Last week's CBC Marketplace piece on cannabis has allowed for some very interesting conversation about the trend of the market towards higher THC products and the potential public health problems this might present in a legalized environment.
The CBC feature also highlighted some of the problems with an unregulated market, like inaccurate labeling of things like THC and CBD. These are clearly legitimate issues worth being discussed. One implication in the main article that started the conversation, though, is that there is something ‘missing’ in today’s cannabis. The implication is that today’s cannabis is ‘missing’ CBD.
The problem with this assertions is that, while it very well might be true that there was more CBD in the cannabis available 30-40 years ago than there is today, or even just a higher ratio of CBD, the article presents no evidence to support this. It talks about how high THC levels are, but offers no research to show cannabis consumed in the past had higher levels of CBD. And while one can certainly argue that THC levels have gone up at the expense of CBD, this isn't mentioned, either. We're just left to assume today's cannabis will make you go crazy, not like mom's weed back in the 60's.
It's an odd turn because the same point could be made by simply pointing out that the market has trended towards higher THC levels. This point isn't disputed and there is evidence of high levels of THC having a relationship with issues like psychosis (although the nature of the relationship is still debated). So why even imply the problem is CBD being bred out of the supply?
This seems to be similar to an approach in Britain that called for a CBD ‘buffer’ in all legal cannabis of at least 4%. In a recommendation paper, the authors referred to a study that showed that high potency ‘skunk’ cannabis is more likely to cause psychosis.
The authors of the study speculate that those smoking hash showed lower rates of psychosis because the hash had higher levels of CBD. Other research available points to this as well. However, much research is still needed on cannabis, in general, even beyond THC and CBD.
Is this a new theme where 'legal' cannabis will be mandated to have certain levels of CBD?
Jonathan Page, an adjunct professor of botany at the University of British Columbia who was quoted by CBC's Marketplace for the feature, says that there is evidence that suggests the production of THC is at at the expense of other cannabinoids, but that there is still not much, if any, direct evidence of lower levels now than in the past.
"No one seems to know what levels of CBD were found in cannabis flowers 30 years ago", says Page.
"Based on what we know about the biosynthesis of cannabinoids," Page wrote in an email interview with Lift, "THC production is at the expense of CBD production: as you increase THC levels, CBD is reduced. This is reflected in modern cannabis strains: types that contain high THC levels (>15%) and very low CBD (<0.5%), types that contain approximately equal amounts of THC and CBD (where each component rarely exceeds 8-10%), and types that contain high CBD (>12%) and low amounts of THC (<1%)."
"No one seems to know what levels of CBD were found in cannabis flowers 30 years ago" -Jonathan Page
"My opinion," Page says, "is that CBD levels probably have been going down since in the 1960s as breeding focused on increasing THC levels, but we definitely need more evidence for this. This could come from studies that analyze old strains and historical samples both using chemical and genomic tools. This is based on what we know about hashish, which might approximate the chemistry of some North American bud in the 1970s, and also what we know about cannabinoid biosynthesis.
"Early cannabis — both imported material and seeds that reached growers in North America — was probably from plants that produced both THC and CBD. Selective breeding gradually shifted this to be THC dominant. Only in the last 5-10 years has the pendulum swung the other way with the rediscovery of CBD and its return in modern medical cannabis strains."
As anyone following the evolution of the cannabis market in Canada, the US, and elsewhere knows, there are arguably more high-CBD options available now than probably any other time. Breeders have been adding CBD-rich varieties into the market for years, with Charlotte’s Web being the most well known, featured in Sanjay Gupta’s CNN special on cannabis.
In both the licit and illicit market in Canada, it’s never been easier for consumers to access high quality, CBD-rich strains. Both high CBD as well as balanced 1:1 strains (with equal parts THC to CBD) are far more available today than even just a few years ago. You can create your own blends using the verified testing results available from regulated products. Canadians can even apply to import these products from other countries. Not to mention the enormous amount of potentially harvestable CBD thrown away in the processing of industrial hemp that Canada could be making advantage of immediately.
Adam Greenblatt, currently the Head of Quebec Engagement for Tweed and a long time cannabis advocate in Canada, points out much of the genetics available in the current legal market came from previous medical regimes in Canada.
"Resin Seeds' Cannatonic and CBD Crew genetics like Skunk Haze, Shark, Nordle, and others, were being grown in Canada by a small number of MMAR growers for years," says Greenblatt. "They are now available from Tweed and most other LPs. CBD rich cannabis is already popular for a number of medical uses, and there is actually a big demand for it on the recreational market. There is no question that it will become even more widely available to non-medical users after legalization."
If there is evidence that today’s cannabis has less CBD than in the recent past, the CBC failed at showing this evidence to their audience. This is likely because CBD wasn’t even tested for in the past. And while there is certainly emerging evidence pointing to CBD helping modulate some of the negative effects of high levels of THC, consumers today arguably have far more access to it, not less.
We can have a balanced conversation about some of the problems associated with cannabis use without reverting to reefer madness fear-based messaging. As Canada moves forward in this historic process, hopefully respected media groups like CBC can approach the issue with a little more balance, too.
— Adam Greenblatt (@adam_greenblatt) November 27, 2016