Not your grandfather’s weed: Marijuana potency today is about 3 times stronger than it was in the 1970s

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Tumbleweed Dispensary

The legal marijuana in Colorado today isn’t your grandfather’s weed.

The stuff people are consuming legally today is as much as three times more potent than the marijuana people were consuming just 20 or 30 years ago.

A 2015 analysis of marijuana potency found some strains with 30 percent THC, the chemical ingredient in cannabis, compared to just 10 percent in decades past. In cannabis products such as concentrates and edibles, the levels can soar as high as 90 percent. THC is the ingredient in cannabis that makes you feel high.

“The marijuana grown now is heavily regulated and the growing process is more controlled,” said Mo Daly, a budtender at Tumbleweed Dispensary, which has seven locations from Frisco to De Beque. “The plants now are stronger than they used to be.”

This is largely thanks to technology that have allowed growers to hone in on ways to create such THC-rich strains.

Take this quote from High Times magazine, which has been marijuana enthusiasts’ information source since 1974, for example:

“If you took a look at a High Times magazine from the ’70s, you’d think our top 40 buds looked like trash by today’s standards,” the magazine quipped in September 2017. “Back then, bud was dark green or brown in color, leafy, thinner and there were lots of visible stems. If they look lower quality than what you’re used to, it’s because they were.”

While growers often favor some strains that produce higher levels of THC, the technology is also allowing them to manipulate the process.

“One of the reasons weed is getting stronger is because the cannabis industry has shifted focus on the production of sinsemilla,” according to a report in High Times. “Sinsemilla is the tops of female plants that have not been fertilized, which contain the highest levels of THC. Harvesters cut off trimmings and remove all large leaves that contain lower levels of THC.”

That’s why people who haven’t used marijuana in a long time need to be especially cautious when trying it again. In Colorado, budtenders often warn consumers that today’s weed isn’t what they remember.

“Start slow and ask your budtender any questions you may have concerning the use of cannabis,” said Edwin Ledezma, marijuana consultant at Tumbleweed Dispensary. “Too much could result in an uncomfortable high.”

Another Tumbleweed budtender said people who are concerned about getting “too high” need to take it easy. Smoking is a good way to consume if you have this concern because the effects are instant. It can take hours for edibles to produce a high. And certain strains are naturally less potent, so just ask your budtender for recommendations. Of course, there are still no guarantees that you won’t feel “too high.”

“If you consume too much, you might not have a good time,” Daly said. “There’s not really any turning back.”

Photos by Hugh Carey.