger psychoactive effects. Effectively, then, they are more potent.

Is High Potency Cannabis Really A Mental Health Concern?

Is The United Kingdom Being Flooded With High Potency Cannabis?

For American recreational cannabis users familiar with dabbing and smoking flowers with 25 percent THC concentrations, 14.2 percent THC may not seem very potent. But in the UK, this represents some of the strongest cannabis available. Colloquially, people in the UK call this kind of weed “skunk.”

In the UK, however, “skunk” has a totally different connotation than it does in the US. Instead of indicating a certain strain with a pungent aroma, “skunk” weed in the UK refers to any kind of intentionally cultivated plants. If it’s seedless (i.e. female) and flower, it’s “skunk.”

Interestingly, hyperbolic concerns over “skunk” weed have a decades-old history in the UK. Many tabloid presses will run stories about spurious studies that warn of widespread psychosis among cannabis users. Calling cannabis with 14.2 percent THC “super-weed” is, to put it mildly, a bit of an overstatement. Classic reefer madness.

However, the advent of home cultivation trends and the popularity of more potent strains has led to an influx of stronger weed on the market.

The study in Drug Testing and Analysis, though, doesn’t overreach what its evidence shows. The researchers clearly state that “high-potency varieties of cannabis […] may have concerning implications for public health.”

May have. That’s hardly “high-risk super-strength skunk,” as the headline in SkyNews puts it. Neither is it “seriously bad news” that “most of Britain’s weed is now super-strong skunk,” like Metro says.

The Final Hit: Is The United Kingdom Being Flooded With High Potency Cannabis?

So let’s sum up: is the United Kingdom being flooded with high potency cannabis? Yes, the lower CBD concentrations in cannabis available in the UK does, from a psychopharmacological perspective, make it more potent. But THC levels have remained steady for at least a decade.

And yes, official statistics do show that more Brits are consuming this kind of cannabis. But what some concern-trolling “experts” are hyping as ultra-dangerous super-duper-skunk most might see as just better weed.

Cannabis users in the UK are tired of smoking shitty weed, and the numbers prove it.

As for the concerns over mental health: ending prohibition and establishing a regulated commercial market would have the benefit of allowing researchers to comprehensively study the effects of cannabis use. Indeed, some studies show that high doses of THC can trigger psychotic disorders in people already at risk for developing them. Let’s find out more about that, instead of spreading exaggerated and unfounded claims about the dangers of cannabis.

Adam is a staff writer for Green Rush Daily and High Times who hails from Corvallis, Oregon. He’s an artist, musician, and higher educator with deep roots in the cannabis community. His degrees in literature and psychology drive his interest in the therapeutic use of cannabis for mind and body wellness.

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