The Facts About THC and Other Active Substances in Cannabis
By Richard Shrubb
Cannabis strength cannot be measured on THC strength alone, according to a paper released by the Dutch Union for the Abolition of Cannabis Prohibition (VOC). The VOC memorandum has been submitted to the Dutch Parliament in response to moves to make cannabis containing more than 15% THC the Dutch equivalent of a UK Class A certified drug.
The paper argues that taking such high THC content weed out of regulated sale will merely give organised criminals a market for selling strong skunk – pretty much the same deal as the UK has with all cannabis sold except through prescribed Sativex. It also argues that rather than restrict the strength of cannabis by banning certain strains, the government needs to legalise and regulate the growing of cannabis in the Netherlands – which is currently illegal there now.
The memorandum argues that due to prohibition of cannabis throughout the world, “Research into the various cannabinoids and their specific effects and mutual cohesion is still in the kindergarten stages. … In the meantime, it is certain that the ultimate effect is determined by the combined action of the various active substances.”
Early stage research, the paper contends, is that the CBD content of weed moderates the heath risks of the THC: A Dutch body that analyses national cannabis use, Trimbos, reported last year that “It appears that the ratio between THC and CBD plays a role with regards to the measure of health risks involved with cannabis.” Over various blogs I have showed the therapeutic benefits of CBD and how it works within the brain’s chemistry.
Given the lack of understanding how, and to what extent CBD interacts with THC in the human body, how then can the Dutch Parliament determine weed’s “strength”? The Trimbos report suggests “no research has been done from which a limiting standard for THC can be determined. In other words, a prognosis cannot be made concerning what concentration of THC in cannabis is (extra) harmful.”
If for instance you had a 10% CBD content in cannabis and a 20% THC content, how would someone behave? If your most practiced pothead smoked a joint with 20% THC he would be pretty baked, but up the CBD content, and things suggest that he wouldn’t be as prone to unwanted side effects such as paranoia and short term memory loss.
At present, Dutch weed has a very low CBD content – a recent report suggested as low as 0.3% – and a fairly high THC content – around 16%. It then suggests that hash that has been imported into the Netherlands has a far higher CBD content. “Imported hash contains more CBD (6.7% in 2011), and the possibility exists that, because of this, it is less risky to health than Dutch weed.” Does good quality hash have a better side effect profile than strong Dutch skunk? There just isn’t the science to prove it.
The VOC memorandum argues that in the US, “In the medical marijuana dispensaries in the United States, both percentages are stated on the packaging of cannabis products.” In the Netherlands, long held as the liberal capital of cannabis use of the world, this isn’t the case due to the drug only being tolerated by the authorities. US states that permit medical marijuana use, are far more advanced than the Dutch!
With regards addiction to cannabis, strength is felt not to be a factor either. According to the VOC memorandum the Dutch ministers of Health, Welfare and Sport, of Justice, and of Internal Affairs wrote to the Government last year saying “A high THC content, respective to alcohol content, is in itself no contributing factor to addiction, and this interim connection is still no proof of a possible causal relationship between addiction and the content of active materials in the substance.” Essentially someone who has an addictive personality could become just as easily addicted to smoking farm grade hemp (with 0.3% THC) as they could skunk!
The final major argument presented in the VOC memorandum is that there is no effective standard measurement of THC content. It showed that Belgian research into confiscated weed of identical strains to that grown in the Netherlands, using Dutch farming techniques, had up to a 30% lower THC content than Dutch measurement of the same strains in the Netherlands: The Belgian measurements were of “the same growing methods, and the same know-how as in The Netherlands. In some cases, it’s even Dutch growers who’ve grown the cannabis on Belgian soil. And still, the THC percentages come out considerably lower (an average mean of thirty percent)”.
Science is about measurement. The span between the tip of my thumb and tip of my little finger when stretched is roughly 9 inches. My hand isn’t the standard measurement for 9 inches. A close friend of mine has a span of 4 ½ inches. If she heard that the standard distance between the tip of the thumb and little finger was 9 inches then all her measurements would be out by 4 ½ inches! Does she do that? No, she uses a ruler to gauge 9 inches. A ruler is a standard measurement system. Until an international standard of measurement of cannabis strength is agreed, perhaps at the UN, then no one can accurately agree the strength of a given cannabis. Without that agreement, no one should go on to make sweeping judgments as to whether to ban a given strain!
Until the science is worked out and standardized, so the VOC memorandum argues that no sweeping judgment should be made about cannabis strength. For now, we don’t know how to measure it. Until you can, then you cannot fairly ban weed of a given strength. In any case, as we well know, banning just means handing it over to the crooks!
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Richard Shrubb is NORML UK press officer and a freelance journalist with a specific interest in medical science and sailing, for more info about Richard, see his web site www.richardshrubb.co.uk and you can follow Richard on Twitter #Shrubb