High-strength skunk ‘now dominates’ UK cannabis market
Wednesday 28 February 2018
“Almost all cannabis seized by police now comprises high-strength varieties, with outdoor-grown herbal strains and hashish barely found,” The Guardian reports. The news is based on researchers analysing samples of cannabis seized by 5 police forces in 2015 and 2016.
They found almost all the cannabis (93.6%) was sinsemilla, also known as skunk. This is a potent form of herbal cannabis often grown in the UK in indoor “cannabis farms” which has been specifically bred to have high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC is the psychoactive chemical in cannabis responsible for many of the pleasurable effects people get when using the drug. THC has also been linked to an increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as psychosis (where a person is unable to tell the difference between reality and their imagination).
Analysis of samples of the drugs showed a wide variation in the levels of THC, with an average level of 14.2% in sinsemilla, compared to 6.3% in resin.
Cannabis resin, which dominated the UK market before 2000, only accounted for 5.8% of the cannabis seized by police. Resin THC levels were higher than those recorded in a similar study in 2005.
Cannabis resin usually contains cannabidiol (CBD), a substance thought to protect against some of the dangerous effects of THC. Sinsemilla does not usually contain CBD.
This matters, because doctors think people who use cannabis with high levels of THC, especially without CBD to counteract it, are more likely to become addicted and develop mental health problems.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from GW Pharmaceuticals, which produces a range of medical cannabinoid medicines, and from King’s College London. GW Pharmaceuticals could be seen to have a conflict of interest in highlighting the dangers of illegal cannabis, as it is currently researching a range of medical treatments based on cannabidiol (CBD).
One of the researchers was funded by the Medical Research Council. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Drug Test Analysis.
The study was widely covered in the UK media. Some of the headlines – such as the Mail Online’s “Terrifying rise of super-strength ‘skunk’ cannabis” – ramp up the fear, but by and large the study was accurately reported.
What kind of research was this?
This was a laboratory analysis of samples of drugs seized by police. The study gives a snapshot of the types of cannabis and range of potency of cannabis being sold illegally. However, we don’t know how representative the samples are of the types of cannabis being used in the UK, as police may not target all potential cannabis users equally.
What did the research involve?
Researchers contacted 5 police forces which had been involved in previous surveys of cannabis, in 2005 and 2008. The forces were asked to send all seized cannabis samples in their property stores for analysis.
The researchers sorted the cannabis by type, then selected a representative sample to analyse for levels of THC, CBD, and a degraded form of cannabinoid, CBN, which is less potent and is a result of THC breaking down.
Cannabis came from Kent and London Metropolitan districts (in 2015) and Derbyshire, Merseyside and Sussex (in 2016). It was sorted into 3 types:
- natural herbal cannabis (a less-potent type of cannabis, often imported from Morocco)
Researchers analysed about half of the samples of sinsemilla, and all of the samples of resin and natural herbal cannabis, as there were fewer of them. They analysed 250mg from each sample, which they say is a typical amount of cannabis used in 1 joint.
To see whether the time the sample had been held by the police affected the strength, they measured 34 samples where the length of storage was known, and looked at whether CBN levels were linked to time stored.
What were the basic results?
The vast majority of the 995 cannabis samples were sinsemilla:
- 929 (93.6%) of these were sinsemilla, compared to 708 (84.5%) in 2008 and 247 (50.6%) in 2005
- 58 (5.8%) were resin, compared to 104 (14.2)% in 2008 and 169 (42.7%) in 2005
- 6 (0.6%) were traditional herbal cannabis, compared to 14 (1.3%) in 2008 and 39 (6.7%) in 2005
The average THC content of sinsemilla samples was 14.2%, similar to the 13.9% found in 2005. However, the range varied from 1.9% to 22.5%, with most being around 10% to 20%.
Average THC content of resin was much lower, at 6.3%, although this varied from no discernible THC to 29% in 1 sample found in a prison. The average strength was much higher than in 2005, when average THC concentration was 3.7%.
