What initially drove the rise of “CBD” hemp? We see so many CBD ads now, so fundamental info like this gets lost in the shuffle. Hemp, as well as marijuana, haven’t been bred for their CBD content until only recently. Instead, the focus has traditionally been on THC. Here are a few pieces to help us puzzle out why.
Why Do People Use It?
Let’s start with why people consume cannabis: Cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the compounds found on and within the cannabis plant. These include THC, CBD, CBG, CBD, CBN, and well over a hundred more that we know of thus far. They offer a wide array of benefits, and some even induce psychoactive effects.
Our body uses its own endemic cannabinoid receptors, otherwise known as the “endocannabinoid system”, to process and utilize these compounds. Historically, cannabis has had a relatively balanced cannabinoid profile, not necessarily favoring one cannabis compound over another. The people who grew it long ago probably didn’t see any reason to mess with it all that much. As long as it was helping to heal, or to provide the occasional diversion of a “high”, why change it?
Old School vs. New School Weed
As marijuana became widespread in the US, it was coming from places in Central and South America, as well as Asia. This is what we might refer to today as “Mom and Pop Weed”. You know, the kind of weed that people talk about smoking throughout the 60’s and 70’s, and even into the 80’s. Although we’d never know it today, the marijuana of the past had a somewhat mellow “high”. Many who smoked marijuana then have also tried modern marijuana, and they are floored by how intense the “high” has become over the years. There are a few reasons for this according to the Leafly article Why is Cannabis Now So Different From 1970’s Cannabis.
Firstly, many people used to smoke the flower along with leaves and stems, thus diluting the potency of marijuana per volume. Secondly, they were only exposed to a select handful of strains from criminal supply chains back then, so they may not have been getting the cream of the crop. In other words, some very high THC strains could have been around, but the general public had no knowledge of them or access to them. Thirdly, general cannabis information (such as what different cannabinoids do) was not so widespread, so many otherwise adventurous growers might not have known how to effectively maximize THC content.
Pushing It to the Limit
Even when controlling for all of these factors though, both the prevalence of high-THC cannabis and the levels of THC within those strains have skyrocketed. When the THC content in a given strain rises, the content of other cannabinoids diminishes. In her Livescience article, author Agata Blaszczak-Boxe examines this. She states,
“[…] researchers looked at more than 38,600 samples of illegal marijuana seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration over 20 years. They found that the level of THC […] in the marijuana samples rose from about 4 percent in 1995 to about 12 percent in 2014.”
Those samples might not be representative of changes across the board, but they still demonstrate a 200% increase in THC concentration in just 20 years. Furthermore, the marijuana from 1995 had a THC to CBD ratio of 14:1 on average. The marijuana from 2014 had a THC to CBD Ratio of 80:1.
Since the legalization of marijuana in some states, there’s been an even bigger push to breed cannabis that’s high in THC. In some cases, it can even be higher than 30%!
Is too much THC necessarily a bad thing? For some, no. For others, yes. According to author Adrienne Santos-Longhurst in a Healthline article of hers, Higher THC content can lead to higher degrees of the following symptoms:
- Increased Heart Rate
- Decreased Blood Pressure
- Dry Mouth
- Slowed Coordination
- Short-Term Memory Loss
- Paranoia, and more
At a certain point, it’s just too much. And for the folks who use cannabis medicinally, there used to be no other alternative. Prescription meds often have terrible side effects, so patients who were able to would turn to cannabis. But what if they’re sick and tired of getting unbelievably “high”? What if they want to enjoy a more sober cannabis experience?
Shifting Back to Normalcy
That’s where CBD comes into play. Growing cannabis for high CBD content wasn’t a phenomenon until just a few years ago. Now though, everybody and their brother has heard of CBD, and many people swear by it.
Thanks to the CBD revolution, cannabis growers are realizing the importance of a balanced cannabinoid profile. They are no longer just aiming for maximal THC content. Different products in dispensaries even list CBD content alongside THC content now.
The CBD movement has also brought research surrounding “The Entourage Effect” to the forefront. We’re now examining unbelievably valuable compounds that we didn’t know much about before, like CBD, CBG, and CBN.
Some specialized growers will likely continue to strive for even higher THC levels. That said, many growers are shifting to an approach that focuses on producing cannabis that is more balanced for the consumer, the same way we do at 4 Corners Cannabis. Seeing how both sides of the cannabis industry (the hemp side and the marijuana side) can inspire positive change in the other is promising. Hopefully that trend continues for many years to come.