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17/09/2007 00:00:00

UK: Skunk strength has doubled, studies suggest

· Claims that super-strength variety dominant rejected
· Cannabis researchers analysed seized samples

The unpublished results of authoritative research into cannabis confirm
the "skunk" now on sale in England is stronger than it was a decade ago,
but demolish claims that a new "super-strength skunk" - which is 20
times more powerful - is dominating the market.

Two studies due to be published later this year, which together analysed
nearly 550 samples of skunk seized by the police, both conclude that the
average content of the main psychoactive agent in skunk strains of
cannabis, THC, has doubled from 7% in 1995 to 14% in 2005.

But the findings of the two studies to be reported in Druglink, the
drugs charity magazine, contradict recent claims that most of the skunk
on sale in Britain now routinely has a THC-content of more than 30%. One
of the studies showed that only 4% of the skunk that had been seized by
the police had a strength level higher than 20%.

The claims earlier this year that a new strain of "super-strength skunk"
cannabis that was up to 20 times more potent was dominating the British
drug market and triggering mental health fears led Gordon Brown to order
a new review of the legal status of the drug in July.

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, asked the government's advisory
council on the misuse of drugs (ACMD) to look at the current evidence on
the use of stronger forms of the drug in the light of concerns about the
potential mental health effects.

The ACMD last looked at whether to regrade cannabis as a class B rather
than a class C illegal drug 18 months ago. It concluded that the
strength of cannabis resin and "traditional" imported herbal cannabis
had remained unchanged over the past 10 years but that the average
potency of skunk or sinsemilla seizures had increased more than twofold.

However, the ACMD chairman, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, came down
against tightening up the penalties for using cannabis, saying there was
too little information about the pattern of use of different strength
cannabis products by consumers to change the law.

Recent evidence has shown that although there has been an explosion in
cannabis farms and "home-grown" plants in Britain, little of what is
produced is "super-strength skunk".

The majority is less potent but has higher yielding varieties.

The ACMD is due to give its new verdict in April next year.

The first of the two unpublished studies which appear to confirm those
findings was by Leslie King, the former head of the Forensic Science
Service's drugs intelligence unit. He tested 299 samples collected by
forensic scientists and his findings are to be published later this year
by the EU's drug agency, the European Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The parallel study by researchers at Kings College, London, analysed
skunk samples seized by police in Derbyshire, Kent, London, Sussex and
Merseyside. This study found that far from a new strain of 30% plus
"superskunk" dominating the market only 4% of the cannabis seized had a
higher potency level than 20%, with the strongest sample containing 24% THC.

The Kings College researchers found that the more traditional non-skunk
strains of herbal cannabis on sale in England seized by the police
contained only 3% to 4% THC - unchanged from a decade ago.

A move to have higher separate penalties for possession of the stronger
"skunk" strains of cannabis was ruled out two years ago in the face of
the problem posed for the police of identifying different types of
cannabis during street searches.

In numbers

20 Claims that a new 'super' skunk is 20 times stronger are demolished

30% Most skunk on sale had been said to contain more than 30% THC

550 The number of seized samples of skunk analysed in the two studies

14% Average THC content in samples

4% Only 4% of skunk seized had THC of over 20%, one study showed,,2170798,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront

Author: The Guardian via UKCIA

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