Evolution of marijuana: from 4% to 35% THC - Cannactiva

The evolution of marijuana: from 4% to 35% THC in less than 30 years

Cannabis varieties

Nowadays, it is possible to find a wide variety of marijuana buds marijuana buds with different profiles of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids, as well as terpenes. Seed banks offer strains and varieties with tempting names and impressive characteristics. Do you want to know how this development has been achieved in cannabis? Take a look at our post about the evolution of marijuana and the development of the different types of marijuana !

The evolution of marijuana throughout history

In the early 1990s, the THC content of marijuana was around 4%, but by the end of the 1990s, it had risen to 6% [1]. In 2012 we found marijuana with THC amounts of approximately 12%. Currently, in 2022, the average percentage of THC in cannabis is 16-17%, but there are marijuana strains that can have up to 35% [2]. That’s an increase in THC content of 875% in less than 30 years! This incredible increase highlights how much progress has been made in terms of new strains of marijuana.

The development of new types of marijuana has allowed the THC content to skyrocket from 4% to 35% THC in less than 30 years.

Unfortunately, marijuana strains that are very high in THC are also low in CBD. CBD is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis that interacts with THC attenuating its adverse effects [3, 4].

It has been studied that the effects of both cannabinoids appear to differ when consumed together versus each in isolation [5]. The effects of isolated THC, in drugs such as Dronabinol (Marinol®, Syndros® -a synthetic THC drug), for example, are unpleasant [6, 7], but improve when combined with CBD [8].

The THC content in marijuana has increased by 875% from the early 1990s to now. These potent strains also have low CBD content, which increases the possibility of adverse effects from THC.

This drastic increase in THC content in history would explain the strong effects of the type of marijuana consumed today, compared to the marijuana of the Beatles’ era.

Fortunately, we now also find 1:1 marijuana strains, i.e. with similar amounts of THC and CBD, as well as strains high in CBD but with zero THC content.

Genetic development of marijuana over the years

The genetic origin of cannabis

The development of different varieties of marijuana is possibly due to several factors. These include genetic changes in the plant, together with improvements in growing conditions and techniques. Selecting a marijuana seed with specific genetics or controlling environmental factors such as sun exposure or fertilization results in cannabis strains with different levels of THC, CBD, as well as other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. It can also favor the appearance of certain physical traits in plants, such as larger buds or the purple color of marijuana.

As we mentioned on a previous occasion, there is only one species of cannabis, Cannabis sativa L., which has different lineages, among which there are two large groups:

  • Industrial hemp: tall plants (up to 6 meters), few branches and inflorescences. This type of plant is characterized by the high production of seeds (used for oil extraction) and/or fiber (raw material for construction materials, textiles, etc.).
  • Marijuana: plants of small stature, with many branches and enlarged flowers, with a higher cannabinoid content than industrial hemp.

These two lineages of cannabis have differences in their genetic material. Thus, most marijuana strains found in the recreational market are crosses between selected marijuana-type plants, with a higher cannabinoid content.

Selection of marijuana strains with high THC content

Marijuana growers have chosen, over the years, those plants with a high percentage of THC to be the parents of the next generations. In biology we call this artificial selection: when humans choose which plant to use to reproduce.

Thanks to this method, we have several breeds of dogs or chickens, or so many varieties of tomatoes, as examples. (shorter and easier to understand). In cannabis, artificial selection was carried out by those who, for generations, cultivated marijuana in secret, carefully selecting those plants richest in cannabinoids.

CBD cannabis strains

Currently, a type of marijuana without THC is on the rise: CBD cannabis. From this type of marijuana low in THC we obtain the CBD flowers. CBD flowers . These varieties have been developed by crossing strains low in THC, but in the hopefully near future we will be able to have them through advanced technology such as genetic engineering. CBD buds are gaining popularity as a legal alternative to traditional marijuana.

Many types of marijuana were obtained by artificial selection in clandestine grows, such as basements, closets, and bathrooms.

Although legally CBD cannabis is called hemp because of its low THC content, the plant has more similarities with marijuana than with industrial hemp, as we saw in the post on differences between hemp and marijuana .