Only 1 of the sinsemilla samples contained CBD, the protective agent. While most resin samples did contain CBD, researchers found the average level had dropped from 4.3% in 2005 to 2.3% in 2015/6.
The analysis found no indication that length of time in police storage affected the strength of cannabis.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers said: “This trend presents an increased risk of harm to those susceptible to the development of psychotic disorders following cannabis use.” They suggest the need for a nationwide survey.
Cannabis has often been dismissed as a relatively harmless street drug, compared to class A drugs such as cocaine and heroin. However, mounting evidence suggests it may have a harmful effect on mental health, particularly for teenagers and adolescents, increasing the chances of problems including panic attacks, anxiety and psychosis.
Although research is still taking place, it seems that stronger sinsemilla cannabis (aka skunk, which contains more THC and little CBD), raises the risk of mental health problems and addiction, compared to cannabis resin, which tends to have less THC and more CBD.
It’s concerning that this study suggests sinsemilla is becoming much more common, and that where resin is on sale, it has more THC and less CBD than a decade ago. People who base their ideas about cannabis on the drug they smoked many years ago may not realise the strength and potential harm of the cannabis sold on the street today.
However, the study has some limitations:
- It only looked at drugs seized by police. It’s possible that police may prioritise arresting and confiscating drugs from people selling sinsemilla, because of its perceived harm. This might mean the proportion of cannabis resin in the study could be artificially low.
- It only analysed a proportion of the samples of sinsemilla, and only 250mg from each sample. The overall sample strength might have varied, because the cannabis plant’s concentration of THC varies in different parts.
- Only 5 police forces were involved, so we don’t know if the results would apply equally around the country.
Cannabis doesn’t just affect mental health, smoking any form of cannabis can be bad for your health in other ways.
- damage your lungs
- increase your risk of road accidents
- damage your fertility and, if smoked when pregnant, damage the unborn baby
Find out more about the effects of cannabis.
Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website
'Almost all cannabis seized by police now comprises high-strength varieties, with outdoor-grown herbal strains and hashish barely found' The Guardian reports
What is Skunk cannabis?
Skunk, the independent strain dating back to the 1970’s.
What is skunk? Unfortunately for some smokers ‘skunk’ has simply become another generic word for cannabis, but true Skunk is a quite independent strain with its origins dating back to the 1970’s. Skunk remains a top quality strain that offers an excellent ‘high’ with good yields, it is also a forgiving strain which can grow well under a range of conditions indoors, outdoors and in greenhouses. Even today, the combination of qualities which made Skunk famous are still used as a benchmark against which other strains are measured.
The generalisation of the name ‘Skunk’.
In some countries, such as the UK, the term ‘skunk’ no longer necessarily refers to a specific strain but is a general term which refers to good quality marijuana of perhaps unknown genetic origin. Young people in several countries are increasingly calling their home-grown ganja ‘skunk’. Not only is the generalisation ‘Skunk’ inaccurate, it also undermines the true genetic identity of the weed.
In order to preserve the true Skunk heritage Dutch Passion have trademarked their original Skunk #1 name. The other ‘quality’ seedbanks are also quite clear which of their strains have true skunk lineage. The remaining seed suppliers may be supplying reasonable quality strains that use the ‘skunk’ name but this does not necessarily mean that the strains still resemble the original skunk.
Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold, legends from the old days
The Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold strains were top quality sensimillas of their day and even today they would still be highly appreciated though are difficult to find in their original form. These strains were popular with breeders in the 60’s and 70’s and old timers will remember them for their great unbeatable ‘highs’. Incidentally, it is quite ridiculous that some of the modern anti-cannabis prejudice is based on the so called ‘fact’ that todays dope is very strong whilst that grown 30 or 40 years ago was comparatively weak. That is simply not true, ask anyone that can remember how good the weed was back in the 1960’s. Acapulco Gold even manages to get several mentions in songs from bands such as Rush, Soda Stereo, The New Riders and more recently the rapper MF Doom. Colombian Gold was a similarly iconic and highly potent strain.
