Changes in cannabis potency over the last two decades (1995-2014) – Analysis of current data in the united states


Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States and all over the world. Reports indicate that the potency of cannabis preparation has been increasing. This report examines the concentration of cannabinoids in illicit cannabis products seized by DEA (drug and enforcement administration) over the last two decades, with particular emphasis on Δ9-THC and cannabidiol (CBD).


Samples in this report are received over time from DEA confiscated materials and processed for analysis using a validated ‘gas chromatograph with flame ionization detector (GC/FID)’ method.


A total of 38,681samples of cannabis preparations were received and analyzed between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2014. The data showed that, while the number of marijuana samples seized over the last four years has declined, the number of sinsemilla samples has increased. Overall, the potency of illicit cannabis plant material has consistently risen over time since 1995 from approximately 4% in 1995 to approximately 12% in 2014. On the other hand, the CBD content has fallen on average from approximately 0.28% in 2001 to <0.15% in 2014, resulting in a change in the ratio of THC to CBD from 14 times in 1995 to approximately 80 times in 2014.


It is concluded that there is a shift in the production of illicit cannabis plant material from regular marijuana to sinsemilla. This increase in potency poses higher risk of cannabis use, particularly among adolescents.



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