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Effects of the type of cultivation on cannabis

With the passage of time, and especially thanks to the legalization and regularization of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use (depending on the country), another factor that may have contributed to the development of new varieties of marijuana is that growing conditions have been perfected and professionalized.

Nowadays there is an excellent technology that is used in different types of marijuana cultivation, both indoor or indoor cultivation and outdoor or outdoor cultivation, and greenhouse or greenhouse. This may also help the levels of cannabinoids, and possibly other compounds as well, to increase. Also, the type of cultivation makes the plant more productive or develop certain physical characteristics, such as larger buds.

Types of marijuana currently available for purchase

The cannabis industry has become professionalized. Today we can buy different varieties of marijuana, selected according to their cannabinoid and terpenoid profile, bud characteristics, flowering time, and the most optimal type of cultivation.

From classic strains to more modern hybrids with unique characteristics, each type of marijuana provides a distinct experience through its different flavor, aroma and effect profiles, as well as physical characteristics, such as buds and leaves of varying size and shape. They have only one thing in common: peculiar names, to say the least.

The funny names of marijuana strains

The varieties or strains of marijuana-type cannabis are commercially named in ways that are as diverse and varied as they are fun:

  • Depending on the aromas of the strain, such as the “Skunk” (skunk or skunk), “Lemon” (lemon or lime, as Lemon OG), “Candy“, “Zkittlez” (for the American candy brand Skittles ®), “Tangerine Dream“, “Tangerine Dream“, “Tangerine Dream“, “Tangerine Dream“, “Tangerine Dream” and “Tangerine Dream“. Mandarin Cookies ” (mandarin cookies), “Sour Diesel“, “Sour Diesel“, “Sour Diesel“, “SourDiesel”, “SourDiesel”, and “Sour Diesel”.Sweet Cheese“, “ Watermelon Zkittlez “(watermelon candy),Blueberry, “ Gorilla Glue ” (for the Gorilla Glue brand), “ Gelato Sundae ” (ice cream cup), among many others. The characteristic aromas of marijuana are usually due to its terpene content.
  • According to the color of the plant, pistils (hairs) or buds: “Black Widow“, “Blue Green”, “Black Widow”, “Black Widow”, “Black Widow”, “Black Widow” and “Black Widow”. Blue Green “(bluish green), “White Widow“, “High Red“, “Purple Punch“, “Purple Urkle“, “Orange Cookies“, “Orange Bud“, and so on.
  • Depending on the (supposed) place of origin, such as “Durban Poison“, a port city in South Africa, “Afghan Kush” from the Kush region of Afghanistan, or “Maui Wauwi“, from Hawaii, or “Santa Marta Gold“, for the Colombian city. There are also many names that refer to the Emerald Triangle, the most popular Californian region of the United States for cannabis cultivation, such as the cities “Eureka“, “Yuba” or “Willits“.
  • Depending on the parents of the cross, the strains inherit the name of their progeny. “Super Lemon Haze” is the crossing of “Lemon Skunk” and “Super Silver Haze”. “Lohan” is the progeny of Trainwreck x L.A. Confidential. “Black Dawg” is the progeny of Black Widow x StarDawg.
  • In many other cases, the names of marijuana strains are compositions of all of the above: “marijuana”, “marijuana”, “marijuana”, “marijuana”, “marijuana” and “marijuana”. Candy Kush Zkittlez “, “ Eureka Tropicana Cookies “, “ Yuba Blue Dream “, “ Willits Limoncello “, “ Pineapple Kush “, “ Strawberry Kush “, “ Space Cookies “, “ Space Queen “, “ New York Sour Diesel “, “ Purple Haze “(purple marijuana, nicknamed after the Jimi Hendrix song), “ Pink Haze “(another variety of lilac marijuana), “ Lemon Haze “, “ Lemonade Haze “, “ Blue Cheese “Purple Diesel”, “Auto AK-47” (from crossing with auto-flowering plants), “OG” (from Original Gangster).

Different strains of marijuana can have rather funny trade names. According to its origin: “Hawaiian Haze”; according to its smell: “Lemon Skunk”; according to its color: “Black Widow”; according to the name of its parents, as for example “Super Lemon Haze” which is the crossing of “Lemon Skunk” and “Super Silver Haze”.

