Is Marijuana Today Truly Stronger Than It Was Back When Your Parents ‘Experimented’?

This article aims to inform you about how marijuana has changed over the past three decades…in strength, potency, and composition.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Young people believe the marijuana today is much stronger than it was when their parents were around. But is this true? If so, how much stronger can today’s marijuana really be? The article aims to answer these questions and inform you about how marijuana has changed in the past few decades.

ESTIMATED READING TIME: Less than 10 minutes.

Table of Contents:

Psychoactive Properties

Marijuana is the dried flowers of the plant “Cannabis sativa” which contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s this chemical that causes psychoactive elements within the brain which many describe as euphoric and relaxing. Marijuana can come in a variety of forms including:

  • Edibles (food or drink with added cannabis extracts)
  • Hashish (concentrated resin from the flowering buds)
  • Hash oil (high concentrated oil from the plant)

Effects have to do with the way marijuana affects our body when we ingest it. By targeting our nervous system, THC attaches itself to cannabinoid receptors and cause an effect of the user’s experience. These receptors can be found in areas of the brain responsible for concentration, memory, movement, and perception. When these area of the brain are triggered by THC, people tend to feel a sense of relaxation and euphoria. Some get very happy and enjoy everything about the moment. Others may feel senses of paranoia and anxiety due to THC’s effects.

The main psychoactive effects of the THC found in marijuana include:

  • A sense of relaxation
  • An altered sense of time, sound, space, and sight
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Lowered attention
  • Lowered inhibition
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness

A Brief History of Marijuana Legality

The legal status of marijuana has – more or less – influenced the potency, packaging, and consumption of this drug. Though marijuana has been around for centuries, it wasn’t considered an illicit drug until the 1930’s. Since then, use of marijuana has been outlawed across the nation and it’s been labeled as a Schedule I substance.

However, in the late 1990’s, after some years of research, marijuana began to be considered a drug with potential medical properties. Pretty soon, states across the country began legalizing it for “medicinal purposes only”. Then, in 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana recreationally.

The legal status of marijuana has changed the way in which people get their product. No longer do you have to go to a drug dealer and buy whatever s/he has, often grown on small, single farm settings. Now you can go to a corner store and purchase from a wide variety of different strains…often produced by larger and larger companies.

Remember hearing about “Big Tobacco?” The legal environment and demand for weed is sprouting a new “Big Marijuana”…complete with industrial scale production warehouses. But does the way in which people buy marijuana really affect how strong it the product being supplied is?

Did Legality Make Marijuana Stronger?

To some extent, yes. And there’s a simple reason. Those who grow the plant no longer have to worry about the law cracking down on them. They have more freedoms and ability to create the healthiest, most productive plant possible. Besides people smoking safer marijuana, this has also had the perk of cleaning up previously polluted illegal marijuana grow sites.

With this knowledge, the question then arises, does a healthier plant make for a more potent drug?


The highest level of THC ever recorded in a single marijuana bud was tested at 32%. Legal strains of popular marijuana buds have an average THC count of 18.7%.

Potency Levels

Potency levels of marijuana vary from strain to strain. Within legal cannabis states, you’ll find that stores label each strain they sell with the amount of THC inside the product. According to NBC News, the average THC level in a legal Colorado marijuana plant is around 18.7%. However, this isn’t the most potent marijuana available.

High Times magazine does an annual report on the strongest marijuana strains. In 2011, the winning strain had a THC count of 25.49%. That number rose in 2014 to 27.46% and was of the same strain. In 2016, the highest level of THC ever recorded in a single marijuana bud was tested at 32.13%.

As we can see, marijuana potency is rising quickly. Still, it should be noted, what you’ll find at your local dispensary most likely doesn’t have a 30% THC count. Legal strains of most popular marijuana buds have an average THC count of 18.7%.

So, is this number higher than it was thirty years ago?

Potency Comparisons with the Past

According to this 2016 article published in Biological Psychiatry , marijuana’s THC count was around 4% in 1995. This would leave most people to assume that the answer is clear – that marijuana is absolutely more potent nowadays than it used to be. However, when it comes to testing prior marijuana, there are complications which are often overlooked.

The government has a way of testing marijuana known as gas chromatography. The purpose of this test is to get an idea of how much THC is in each plant. However, gas chromatography alters the chemical profile of a marijuana plant and even breaks down THC molecules. So, older methods of testing THC were fairly insufficient considering the fact that THC could’ve been burned away before final reports were made.

Still, because marijuana was illegal across the nation in past decades, police seized tons of it. Leading to the hope that maybe scientists can get their hands on it and test it properly. But even those working with the National Institute on Drug Abuse are very limited to their studying of cannabis.

Furthermore, weed differs from place to place and from strain to strain. Therefore, even if a batch of marijuana from the 1980s was given to scientists, it doesn’t necessarily constitute the overall average THC count of everyone was smoking.

It’s truly tricky to determine how potent marijuana was back when your parents “experimented” with it. Still, there is one factor which remains true and may hold some answers.

Potent Marijuana is Much More Accessible

At the end of the day, it isn’t about whether marijuana is more potent now-a-days or not. Rather, it’s about how much easier it is to access potent marijuana.

Look at it this way. When your parents “experimented” with marijuana, they weren’t able to walk into a store. Since they had to go through a drug dealer, their marijuana wasn’t labeled as it is now.

