1970 cannabis vs. 2018 cannabis – A world of difference!

They came in kilo bricks. By boat, in trucks, and in cargo planes, pounds of dried-up flakes and pieces of cannabis plants worked their way up from Colombia to be distributed and sold throughout the world. While cannabis has been a part of some cultures since day one, cannabis today is certainly not what it used to be. Not only has the industry changed, but so have the plant’s potency and general appearance.

Cannabis potency

So, what exactly were those free-spirits smoking in the 1970s? Since cannabis was named a class 1 drug in 1970, the Natural Center for Natural Projects Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi has been testing cannabis samples confiscated in U.S. cannabis raids. In agreement with popular belief, today’s cannabis is 57-67% more potent when compared to samples from the 1970s. Here, potency is measured by the levels of psychoactive cannabinoids (THC) present in individual plant samples. The reasoning behind this massive increase in potency is quite complicated.


Beginning in the 1970s, the majority of cannabis consumed for recreational use was imported illegally from source countries. In the 1970s, around 72% of cannabis in circulation was brought into the various countries, rather than produced on the home front. Of that 72%, between 50 and 60% was brought in from Colombia. Between growing time, transportation, and distribution, the cannabis found in the 1970s was on average much older due to time it took to get from farm to consumer.

Knowledge about Cannabis potency

An increase in general knowledge about cannabis has also had a huge effect on the quality of the usable product. Back in the ’70s, much of the cannabis brought in was a mixture of leaves, stems, flowers, and hodgepodge pieces of the plant. Very little of the mass-produced product was actually the feminized flower (sinsemilla). This means that when people used cannabis, they were not using the plant parts high in THC, the most well-known compound in cannabis that produces psychoactive effects.

It wasn’t until the “growing without soil “systems became widespread in the 1980s that cannabis imports slowed and there was a jump in the potency of the average sample. This new technology allowed more people to grow discretely right in their own backyards (or, more likely, their basements), which resulted in fresher cannabis closer to home. This new ability to produce cannabis on a local level meant the beginning of the boom in higher quality strains developed with specific properties.


Cannabis potency – The next phase

Another big jump in potency occurred in the early 2000s. While brick cannabis was popular throughout the 1990s, imported product was out of favor by 2010. In 2000, 3.2% of sampled cannabis came from sinsemilla, yet by 2010 sinsemilla became the normal, representing a whopping 60% of seized samples. As more cannabis was being produced, there was an opportunity for research and observation. In perhaps one of the most revolutionary moments in cannabis culture, industry members distinguished the sinsemilla as the best source of cannabinoids in the plant. Now, just a few years later, the potency of cannabis continues to increase as the industry becomes more high tech than ever.  The amount of THC in cannabis has increased dramatically in recent decades. In the mid-1990s, the average THC content of confiscated weed was roughly 4 percent. By 2014, it was about 12 percent, with a few strains of a pot containing THC levels as high as 37 percent.

cannabis on the brain

Cannabis potency – limits and boundaries

After all of these statistics, there are a few questions which need to be asked. How much more potent can cannabis get? Each month, more and more countries legalize cannabis for medicinal use.

The rush to legalization is a step toward turning reality into safe policy. Yet, as technology continues to advance and strains become more specialized (bred specifically for potency and targeting for medicinal effects), the potential for turning cannabis into a different plant altogether only increases. Are these increases in potency a hopeful sign for the medical cannabis industry? or do they suggest that cannabis is going down a different pharmacological route? Right now, the future of cannabis seems wide open and we have an exciting future in the world of healing naturally.

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