The head of the nation’s only federally authorized marijuana farm said he’s baffled by why consumers would want marijuana containing 15 percent or more THC when, according to him, even eight percent is too high.
During a podcast interview published last month, Mahmoud ElSohly described how demand for higher potency research-grade cannabis has increased over the last two decades and said that studies using his facility’s products demonstrated that even marijuana with just eight percent THC proved too powerful for subjects.
The comparatively low THC concentration products from his farm that are used in studies has been a source of frustration for scientists, who argue that any research based on such materials will not reflect what consumers have access to in the commercial market, where flower tends to have much higher THC concentrations—thus calling into question the applicability of federally approved research in the real world.
When ElSohly’s team at the University of Mississippi was first approached by an researcher seeking eight percent THC cannabis around 2005, he said it proved challenging because the “higher the potency, the more gummy, the more sticky the plant material is, the harder it is to roll cigarettes using the high volume cigarette manufacturing machine.”
(This might help explain why the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which provides funding for ElSohly’s activities, has published job listings in recent months calling for professional joint rollers.)
After the researcher obtained the cannabis and incorporated it into his study, ElSohly said he received a call from the scientist who said “my most experienced subject could not tolerate the eight percent.”
“The point is, eight percent THC in a plant material is extremely high potency for somebody to actually finish a cigarette,” he said, adding that in order for marijuana material to be used in double-blind clinical trials, “every cigarette has to be exactly the same” in terms of volume and shape, with the only difference being potency.
Listen to the conversation around THC potency starting around 9:00 into the audio below:
The majority of study participants in that case said that the four percent THC marijuana was the most effective for them, ElSohly told the podcaster interviewer from the prohibitionist group National Families In Action.
“Why people want to smoke or use 20 percent or 15 or 18 or any of those high amounts is just beyond me,” he said. “It’s not for a good reason.”
What seems to have been lost on ElSohly is that consumers in commercial cannabis markets aren’t necessarily being forced to smoke an entire joint in one clinically standardized sitting. And they might prefer to smoke less of a higher THC concentration product to achieve the intended effect.
Later in the interview, he suggested that those using cannabis concentrates containing much higher levels of THC are suffering from addiction—again neglecting to recognize that preferences among consumers might vary from time to time, with some choosing to use concentrates occasionally like a person who tends to drink beer will sometimes take a shot of whiskey.
“Of course some people are so addicted that it really requires a lot of material to make them high,” he said. “It gets to the THC is addictive.”
The conversation seems to bolster an argument that’s been repeatedly made by researchers and lawmakers alike: the government needs to approve additional cannabis manufacturers to cultivate a greater diversity of products so that studies aren’t limited by cannabis materials that chemically resemble hemp more than marijuana available in state-legal markets.
To that end, the Drug Enforcement Administration said last week that it is taking steps to approve additional cannabis growers beyond ElSohly’s Mississippi operation, three years after the agency initially invited applications for such facilities.
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