Furthermore, it wasn’t legally grown in a safe and healthy environment. Therefore, they truly had little conception as to what they were smoking in comparison to marijuana users of today.

Take into consideration the fact that the price of potent marijuana has dropped and you begin to get the picture that cannabis containing high amounts of THC has simply become more accessible. You can really get an idea of the convenience in obtaining marijuana today when looking at statistics of high school students who smoke.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports of a sharp increase in high school marijuana use in the 1990s (around the time medical marijuana began to become available). Since then, the amount of marijuana use amongst adolescents has remained fairly steady with only a slight increase. However, the amount of people who see risk to marijuana use is sharply declining. In 2016, only 29% of 12th graders claimed there was a risk in regularly using marijuana. Twenty years ago, that number was closer to 60%.

With that in mind, it can be determined that the overall perception of marijuana is most likely also changing the way in which we use it compared to our parents. Though this doesn’t change potency levels, since people are more lenient on using marijuana, more and more are willing to try it. With that, more are willing to buy into stronger marijuana. As the market continues to grow, so will potency levels.

So, when it all comes down to it, marijuana is most likely stronger than when your parents used to “experiment” with it. However, it’s probably not much stronger. Instead, stronger marijuana is more accessible and, therefore, more people are smoking it.

Risk of Addiction?

Since the underlying problem with marijuana now-a-days is its accessibility rather than its potency, more and more people are:

1. Able to get ahold of it.
2. More willing to try it.

Inevitably, this is causing more people to smoke chronically and become addicted. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 9-17% of people will become addicted to marijuana.

Still, there’s a notion within our society that marijuana isn’t addictive and, due to its medicinal purposes, good. However, like other drugs such as pain medications, just because something has the potential for medicinal benefits doesn’t mean it’s impossible to abuse it. In fact, marijuana is one of the most abused drugs within America today.

If you have concern for you or a loved one due to marijuana use, don’t overlook it simply because the overall perception of cannabis has become lenient. Marijuana addiction is very serious and can have numerous negative effects within your life. It’s important to reach out and seek help.

So, Is Marijuana Addictive?


Considering its psychoactive effects, marijuana abuse is a prominent problem. People smoke to get high. But it’s not meant to be a long term solution to stress or anxiety. Though there are only so few physical properties of marijuana that can cause dependence, the psychological properties are vast.

The signs of addiction are fairly related to mental side effects. So, you might be addicted to weed if you:

  • Experience cravings.
  • Realize that marijuana affects your responsibilities (i.e. school, work, family).
  • Use it daily and in large amounts.

The Basics of Marijuana Addiction Treatment

You are addicted to marijuana if you continue to use it despite it having negative effects on your life including:

  • Costing a relationship with another person or group of people.
  • Desiring to quit marijuana, but being unable to.
  • Experiencing marijuana withdrawals when you’ve reduced or quit.
  • Has affected your work and school for the worse.
  • Lack of activity in what used to interest you.
  • Needing more marijuana in order to feel its initial effects.
  • Spend a good amount of time, energy, and effort to obtain marijuana.
  • Using marijuana in dangerous situations such as operating a motor vehicle.

Addiction treatment is available. The process of treatment varies from person to person, depending on their level of addiction. However, most people experience similar common characteristics of treatment based on talk therapy and possible medications.

The first step to treatment is detoxing. This is when your brain and body rid itself of THC and return back to its normal, drug-free functioning. Usually, this process will last about a week, but it should be noted that THC can stay in your system for months. General withdrawal symptoms for weed include:

  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Craving
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability

As you can see, all these withdrawal symptoms are psychological. With that, it can be expected that you’re going to need to take the time to learn how to manage day-to-day stressors without the aid of marijuana. These can be taught to you through psychotherapies. A list of common psychotherapies include:

  • 12-Step fellowship programs
  • Case or care managements
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Inpatient and residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Medication
  • Partial hospital programs
  • Peer supports
  • Recovery support services

The road to recovery is a lifetime process. It’s important to surround yourself with the right support system and learn to live without the use of drugs. We promise, it’s very possible and you can do it!

Where to Find Help

It’s understandable if you have difficulty when searching for help with marijuana addiction. There may seem like there’s no options available, however, we guarantee those who can help are already around you.

To begin, you’ll want to consult your doctor or physician. Through a medical assessment, s/he will give you a better comprehension of your current condition and the treatment you’ll need. Furthermore, they’ll be able to guide you towards the best addiction treatment centers within your area.

Afterwards, you can research different types of treatment programs. By doing a bit of research, you can find one which best supports your needs. Keep an eye out for support groups either outside or within your treatment program.

Since marijuana is a psychoactive drug which can form mental health issues, you’ll want to reach out to any clinical psychologists within your area. In order to do a more proper search, you can check out APA’s search engine.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends. These are the people who have been in your life throughout your addiction and will continue to be afterwards. Their support is vital to the entire recovering process.

Your Questions

We hope to have answered your questions about the strength of weed over time. If you have any further questions pertaining to marijuana potency levels, how they differ from when your parents “experimented”, or marijuana addiction, we invite you to ask them below. If you have advice to give to those struggling with addiction or curious about potency levels of marijuana, we’d also love to hear from you.

We try to reply to each comment personally and promptly!

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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