The propaganda against cannabis, which was much of the basis for making cannabis illegal, peaked in 1936 with "Reefer Madness", a fictional propaganda motion picture.
The content of the film and the rest of the anti-cannabis propaganda was, as we now know, filled with lies. Lies that led to the banning of the plant in the US in 1937, and over the following decades - the world.
The ironic part is that the prohibition actually made the plant more dangerous over time.
And even if the dangers of the strongest version of the plant today are still far from the craziness the propaganda machine was pushing in the 30s, it's worth taking the time to understand what has actually happened.
Below we will take a look at the complex relationship between prohibition and the actual plant, and we have to dive into both the modern history of cannabis as well as scientific studies that show that the plant might not be as harmless as it should be, and how we are leading the charge to make it safe again.
Prohibition was a terrible idea
Cannabis has been illegal in most parts of the world for the last 80-90 years. This sad fact has led to many tragedies in the wake of the pointless “War On Drugs”. As decriminalization and legalization of this magical plant are starting to spread across the globe, humanity is now starting to deal with all that went wrong in the prohibition era. There are many wrongs to correct and many lessons to be learned.
One key such thing is, however, virtually completely unaddressed and widely unknown among the population - and that is what effects prohibition has had on the plant itself.
THC potency has gone up by 500% since The Summer of Love
The era of prohibition coincided pretty perfectly with the era of modern science. And as the plant has been outlawed, scientific studies and experiments on the plant have been equally forbidden. The only scientists working on the plant have been in service of the black market growers and smugglers. The incentive has been clear: Make the plant stronger by increasing the levels of THC in the plant.
Since the 1960s, when cannabis in global pop culture was associated with the mythical “Summer of Love” in 1969, the “potency” (its percentage of THC) has increased by around 500%. Over the last two decades, cannabis potency has on average, doubled worldwide, and even more so in the United States.
Another less-known fact is that when you increase the level of THC, the CBD levels plunge. In modern lab-grown weed with a THC potency of up to 50%, there is virtually no CBD left at all.
The significance of CBD short term
CBD helps to moderate the most common side effects of THC during the high. The weed that was consumed at Woodstock in ’69 had around 5-10% THC in combination with around 5-10% CBD, basically a 50-50 split.
The modern weed you can get in dispensaries or on today's black market has between 25-40% THC and no CBD at all. This is a huge difference and it has turned many people away from modern cannabis products as these ultra-strong strains give many users the unwanted side effects of anxiety or heavy drowsiness when using them.
The significance of CBD long term
Studies do show that there are possibilities for negative long-term effects from regular use of cannabis. The main possible adverse effects associated with cannabis use are dependence, cognitive and educational impairment, and psychosis.
Crucially, evidence suggests that these consequences of cannabis use are associated with the amount of THC and CBD it contains. The more CBD, the less damaging effects. Just like the short-term experience.
Encouragingly, it appears that increasing the CBD dose does not influence the pleasurable effects of THC.
Below are experts from the study "Can we make cannabis safer?” Administered by King’s College in London, UK
Download the study here.
High potency cannabis also carries a higher risk of psychosis as well as an earlier onset of the illness than low THC forms. A recent case-control study of patients with a first episode of psychosis found that daily use of high-THC, low CBD cannabis was associated with a 5-fold increase in the odds of psychosis but found no such increase among users of low potency hash (resin).
Experimental studies in healthy volunteers have shown that administration of high-dose THC can induce a range of psychological changes including transient psychotic symptoms. They have also consistently found impairments in memory functioning in a dose-response manner. However, studies that have combined THC with CBD have found very different results. Co-administration of CBD significantly reduces THC-induced time estimation errors and psychological reactions while a subsequent study found 1mg/kg CBD significantly reduced the anxiogenic effects of 0.5mg/kg THC in healthy volunteers.
In a recent study of 140 cannabis users, those who tested positive for both THC and CBD in hair samples experienced significantly fewer psychotic-like effects compared to those testing positive for THC only.
There is also evidence that CBD may reverse the negative impact of THC on cognitive performance. A naturalistic study of 134 cannabis users smoking their own cannabis found that participants using cannabis with higher CBD levels displayed no impairment on measures of immediate and delayed prose recall compared to when sober. By contrast, performance on these tasks was significantly impaired among those who used cannabis with equivalent THC but no CBD.
Reducing the THC content of cannabis, smoke-free alternatives (vaporizers), and concurrent use of tobacco may be effective harm reduction measures. However, increasing the content CBD may be especially promising as it can offset several harms of cannabis without compromising its rewarding effects.