Pot’s Evolution: How the Drug Has changed Over the Years

It’s a topic of near-constant conversation in our communities; “Should marijuana be legalized?” In an increasing number of states, the answer is yes. But the debates are clouded by a great deal of misinformation. What matters to me as a person with substance use disorderion treatment professional is that the public makes informed decisions based on good facts. Here are some facts about how marijuana has changed since it became popular in the 1960s and moved into the mainstream thereafter.

Marijuana Is Stronger Now than Ever Before

A recent study on marijuana in Colorado confirms that marijuana is more potent than it was decades ago. At the same time, however, research indicates that the qualities in marijuana that give it “medicinal” use may be waning. Alice Walton of Forbes writes this of the changes to marijuana’s potency:

“Marijuana has definitely evolved in the last few decades. Its potency is higher than ever: A lab in Colorado has just analyzed 600 samples of marijuana, both recreational and medical, and found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content has risen markedly, whereas cannabidiol (CBD), which many say has therapeutic value, has declined. For all the acceptance that marijuana has gained in recent years – four states allow the sale of pot for recreational use, and 23 states and Washington, DC allow marijuana for medical use – the lack of normalization among marijuana sales may slow the process, since it gives opponents an opening to criticize.”

The Medicinal Efficacy of Marijuana Needs Research

While researchers have wanted for years to conduct studies on the medicinal properties of marijuana, they have by and large been unable to do so because of government limits on marijuana research. There is no question that marijuana provides symptom relief for individuals with late stage HIV/AIDS and cancer. But there is a lack of good research on the ways in which marijuana may genuinely help individuals with other disorders. We also don’t know as much as we should about the side effects of medical marijuana’s use. Further, the same research that shows that marijuana is becoming more potent also shows that the part of the drug that gives it medicinal qualities is being “bred out” of the drug. Alice Walton continues:

“Cannabidiol (CBD) content, on the other hand, has shrunk over time. Researchers have been interested in its use in treating schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other brain and mood disorders. It’s been said to have antipsychotic effects and to counter the occasionally psychotic effects of THC. So the fact that it’s being bred out may mean that the high one gets from smoking pot isn’t going to vary a lot, despite what sellers may tell you. And it may mean that people who rely on CBD for medicinal properties, aren’t getting much of that either.”

Next Steps

While the debates about the legalization of marijuana continue, it is important that the public be educated with good facts about the drug and its impacts on the human body, both for recreational and medical use. This means that we need solid research done by the best researchers available. If it is CBD that is responsible for the drug’s efficacy in a medical setting, we need to be sure that part of the drug isn’t bred out to the point of ineffectiveness. The most important next step is research – so that we as voters can make well informed decisions based on good science.


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