Marijuana varieties according to their effects

It is also common within the cannabis industry to classify marijuana strains according to their supposed effects on the body. Thus, we have the marijuana type indica and sativa depending on whether they produce an energetic effect or, on the contrary, sedative. Briefly, this distinction is not precise as we discovered in the post: indica and sativa: just to confuse us. .

The market for marijuana seed varieties

The system of naming marijuana strains lacks scientific basis and is flawed, because when we sequence the DNA of commercial strains, or analyze their chemotype, we see that individuals with the same name may have very different and unrelated chemotypes or DNA.

The difference could be due to the fact that each marijuana grower christens his own strains using the popular naming systems mentioned above. In this way, each company can sell a “proprietary” variety of “Candy Kush” marijuana, resulting in the end in a bud market with many types of the same variety that, in reality, may have no resemblance between them. As a result, variety names are becoming increasingly ambiguous.

Differences between types of marijuana of the same variety could also be due to the fact that the type of crop affects the characteristics and production of compounds in the plantsuch as the size of the buds, their content in THC, CBD, or minor cannabinoids (CBG, CBC, CBN or THCV, among others), presence of terpenes (beta myrcene, beta caryophyllene, limonene, linalool, alpha and beta pinene, humulene, among others) and flavonoids (anthocyanins, apigenin, luteolin,…). This could explain why two seeds with identical genetics can develop different characteristics.

Because of this lack of information regarding strain names, I personally always recommend to consumers – particularly medical marijuana patients – that when they find a product that they like or gives them relief, they go back to the same place and ask for the same thing. Because if they are going to buy the same strain of marijuana somewhere else, even if the product has the same name, there is no guarantee that it will be exactly the same or that it will produce the same effects.

When you find a product that you like or gives you relief, go back to the same place and ask for the same thing, because it is possible that in another place, even if it has the same name, it is not exactly the same and does not produce the same effects.

What is the most powerful mote?

Finally, the most awaited question. What is the most potent type of marijuana? Surely, most would think of a type of marijuana very high in THC. There are many differences regarding the amount of THC in different strains and many bud stores price their products based on the amount of THC in the weed. But, anecdotally, it is said that marijuana with the right chemotype, even if it has less THC, can be stronger than another strain very high in THC.

Therefore, plants high in THC (e.g. 28-30%) may have lower psychoactive effects than others with lower THC (e.g. 16-18%) but with a diversity of other compounds (e.g. CBD and a certain terpenoid profile). This anecdote would lend support to the theory of the “ entourage effect “which proposes that all these compounds act together to generate particular effects.

In other words, THC, it seems, is not the only determinant of marijuana potency, quality and effect: diversity in the type and amount of other compounds, in addition to THC, apparently matter a great deal because they can influence the effects of marijuana.

The effect of a marijuana strain depends on many compounds and not only on the THC or CBD content. This is what is known as the “entourage effect”, where the set of compounds in the plant produces a particular effect, which could be important for the sensations in consumers.

This is why I always propose that it is essential to measure terpenes, not just cannabinoids. First, because knowing the chemotype of the plants we can better choose which ones to cross (what we explained about artificial selection). Second, because it would help to better understand the effects of medical cannabis if doctors knew what, how much, and what percentages are in the products their patients consume, thus being able to prescribe more accurately. Finally, knowing the chemotype is essential to comply with regulations and standards, which are sometimes unfair, absurd and proposed by people who do not understand plant biology. But this anger and frustration is a subject for another writing.

So, with respect to which is the strongest pot, well, I have several questions: will it make a difference between us consumers? Does what gives me the most “high” (or “traba”, in Colombian) have the same effect on you? Or could it be that the effect of one type of marijuana can be different even in the same person, depending on whether they have eaten, if they have not slept, or their mood?

To really know which weed strain is the most potent, we should know how much the chemotype of the plant affects consumers through double-blind studies. And well, we are getting closer and closer to being able to achieve these studies. I would love, in some way, to be part of these studies to investigate the different strains of marijuana and their effects on the body.

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Volkow, N.D., et al., Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use. New England Journal of Medicine, 2014. 370(23): p. 2219-2227.

