By Wesley Gallagher

Over the last few years, marijuana’s reputation has gotten quite the makeover. It went from “gateway drug” to “miracle cure” with many states decriminalizing or legalizing it, and doctors prescribing it for a variety of ailments. With this reputation change has come a whole new world of weed: vape pens, gummies, edibles, and oils being just a few of its available forms.

But the reality is, regardless of its reputation, the health hazards of weed are real, and research shows that marijuana has gotten stronger over time, potentially increasing the risk of addiction and negative side effects.

Research shows that marijuana has gotten stronger over time, potentially increasing the risk of addiction and negative side effects.

How Has Weed Changed Over the Years?

Marijuana hasn’t always had the best rap, but it has typically been seen as a fairly harmless drug. In the ’70s it was associated with hippies who were looked down upon for their music festivals and loose morals. More recently, the picture of a pothead is the teenager in his parent’s basement playing video games all day. But aside from red eyes, laziness, and a penchant for snacks, marijuana side effects have been largely downplayed.

Unfortunately, weed does come with risks, just like any drug, and considering how pot has changed since the ’70s, those risks have also been on the rise. According to Live Science, research has shown the following changes in the makeup of marijuana in recent years:

  • The level of THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol, pot’s main psychoactive ingredient that gets you high) in marijuana samples has risen from about 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014.
  • Levels of CBD (or cannabidiol, the ingredient touted for its calming and health benefits) have fallen from .28% in 2001 to less than .15% in 2014.
  • In 1995, THC levels were 14 times higher than CBD levels. In 2014, they were 80 times higher.
  • Among cannabis plant material that was seized during the time of this study, there was an increase in samples of sinsemilla, a variety of marijuana with a particularly high concentration of psychoactive ingredients.

So is weed getting stronger? Based on these statistics, it seems to be the case.

Another way weed has changed over the years is how people are consuming it, which can also affect its potency. These new types of weed varieties allow users to control the amount of CBD and THC they take in, based on what effects they are seeking. Here are just a few examples:

  • Vape Pens

These vaporize a concentrated cannabis oil, rather than burning the plant. While users may think this makes it healthier than smoking, these concentrates can contain up to 90% THC, making them much stronger than other forms of pot. There is also concern about the heavy metals in vape cartridges.

  • Edibles

These are any food items that contain cannabis, with THC levels varying widely in them. The danger with edibles is that it can take up to two hours for them to take effect, leading some users to inadvertently consume more than they should. The high is also more intense than from other forms of pot.

  • Oils and Tinctures

Used mostly for medicinal purposes, oils and tinctures often allow you to control the exact ratio of THC and CBD you want to take in.

  • Pills and Capsules

Similar to edibles, these may also contain high levels of THC and take a while to take effect.

  • Dabbing

This is one of the newest forms of marijuana consumption, where concentrated cannabis wax is heated and vaporized. Dabs can contain extremely high levels of THC and CBD, as well as contaminants such as butane and pesticides. According to the National Library of Medicine, there have been incidents of psychosis, neurotoxicity, and cardiotoxicity linked with dabbing.

The Health Hazards of Weed

As weed gets stronger, the health risks associated with it are also rising. A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found a correlation between higher concentrations of THC and increased risk of dependency. And a research review on Live Science found that recreational marijuana use is linked to mental health effects such as psychotic symptoms, panic attacks, deficient attention, and impaired concentration.

Pot can be particularly damaging to the developing brains of teens and adolescents.

As weed gets stronger, the health risks associated with it are also rising.

Cannabis is illegal in the US for those under the age of 21, but that doesn’t prevent young people from using it. And according to an article in The New York Times, adolescents who frequently use high doses of marijuana are at risk of developing weed psychosis that could lead to a lifelong psychiatric disorder, increased likelihood of depression and suicidal ideation, changes in brain anatomy, and memory issues.

In addition to side effects like weed psychosis, young marijuana users are also at risk of developing cannabinoid hyperemesis (CH) (or cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS)), a condition characterized by frequent and recurrent vomiting. Cases of CH are on the rise in adults and adolescents, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, and this could be due to the more potent forms of pot on the market.

How Can I Get Help for Marijuana Addiction?

If you or another young person you care about is struggling with pot addiction or any substance use disorder, The Meadows Adolescent Center is here to help. Our time-tested, research-based treatment is tailored to help teens and adolescents with a range of issues, including addiction. Connect with us today to see how we can help you on your healing journey.