Cannabis was downgraded from class B to C in 2004, but was moved back to class B in 2008, due to the “new breed of cannabis” - the “super strength cousin” - namely, Skunk. The potency of Skunk was suggested to be three or four times stronger than that of cannabis.
Dr. Ben Goldacre has played an intrinsic part in debunking the Skunk myths; his piece in Bad Science repudiated the now infamous Independent piece that retracted their calls for cannabis regulation. Please see here for Dr. Goldacre’s work on debunking the potency myths.
It is perhaps western arrogance personified that we proclaim cannabis botany has progressed in a few years of domestic cultivation when eastern countries have thousands of years to show for their production of the plant.
Debra Bell - a prohibitionist campaigner - only talks in terms of Skunk and the high potency. This directly from her site:
"It is not the same stuff as you may have smoked at college in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and can have devastating effects on the young.THC (the chemical that gives the high) has increased in the new super-strength cousin of cannabis – sinsemilla (called ‘skunk’ because of its pungent smell). Average THC in skunk is 16%, sometimes more. This is much higher than the herb (1-3%) and the resin (4-6%) Another chemical present in cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD), occurring in negligible amounts in the stronger strains. CBD is thought to contain anti-psychotic properties, counteracting the effects of THC. Smaller amounts in skunk may account for the commonly reported psychotic reactions.Interestingly, CBD appears to have been virtually bred out of skunk, which may account for the devastating effects we are seeing, especially among the young."
Interestingly, the opening paragraphs seem to indicate that, yes indeed, the cannabis of yesteryear was relatively harmless. So why do we have the perceived super strength cousin, and why did the government reclassify solely on the the higher potency of Skunk? Skunk now justifies all actions within media and government circles.
It is very interesting, however, that on the 4th of April 2011; in a Written answers and Statement, Charles Walker MP asked:
“…what the average THC content of seized skunk cannabis was in the latest period for which figures are available; what the average THC content of cannabis seizures was (a) five, (b) 10 and (c) 20 years ago”
Given the dangerous potency of Skunk, this is an exemplary question. The answer given by James Brokenshire is interesting:
“The latest data from the Forensic Science Service Ltd (FSS) show that the average tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of mature flowering tops from plants, otherwise known as sinsemilla, seized and submitted to the FSS from the 1 January 2008 to the present day was 14.0%. By comparison, during the same period, the average THC content of traditional imported cannabis and cannabis resin was 12.5% and 5.5% respectively.
Information on average THC levels of cannabis available in the UK prior to 2008 is available in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs 2008 report 'Cannabis: Classification and Public Health', which can be found on the Home Office website via the following link:
This summarises data available at that time, including FSS data from 1995 to 2007 and data from the Home Office's Cannabis Potency Study 2008, published by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch. Information on average THC levels of cannabis prior to 1995 is not available.”
So, we have no information on the THC potency prior to 1995.
As with David Cameron’s statement in the Al-Jazeer interview regarding his “very very toxic” comments (as documented by Peter Reynolds), the Prime Minister also made reference to the high potency of modern day cannabis. Once more, no evidence is available to substantiate the claims.
Don’t be fooled, we do not have super strength strains, we simply have good quality and bad quality. The government & media’s version of Skunk is simply a marketing campaign. Skunk is also known as “street weed” - badly cultivated cannabis that has been harvested too early, has not been flushed correctly thus meaning growing chemicals still are present. The balance of cannabinoids are incorrect, and often the cannabis is cut with harder drugs, glass, or better known as “grit weed”.
Consequently, I would like to place it on record; the government has no evidence for the claims of higher potency cannabis, or “Skunk”.