Smith, C.J., et al., The phytochemical diversity of commercial cannabis in the United States. PLoS one, 2022. 17(5): p. e0267498.

3. Englund, A., et al., Cannabidiol inhibits THC-elicited paranoid symptoms and hippocampal-dependent memory impairment. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2013. 27(1): p. 19-27.

4. Boggs, D.L., et al., Clinical and preclinical evidence for functional interactions of cannabidiol and Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2018. 43(1): p. 142-154.

5. Solowij, N., et al., A randomised controlled trial of vaporised Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol alone and in combination in frequent and infrequent cannabis users: acute intoxication effects. European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience, 2019. 269(1): p. 17-35.

6. Carter, G.T., et al., Cannabis in palliative medicine: improving care and reducing opioid-related morbidity. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, 2011: p. 1049909111402318.

7. Calhoun, S.R., G.P. Galloway, and D.E. Smith, Abuse potential of dronabinol (Marinol®). Journal of psychoactive drugs, 1998. 30(2): p. 187-196.

8. Zuardi, A.W., J.E.C. Hallak, and J.A.S. Crippa, Interaction between cannabidiol (CBD) and∆ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): influence of administration interval and dose ratio between the cannabinoids. Psychopharmacology, 2012. 219(1): p. 247-249.

Questions about the evolution of marijuana and the development of new strains.

What is the artificial selection of marijuana?

Artificial selection is an evolutionary method used in agriculture that explains the process by which humans choose those plants with desirable characteristics in order to reproduce them and develop future crops from their seeds. In this method, humans play an active role in the evolution of the species by carefully selecting specimens with desirable traits, such as marijuana strains with a higher concentration of THC cannabinoids or large buds on marijuana plants. In this way, organisms are actively shaped to suit human needs.

How do marijuana strains develop?

Marijuana strains are obtained by crossing different types of marijuana, selecting those specimens with the best characteristics, which is called artificial selection.

How do you get THC-free marijuana?

The marijuana without THC has been obtained with crossings of varieties high in CBD. I will explain them well in another writing, but, when the gene that produces the THC compound is truncated or faulty, the THC compound is not produced and other cannabinoids, such as CBD, accumulate. Therefore, CBD-only strains are likely to have a failed THC gene. Those that produce both THC and CBD compounds have genes that compete similarly for the precursor (CBGA), and those that produce only THC have a failed CBD gene.

What are the effects of THC?

THC or Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is one of the cannabinoid compounds obtained from the Cannabis sativa plant. The plant produces the cannabinoid in acidic form (THCA; Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol acid) but when heated, this acidic form changes to its neutral form (THC) by a chemical process called decarboxylation. THC, besides being the psychoactive compound (the one that produces the high), also has therapeutic possibilities.

Is there such a thing as transgenic marijuana?

It is a myth that there is transgenic marijuana, that is, marijuana to which genes from another plant species or even animals have been introduced. Nor do I believe that cisgenic marijuana exists, where genes from the same Cannabis sativa species are introduced. Introducing genes into the laboratory is a time-consuming process that requires adequate personnel and specialized machinery. Now, several biotech companies are working on this and it is possible that in a few years we will have trans or cis-genic marijuana, which would help, for example, that hemp produces little THC, or that females do not fertilize.

Is CBD psychoactive, or psychotropic?

CBD or cannabidiol is another cannabinoid obtained from cannabis. The plant produces cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) which, when heated and through the process of decarboxylation, is converted into CBD. Although it is not psychoactive like THC, CBD is psychotropic, that is, it does not have intoxicating effects but it does act on the brain. This compound also holds much promise in the medical field.

What are CBN marijuana strains?

CBN is a special type of cannabinoid because, unlike many others in its family, it is not produced naturally during the plant’s growth process. Instead, CBN is produced by the degradation of THC by an oxidative process that occurs naturally, especially over time. CBN has a lower psychoactive effect than THC, which is an advantage for many consumers. Marijuana strains high in CBN are difficult to find, as interest in this substance is relatively new.

Dra. Daniela Vergara
Investigadora y catedrática | Especialista en cultivos emergentes y consultora de cannabis

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