Nearly all cannabis seized by UK police is high-strength 'skunk'– here's why we should be worried

Nearly all cannabis seized by UK police is high-strength 'skunk'– here's why we should be worried
Credit: nhungboon/Shutterstock

Fully 94% of the cannabis seized by British police in 2016 was high-potency cannabis known as "skunk", our latest research reveals. By comparison, skunk comprised 85% of cannabis seized in 2008, and just 51% in 2005. This should be cause for alarm as previous research has shown that using skunk increases a person's risk of developing psychosis, roughly threefold, compared with those who never use cannabis. Cannabis potency is also linked to rising rates of treatment for cannabis-related problems. Cannabis now accounts for around 50% of all first-time admissions to specialist drug treatment centres.

There are broadly three preparations of . The first is , which is made from the unpollinated flowers of the female plant and contains high levels of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The second is traditional herbal cannabis, which is made from the flowers and leaves of the female cannabis plant. It has less THC than skunk and also contains cannabidiol (CBD), which is known to lessen the risk of psychosis caused by TCH. The third form is hashish, which is the made from cannabis resin. As with herbal cannabis, hashish has less THC than skunk and it does contain some CBD.

Since the 2008 survey of cannabis seized by the police, we have been in the dark about changes to the types of cannabis and their potency available across England. To address this issue, we set out to quantify the relative proportions of skunk, traditional herbal cannabis and hashish being used at the time of police arrest in 2015 and 2016 in London, Sussex, Kent, Derbyshire and Merseyside.

Although skunk now clearly dominates the market, the potency has remained about the same since 2005, with average concentration of THC at 14% and no detectable traces of CBD.

An important change, however, is the sharp reduction in availability of weaker cannabis resin (hashish): from 43% in 2005, to 14% in 2008, and then just 6% in 2016 (and only 1% in London). The average concentration of THC in resin has also increased from 4% to 6%. We also found a reduction in CBD content in cannabis resin since 2005-2008 with a consequent change in the ratio of THC to CBD – no longer the benign 1:1, but now 3:1.

Nearly all cannabis seized by UK police is high-strength 'skunk'– here's why we should be worried
A sample of the cannabis seized by British police in 2016. Credit: David Potter

The disappearance of choice

The disappearance of a type of cannabis rich in CBD, which is almost entirely absent from skunk, poses a significant hazard to users' mental health, and reduces their option to choose more benign forms of the drug.

A recent study even suggested that CBD might help to improve symptoms in patients suffering from a psychosis. This is in contrast with the research showing that daily use of cannabis that is high in THC and lacking in CBD, such as skunk, increases the risk of developing psychotic disorders fivefold.

Our study emphasises the importance of developing public education campaigns on the different types of street cannabis and their potential hazards. Public education is our most powerful tool in primary prevention, as tobacco-harm awareness campaigns have proven.


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Mar 06, 2018
'[...] previous research has shown that using skunk increases a person's risk of developing psychosis, roughly threefold, compared with those who never use cannabis.'
This is a lie. Note the 'research' is not referenced, that's because there is no research. All there is is a campaign waged mostly by 'psychiatrists' who claim things with nothing to back them up. There is in fact no link at all between cannabis [or THC] and schizophrenia, there are links which are most likely to do with self medicating, or just that young men begin to show signs of schizophrenia around the same time many are experimenting with cannabis. The proof of my claim lies in the fact that schizophrenia r5ates have been constant throughout the period since the sixties when cannabis use has soared. Any causative effect would have shown a similar huge increase in schizophrenia, but there ius none. THAT is science.

Mar 06, 2018
'The disappearance of a type of cannabis rich in CBD, which is almost entirely absent from skunk, poses a significant hazard to users' mental health, and reduces their option to choose more benign forms of the drug.'
This is another lie, CBD is widely available as a medicinal oil and varieties with high CBD and low THC are available in seed banks.

Mar 06, 2018
'An important change, however, is the sharp reduction in availability of weaker cannabis resin (hashish)'
Wrong again, resin is widely available across the UK and Europe. Strengths vary. The police may be confused by the fact that they mostly target young males in cars, who are more likely to have 'weed' or skunk from choice. There is a large number of users of all ages including pensioners who avoid the pharmceutical side effects of medicines in favour of cannabis. They are usually the ones who are still laughing and enjoying life.

Mar 06, 2018
'There are broadly three preparations of cannabis.' Yet more ignorant nonsense. Skunk is just one of many hundreds of cultivars of varying degrees of 'strength' and smell. There are in fact dozens of different skunks, as there are all the other variants. Ther police have only heard of skunk so everything becomes skunk. Resin is as strong as the plants it was made from, if someone doesn't understand that they understand nothing. Some countries of origin have much stronger resin than others; it's largely dependent on breeding, and the strength of the sun. Since foreign growers are still planting from their own seeds they've used for centuries, there is no change in the makeup of what they produce. This is all an attempt to make the writer appear knowledgeable to the ignorant. It contains grains of facts but is confused and prejudiced. Not good science.

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