A teenager asleep at a school desk

How strong is marijuana?

Marijuana potency has increased in the past decades, up from about 4% in the 1980s to an average of 15% today. Marijuana extracts, used in dabbing and edibles, can contain an average of 50% and up to 90% THC. The main psychoactive, or mood altering, ingredient in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The level of THC in marijuana varies and determines the multitude of effects on the body and the brain.

Researchers do not yet know the full extent of marijuana’s effects on the developing brain when exposed to the higher concentrations of THC. It is believed that higher THC levels may contribute to a greater possibility of effects including chronic cannabis abuse.

How much THC is safe to consume?

Tolerance for various levels of THC depends on the individual, the potency, and how it is consumed. The less euphoric effects of marijuana, including anxiety, fear, paranoia and panic, are more common when too much is taken or if the marijuana has an unexpectedly high potency. Youth users may have stronger short- and long-term effects from increased potency.

Some studies have been done but we need to know more about the possibility of long-term harm to people who are at risk for mental illness.

What is “dabbing” and is it safe?

“Dabbing,” or smoking marijuana extracts commonly known as “wax,” has become more popular because of higher potency. The side effects are also likely to be more powerful, because the THC level can be much greater than that of leafy pot. For inexperienced users of marijuana, higher potency means more THC exposure and more risk of negative or unpredictable side effects, including a possible increased risk for dependence.

Since dabbing is relatively new, there are not many studies available yet. Because of the variety of cannabis products and modes of use like dabbing, the full range of long-term consequences of high-THC cannabis is not fully understood. Experienced users may, over time, use less of an extract to adjust for higher strength, but withdrawal symptoms may still be high.

“Our findings show the importance of raising awareness among young people of the risks associated with the use of high-potency cannabis.”

Dr. Marta DiForti, Lancet Psychiatry