Trends in Cannabis Potency in the US, 1980-1995

"Data on the THC content of cannabis products in the USA have been collected by ElSohly et al. (1984, 2000) for many years as part of the University of Mississippi Potency Monitoring Project. Samples were submitted by law enforcement agencies and it has to be assumed that they were representative of the market. Mean THC values are shown in Figure 16 for normal herbal cannabis, sinsemilla and resin. The anomalously high value for resin in 1997 (19.24 %) has been excluded; it was based on only five values and is over nine standard deviations above the mean potency for the period 1980–1996. Although there has been an increase in the potency of herbal cannabis over the twenty-five-year period, cannabis resin (and hash oil) showed no long-term trends since 1980 when data were first collected. Although the potency of sinsemilla showed a clear upward trend in the final three years of the study, no such trend was obvious when the longer period of 1980–1995 is examined, particularly in view of the wide variations in potency that occurred from year to year (ElSohly et al., 2000). The THC content of herbal cannabis increased from around 1% before 1980 to around 4% in 1997. This increase, when seen in the European context, is deceptive. Before 1980, all mean herbal cannabis THC levels in the ElSohly study were less than 2.4%. By contrast, and as shown in Figure 10, comparable levels at that time in the United Kingdom were twice as great. In other words, it must be assumed that the quality of herbal cannabis consumed in the USA more than twenty years ago was unusually poor, but that in recent years it has risen to levels typical of Europe. So even the modest increase found by ElSohly et al. (2000) may be less significant than it seems. A recent analysis of cannabis seized in Florida in 2002 (Newell, 2003) showed amounts of THC found in samples ranging from 1.41% to 12.62%; the average THC content was 6.20%, which is almost identical to the 2002 value reported by the University of Mississippi Potency Monitoring Project."


EMCDDA Insights #6: An Overview of Cannabis Potency in Europe, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2004), p. 52.