False anti cannabis propaganda
People have been enjoying good quality weed (10%+ THC levels) for thousands of years. Strong weed is not just a modern phenomena, there has always been strong weed. But unfortunately the anti-cannabis crusaders like to have a ‘key’ argument to maintain the illegality of the worlds favourite herb. 20 years ago they claimed cannabis should be illegal since it is a sinister ‘gateway drug’ that leads invariably to heroin. That argument was of course debunked as utter nonsense, so it has now been replaced with a new argument. “modern weed should not be smoked since it is several times more potent than that used by the hippies in the 1970’s”.
Again, the argument is false and like so much anti-cannabis rhetoric the arguments are based on hype and prejudice rather than logic and fact. No wonder the cannabis community are doing their best to replace bigoted intolerance with science-based fact. Remember too that cannabis has been used medically and recreationally for thousands of years without killing anyone. It has only been illegal for the last century and during that time its popularity has, ironically, boomed like never before and is showing no signs of diminishing. If cannabis was made illegal to limit its use then the strategy has backfired in spectacular style and the approach needs a radical overhaul. In the 21st century cannabis is used safely and responsibly by more people than ever before, all the anti-cannabis laws are doing at the moment is criminalising large sections of society.
Skunk genetics, low leaf ratio, easy trimming, sweet and soft scent and excellent yields.
But back to the original question, what is skunk? We use the words ‘painstaking and careful’ to describe the creation of skunk since this strain was developed to preserve potency whilst retaining a desirably low ratio of leaves to buds. This allowed the strain to deliver excellent yields with long, thick bud growth. The low leaf ratio makes this an easy strain to manicure after harvest. Some of the lesser so called ‘skunk’ strains are easily identifiable by the compromises made during breeding which deliver reduced yields.
Skunk#1 was stabilised as a true breeding variety in the 70’s and has been inbred by Dutch Passion since 1978 making it one of the most consistent and predictable strains available today. The dense and luxuriously thick buds may be susceptible to mold in the last stages of flowering simply because of the sheer quantity of the buds produced. The buds themselves may vary in colour from green to a beautiful gold appearance. Despite the very obvious and characteristically strong smell the Skunk buds also possess an alluring sweet and soft scent, try running your fingers through a mature Skunk #1 female and smell the wonderful aroma it imparts. The ‘high’ is of course quite excellent and it set the world alight in the 70’s when skunk was the strain that everyone wanted to talk about and grow for themselves. Even today many feel the Skunk high is quite unbeatable. For Dutch Passion the Skunk strains sell massive quantities of seeds and this allows the seeds themselves to be mass produced at very affordable prices.
Skunk#1 and other Skunk varieties from Dutch Passion Seed Company.
Of course, genetics of the quality possessed by Skunk#1 are popular with breeders/seed producers and Skunk has been extensively used for cross breeding. When Dutch Passion themselves have produced other Skunk varieties they have been very cautious to only use the ‘Skunk’ name when the master breeders have produced a variety which is absolutely ‘true’ to the skunk heritage. In Dutch Passions case, Skunk #11 is one example of a strain which justifiably bares the ‘Skunk’ name. Skunk #11 was the first Dutch Passion strain to sell a million seeds and remains an undisputed classic. Ultra Skunk, Skunk Passion and Orange Bud are other examples of top quality members of the Dutch Passion Skunk family.
Not every so called ‘skunk’ variety has the true genetic heritage.
So Skunk is not just a general term that should be used as a blanket description for all weed, it should remain a term used only for a very specific strain or family. But remember also that many of the so called ‘skunk’ varieties available today often bear very little resemblance to the true genetic heritage of this cannabis classic. If you want to try growing some original Skunk we strongly recommend that you opt for a strain from one of the proven and longest established seedbanks that can trace their skunk breeding right back to the original lines.
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Skunk is an independent strain with its origins dating back to the 1970’s. Skunk remains a top quality variety that offers an excellent ‘high’ and yield. ✓