By Emily Ledger
Cannabis has long been the most popular illegal drug in the UK, and most other countries around the world. So, it might not surprise you to read that almost a third of people in the UK have tried Cannabis in their lives. But, how many of you actually know what’s in your Cannabis?
A report, published by the Conservative Drugs Policy Reform Group (CDPRG), recently found that 31% of UK adults had used Cannabis at some point in the past. However, what is surprising, is that almost two-thirds (58%) of Cannabis users don’t know the strain – and therefore, the potency – of what they are using.
In fact, a whopping 60% of respondents who had used Cannabis in the past claimed that they had “rarely or never had the option of choosing from a range of different strains”. An even larger 70% of users are frequently (or always) unaware of the THC:CBD ratio of the Cannabis they use.
The lack of knowledge in the UK’s underground Cannabis industry doesn’t end their, either. The study goes on to reveal that a majority of Cannabis users are unaware of the differing effects of the two main components in the plant.
Around 2 in 5 (42%) of users were unaware that THC is the psychoactive component of the plant which causes the user to get high. In addition, 55% did not know that high-THC strains can be more harmful to mental health and memory than strains with a large CBD content.
It seems that education around Cannabis use is severely lacking. This is unsurprising considering the unyielding stigma that has been attatched to the plant for over 100 years.
However, the study by the CDPRG has highlighted this issue even further. The act of prohibition as not reduced Cannabis use, but made it more unsafe. The Home Office itself estimates that there are around 2.6 million current Cannabis users in the country – most of whom are unaware of what they are smoking.
The majority of Cannabis which is bought and sold through the UK’s black market is thought to be high-potency strains. This is what the majority of users are consuming, as there is no alternative. Mixed with under-education, this creates a cycle that puts the millions of regular Cannabis users at risk.
What’s in Your Cannabis?
So, why is it beneficial to know what’s in your Cannabis?
Different strains of Cannabis have varying ratios of the two most prevalent compounds found in the Cannabis plant: THC and CBD. The varying quantities of these compounds can have different effects on the user.
THC is the primary psychoactive component, and the cause of the ‘high’ usually associated with the Cannabis plant. In comparison, CBD doesn’t cause a high and is being celebrated for its potential health benefits. However, this isn’t to say that THC doesn’t have any medicinal or therapeutic potential.
Researchers around the world have found that both of the cannabinoids (along with more unfamiliar ones) can have benefits on a number of conditions. In order to get a better idea of the effects of your Cannabis, it is a good idea to come to terms with the effects of these different compounds.
These strains provide a stronger feeling of euphoria than other strains, as THC is the dominant cannabinoid. These strains have become the ‘norm’ in the UK as a result of the illicit and unregulated market.
THC has been proven to have a more negative effect on the developing brains of young people and has been known to contribute to the development of Psychosis and mental health disorders in vulnerable people.
However, THC has also been proven to have a number of medicinal properties. Canada and many of the US states prescribe high-THC strains of Cannabis to treat a variety of conditions. The most common among these are conditions where pain, nausea and a lack of appetite are symptoms.
As you probably guessed, these strains are high in CBD. Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal in the UK – however, CBD-rich Cannabis flowers and leaves are not. Even low-THC industrial Hemp requires a license from the Home Office.
CBD-dominant strains are known for providing symptom relief with few psychoactive side effects. Where Cannabis is routinely prescribed as medication, these strains are usually used to treat pain, anxiety, insomnia, among other conditions.
These strains have been becoming increasingly uncommon in the UK, as the black market pushes more potent strains. However, in countries that have legalised recreational Cannabis, these strains are freely available through a legal and regulated channel.
Improving Cannabis Awareness
Most UK Cannabis users are unaware of different strains, making them more at risk of negative side effects. In addition, the clear miseducation of the public on the issues surrounding Cannabis use, only adds to these dangers.
In response, many lobbyists argue for significant drug policy reform – including the CDPRG. Among suggestions, are decriminalisation, which in theory would move drug use from a criminal issue to a health issue.
The other proposed reform method is complete legalisation and regulation. Although this is a more drastic step, it would give users more control over their Cannabis consumption. It would also improve the quality and safety of Cannabis products and, in theory, reduce crime and raise money for the economy.