Reefer Madness, a 1936 film, portrays users driven insane by pot, even to the point of suicide. Based on analyses performed in the 1960s, and to a lesser extent on archived samples in recent years, old-style “reefer” was remarkably weak. The marijuana that had people dancing naked at Woodstock had a THC content of maybe 2-3%. Even then, with the weak stuff, we still saw psychosis and suicidality. Even then, it worried many Americans. Authorities classified it as a Schedule 1 narcotic, right up there with heroin and cocaine. Today, we are even more worried with studies showing increasing psychosis and suicidality, and it’s a legitimate concern—no more reefer madness.
In the decades following Woodstock, growers at home and abroad deliberately began breeding strains of marijuana with higher levels of THC. In the ’70s, the THC increase was minimal, and even by the 1980s it averaged only about 4%. I used it a couple times in the 80s as a teen. I don’t remember being super high but didn’t like it and never used it again.
But in the ’90s and 2000s, as marijuana use became more acceptable and would clearly become legalized someday, breeders doubled down on their efforts, quickly ramping up the THC content in the flower to alarming levels. Meanwhile, the content of CBD, an apparently more beneficial cannabinoid that acts as a protective factor to the brain, dropped significantly.
Today, the average breed of marijuana flower contains over 12% THC by volume. In Colorado, the average dispensary week is more like 20%, with some breeds approaching 35%. Some growers claim 40%. It remains relatively cheap.
Even worse, scientists and mass manufacturers have learned how to concentrate the THC alone, using butane, to potency levels of 80-100%. Don’t be fooled. Comparing “old” and “new” marijuana is like comparing apples and oranges. Modern marijuana products are very strong — and much more likely to make users emulate the actors in Reefer Madness than the jumped-up hemp of yesteryear.