Marijuana Technology: How the Last Decade Has Changed the Weed You Smoke

grape ape strain with pill bottle

One of the jokes at the forefront of the cannabis community revolves around an acknowledgment by users in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. They may reminisce about the weed they smoked back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, noting these days THAT weed is WAY stronger than the stuff they were getting back then. While there are certainly many incentives both by and for producers and distributors of marijuana to craft the best product they can, advancing marijuana technology and scientific understanding has left a mark on the cannabis industry, one recognized by generations of users.

So sit back and relax as we take a look at some of the pressures leading to these potency increases, from the cannabis grow operations to the consumers using it.

Tech Tools In an Evolving Cannabis World

Beginning in 1996 in California, the US cannabis industry has cycled through various iterations of growth, leading to more than half of the US passing MMJ laws and nine states passing full adult reform and legalization. Growers and sellers of cannabis and cannabis products have been fully swept up into the high-tech frenzy seen in most emerging industries, and so integrating new technologies into their productions has kept the market competitive and fair.

In the last decade, technology has exploded, coursing through nearly every facet of society. It has changed medicine, business, economics, transportation, personal communications, and, of course, agriculture in ways that were unimaginable even a decade ago.

By addressing so many needs, advancing marijuana technology can be used to shorten growth cycles, increase the potency of one cannabinoid or another, and/or generate and consistently measure light amounts with precision and scope unheard of in the decades previous, making technology for marijuana just impossible to ignore in a competitive sense.

The wave of interest across the world in genuine cannabis therapeutics in the US and elsewhere over the last 20 years has pushed the marijuana industry toward a more developed understanding of the cannabis plant, leading to numerous understandings and efficiencies used to develop novel innovations. From the cannabinoid constituents and the genetics behind their expression to the best methods to increase potency and decrease waste, marijuana technology has grown right alongside this renewed worldwide interest.

Marijuana Technology and Growing – A Change of Pace

Indoor marijuana grow
Canna Obscura/shutterstock
Since the 1970s, the DEA has maintained sample records of tens of thousands of marijuana-related busts. These records were kept in order to better understand and address potential harm from cannabis ingestion in the US. The organization collected samples for years, providing a basis for the samples to be compared with previous years, ultimately offering insight into the potency of the plant and its cannabinoid makeup over decades.

Before examining the potency of marijuana over time, I thought it may first be helpful to remind ourselves of a key incentive that both legal and illegal producers of cannabis and cannabis products have for ensuring they have the best, most potent product:

Illegal growers and some legal cannabis grow operations want to be able to reap as much profit from their products as they can.

As illegal marijuana is shipped or delivered outside the scope of the law, for every ounce a grower could produce, the operation as a whole could see more money if their product was of superior quality. Quality for much of the last 20 years was likely measured by how much THC a plant contained, as it was directly related to how much they could charge for the product.

As most consumers understood by the early 2000s, THC is the chemical most responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. As the legal cannabis industry began its rise to new heights—an ascent the industry continues to this day—the narrow focus on the cannabinoids THC and, with increased interest over the last decade, CBD has dictated various consumer expectations. In a legal market, consumers and cardholders are able to easily check the potency of various cannabinoids, comparing products based on their potency before making a purchase.

As potency is largely derived from the plant source, marijuana technology became integral in every part of the growing operation. From lighting and nutrients to genetics, terpenes, and timing, marijuana and technology have only set the stage for stronger strains and cannabis products in an industry on the rise. As a result, dispensaries often market products by their potency, among other distinguishing variables. This provides a further incentive to produce high-potency cannabis.

Just How Much Has Marijuana Potency Changed?

editorial potent cannabis in jar
mikeledray / Shutterstock
Though more have been identified since, a 2012 article by Zerrin Atakan published in the Journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology stated that the cannabis plant has over 400 organic compounds within it. Over 60 of these turned out to be cannabinoids, unique the cannabis plant.

Some of the more well-known cannabinoids include:

The incentive to have high-potency marijuana exists throughout the legal cannabis industry, with it being both a sales point and a product of consumer acclimation. After all, the legal weed industry is less than a decade old, and for some it’s very new. For reference, medical marijuana is more than two decades old.

Researchers conducted an analysis of DEA samples from 1995 to 2014, providing a solid historical model of just how much technological and scientific understanding of the plant has changed. The study found that from 1995 to 2000, cannabis flower confiscated by the DEA hovered between 3.5-5% THC and 0.28-0.52% CBD, to name a few cannabinoid profiles.

From 2001 to 2008, researchers found the amount of THC contained in confiscated cannabis increased annually by nearly 8% on average, jumping from 6.11% THC in 2001 to 9.93% by 2008. By 2012, the average THC potency had increased t0 12.30%. The study also observed that less brick weed was confiscated by the DEA during this time, finding instead that more producers opted to grow sinsemilla.

(As a reminder, sinsemilla is a female cannabis plant grown in an unpollinated environment, allowing for the plant to focus on the production of higher concentrations of active cannabinoids.)

Overall, this study showed that, if measured by THC concentration, marijuana has jumped in potency in the period between 1995 and 2012 by 310%. In legal markets, the wider use of marijuana concentrates, distillates, oils, waxes, and even the highly popular cannabis caviar has lead consumers to a place where they can easily access products with over 90% THC concentration! It’s all thanks to the marijuana technology that has spurred various innovations in both the growth and study of the cannabis plant.

Who knows what lies around the corner?