THC Potency Concerns: Are Stronger Products More Problematic?


For the past several decades, every generation of legalization opponents have claimed that the marijuana of their era is exponentially more potent and, therefore, more dangerous to health than the marijuana of yesteryear. These largely sensationalist claims have perpetuated the plant’s continued criminalization, as well as the stigmatization and criminalization of those who possess and consume it.

Indeed, the average potency of cannabis has risen over past decades, but not nearly to the extent claimed by these opponents. Fundamentally, cannabis remains largely the same plant it has always been — with most of the increase in strength akin to the difference between beer and wine, or between a cup of tea and an espresso.

The availability of more potent cannabis products is not a new phenomenon. In fact, higher potency products, like hashish, have always been available to consumers. Typically, when consumers encounter higher potency products, they consume lesser quantities of them. This self-regulatory process is known as self-titration.

Moreover, contrary to popular opinion, higher potency THC products do not dominate the state-legal market. In fact, most consumers tend to prefer and to gravitate toward flower products of more moderate potencies, not concentrates.

Reports of subjective adverse effects due to the consumption of highly potent products are relatively atypical. Consumers do not report concentrates to be more reinforcing/dependence-inducing than other, more traditional formulations of cannabis. The consumption of higher-potency concentrates is not associated with exacerbated adverse effects on cognitive performance as compared to the use of lower-potency flower products.

Studies have generally failed to identify an independent causal link between the increased use of cannabis within the general population and any parallel rise in psychiatric disorders, like psychosis or schizophrenia; Claims in The Lancet and elsewhere purporting such a link are specious because they are based on self-reports of users consuming cannabis products of unknown potency obtained on the illicit market. 

Perhaps most importantly, THC, regardless of either quantity or potency, cannot cause lethal overdose in humans. Since 1985 the US FDA has regulated the prescription drug dronabinol, which consists only of synthetic THC. In 1999, the agency reduced the restrictions on dronabinol based upon findings that it posed little risk to health and safety.

Banning the retail sale of cannabis products above a certain percentage of THC will not eliminate market demand for these products; it will only move the production and distribution of these products exclusively to the unregulated market. This policy change does not promote public health or safety.