The University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Project (Project) has been analyzing samples of marijuana, hash oil, and hashish since 1976. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Project annually analyzes pot samples from U.S. seizures made by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In their latest quarterly report of 1,500 seizures made in 2008, about 75% of the samples originated outside of the U.S. and 25% came from domestic pot eradication efforts. The average tetrahydrocannbinol (THC) concentration of these samples were 10.1%. The Project documents a continued rise in THC potency since the studies were first conducted. For comparison, the Project found an average THC concentration of 4% in samples analyzed in 1983, 4.8% in 2003, 5.2% in 2005, and 7.3% in 2007. Of the 1,500 or so samples analyzed in 2008, 40% contained THC levels of 9% or greater with the highest concentration being 27.3%.
Announcements of increasing U.S. pot potency have erupted into instant controversy in past years. Those who favor legalization or decriminalization of marijuana denounce these reports as at best a distortion and at worst a total myth. Such proponents believe the reports of increasing marijuana potency to be merely an attempt by the government to sensationalize and scare the general population. The reason cited for this alleged government scare tactic is that many parents of today’s teens experimented with marijuana during the 1970s and 1980s when reports documented low concentrations of THC in the marijuana samples seized by the DEA. That population of low potency marijuana users now represents a significant bloc of our nation’s voters. Voters who could be asked to determine legalization of marijuana in the near future. The assumption is that if this electorate perceives today’s marijuana to be more potent and therefore more dangerous than what they had experimented with in their youth, they would be less likely to vote in favor of legalization. A scare campaign delivering that message would surely perpetuate the U.S. persecution of marijuana. The Potency Monitoring Project response to these allegations is that they are reporting actual findings using the same sampling and research techniques they’ve used for 33 years. Included in their report announcements, however, are suggestions that increasing pot potency correlates to increased problems from marijuana abuse. Problems noted in the most recent report include an increase in the number of individuals being treated for marijuana dependence and a link between marijuana use and an increased risk for schizophrenia.