What is Skunk and is it Passé Already?

The recent legalization of marijuana in both Colorado and Washington has made consumption of the drug a state-endorsed activity in those regions, but it doesn’t affect the drug’s potential risks. The term “skunk” may not be familiar to you, but it is used in the media  to refer to a generally more potent variety of the drug. The furor surrounding “skunk” has arguably died out in the US, but it is still a primary concern for legislators and parents in the UK and other parts of the world. However, there is some degree of misunderstanding surrounding what it actually is.

Marijuana Comes in Many Forms

Just as somebody may be a whisky connoisseur rather than a wine-drinker, some marijuana smokers have preferred strains at their dispensary. The different varieties of the plant have slightly altered effects, with “sativa” types creating a more energetic buzz and the “indica” strains producing a more sedate reaction. Strains of marijuana usually have unique names, such as Northern Lights or Golden Goat, and these are generally created by mixing different breeds of the plant in the same way you might do with a dog. Because much of the creation still happens behind closed doors, it’s difficult to determine the number of strains of marijuana, but there are undoubtedly thousands upon thousands of blends across the world.

What is Skunk?

Technically speaking, skunk is just one of these many varieties. The cross-breed was created by mixing indica and sativa types of marijuana, and the first ever batch is assumed to have originated in the US in the 1970s. The strain itself is still popular with users, but the majority of news stories claiming that “skunk” is a new super-potent form of the drug on the market are using the term incorrectly. The term isn’t used in reference to the breed of marijuana, but it instead represents a vague classification of the strength of the drug. This is determined by the levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the main psychoactive ingredient) in the particular strain, with anything over 10 percent generally being considered strong, and potentially attracting the “skunk” label.

Most of the news stories regarding “skunk” (particularly those from the UK) make the assertion that the high-potency types are anything from 20 to 50 times stronger than what would have been consumed in the 60s and 70s. This is actually untrue, with the most potent varieties available today being up to twice the strength of the varieties from the “hippie” era. This misunderstanding was cleared up by Harry Shapiro, the director of the charity Drugscope – who also pointed out that this didn’t equate to a doubled risk.

What are the Risks of Skunk?

As is evident from the preceding section, the risks of skunk are very much the same as the risks of marijuana use on the whole. The modern definition of the word refers to stronger varieties, and these do carry increased risks. Generally speaking, the onset of the effects will be quicker and they will include more intense versions of ordinary marijuana effects such as altered perception of time, relaxation, nervousness or paranoia, euphoria, increased appetite, and even mild hallucinations. Research from the UK showed that whilst regular marijuana users doubled their risk of developing psychoses, regular “skunk” users increased theirs sevenfold. It’s clear that the risks are the same, but as with most potentially dangerous substances, consuming more increases the chance of negative consequences. However, the researchers point out that factors such as genetic susceptibility play a much larger role in the development of mental illness.

Is it Passé?

Mentions of “skunk” in the US media aren’t really very common. Fox News used the phrase in a 2009 report, but it was merely relaying the results of the aforementioned UK study. It is possible that the increased familiarity with marijuana and its various strains in the US has curbed the use of the term. With medicinal marijuana dispensaries and legalization in some states, Americans are much more likely to be aware that there are different strains and that several of those (not just skunk) can be very strong.

This doesn’t really represent the modern definition of the word, however. If the term is used to refer to any marijuana of high potency, skunk is far from passé, having gained a legal foothold across the country. These stronger strains do present additional risks for users because of their exaggerated effects, but the difference is far less than commonly cited in news reports. With higher THC content being desirable for consumers of the drug (regardless of the era), the strong modern varieties (up to 14 percent THC) are only around 50 percent more potent than the most-consumed hippie era strains. These are becoming more common in modern times, however, so education about their increased risks should still be widely available.

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