CA NORML Health Information
The study, consisting of three rounds of testing by two different DEA-licensed laboratories, measured the concentrations of THC, the primary active ingredient of marijuana, and its two commonest chemical relatives, known as cannabinoids, CBD and CBN. In all, 49 samples of medicinal cannabis were analyzed for potency by standard gas chromatograph mass spectrometry.
The sample showing the lowest THC (less than or equal to 3.9%) was the government’s own marijuana, grown for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to supply researchers and eight legal medical marijuana patients. Nearly all other samples tested over 8%, with averages in the range of 12.8% - 15.4%, and many samples above 20% . One sample of hashish (concentrated resin) tested above 44%.
"The study clearly shows that the underground market is producing better medical marijuana than the U.S. Government," concludes study co-sponsor Dale Gieringer of California NORML. He argues that high potency pot is better because it enables patients to inhale less smoke for a given effective dose of THC. A recent report by the national Institute of Medicine cited smoking as the number one health concern of using medical marijuana. Based on THC content, the clubs’ cannabis appears to deliver over three to five times as much medicine per puff of smoke as NIDA’s marijuana.
In other results, the study found only insignificant traces of CBD or CBN, except for one peculiar sample that showed unusually high CBD (> 8%). CBD, a non-psychoactive precursor of THC, is suspected to have distinctive medical benefits for relief of muscle spasms and for anxiety attacks, a common side effect of THC. However, the data from the study suggest that patients rarely if ever encounter CBD. The possibility remains that other medically active ingredients among the 60-odd cannabinoids not examined in this study may be common in some marijuana samples.
The samples were donated for analysis by a half dozen medical marijuana clubs and providers from both east and west coasts. Despite the evident superiority of the clubs’ products, they remain strictly illegal under federal law. The government has even acted to suppress their availability by closing down medical cannabis clubs in California.
In a change of government policy, the Clinton administration is expected to announce today that it will make NIDA’s marijuana more freely available to scientists and physicians for medical research. However, the findings of the potency study suggest that patients would be better off to smoke cannabis from the clubs. "It is irresponsible to require NIDA’s marijuana to be used in human subjects given the availability of higher-grade alternatives," argues Gieringer, "The time has come to end NIDA’s monopoly on the marijuana supply."
Production of the potency study was complicated by DEA regulations that are designed to prevent the analysis of non-government-approved drug samples. It was therefore necessary to resort to backdoor channels to conduct the research. "When it comes to marijuana and drug research, the United States is not a free country," states Gieringer, "In our experience, it’s easier for kids to get high-grade pot at school than for responsible researchers, physicians, and patients to get it legally."
More info in: MAPS Newsletter 9#3 (1999) pp. 20-22.