High-potency weed doesn’t seem to get seasoned stoners any higher than the standard strength stuff, according to new scientific research.
A new study carried out by the University of Colorado at Boulder found that ingesting high-potency marijuana increases blood levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana that gives you the high, yet it does not appear to make people feel more stoned, high, or intoxicated.
"Surprisingly, we found that potency did not track with intoxication levels," Cinnamon Bidwell, lead author and an assistant professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science, said in a statement. "While we saw striking differences in blood levels between the two groups, they were similarly impaired."
Reported in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers gathered 121 regular weed users and studied their THC blood levels, as well as their cognitive function and ability to balance, both before and after ingesting a variety of marijuana edibles. The participants weren’t aware of the exact strength of the product they were given, which included flower from the plant containing either 16 percent or 24 percent THC, or oil and wax concentrate that were either 70 percent or 90 percent THC.
Despite the form or potency of cannabis, all of the participants self-reported a similar level of intoxication, as well as remarkably similar measures of balance and cognitive impairment. However, those that had consumed the stronger stuff had significantly higher levels of THC in their blood. In this sense, it appears that getting high on weed doesn’t appear to affect a person’s perception of intoxication in the same way as, for example, booze.
"People in the high concentration group were much less compromised than we thought they were going to be," added co-author Kent Hutchison, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder who also studies alcohol addiction. "If we gave people that high a concentration of alcohol it would have been a different story."
While the researchers didn’t specifically look to find why this effect occurs, they have a few suspicions based on other pieces of research.
"Cannabinoid receptors may become saturated with THC at higher levels, beyond which there is a diminishing effect of additional THC," the researchers write in their paper. In other words, regular weed users may find that once the initial rush of cannabinoids has hit the receptors in the brain that spark intoxication, further cannabinoids have little impact.
Although this effect might sound harmless, researchers warn that it could have a dark side. High-potency weed might not make the user feel extra-high, but it is uncertain whether these high levels of THC could bring further long-term risk. That remains unclear for now, but it’s certainly worth considering for future research, the researchers say.