Generally, the UK media cover cannabis accurately, but some of the headline writers occasionally overstep the mark. The Sun‘s article, “Scientists warn smoking ‘skunk’ cannabis wrecks brains,” and the Daily Mail‘s companion pieces, “Proof strong cannabis does harm your brain” and “cannabis TRIPLES psychosis risk,” were not based on sufficient evidence to justify the extravagant headlines.
The problem with the term “skunk” is that it’s almost totally ambiguous. Sure, it pertains to strong weed, but there is a real lack of concrete information on the product that people are consuming, hence the necessity to generalize it as skunk.
When media in the United Kingdom speak about skunk, they mean all high-THC cannabis varieties, regardless of their genetic heritage. In the U.K., skunk is widely used as a generic term for non-pollinated, seedless, and potent cannabis flowers grown for the purpose of smoking.
What this study doesn’t tell us is whether these structural changes do any harm or cause any negative mental health effects, which is why The Sun‘s headline is too strong. The study simply didn’t look at this, and the effects of cannabis use are not firmly established.
Later appropriately named Skunk #1, the first skunk was stabilized as a true breeding variety in the 70’s and is still one of the most consistent and predictable strains available today. Breeders produced a plant that is highly adaptable, very potent, and with a short flowering period.
The first study found that skunk users underwent structural changes in the corpus callosum. This type of study cannot prove cause and effect, only suggest a possible link, so “proof” is by far too strong a term to use. Also, the study didn’t look at how the small changes in the brain associated with skunk affected thoughts or other brain functioning, so it was not fair to say skunk “wrecks” the brain.
According to DrugWise, traditional cannabis contains 2 to 4 percent THC with more potent varieties averaging 10 to 14 percent. Claims that skunk is 20 to 30 times as powerful as “traditional” cannabis are simply spurious. A European review of cannabis potency in June 2004 concluded that the overall potency of cannabis products on the market had not increased significantly because imported cannabis dominated the market in most countries. However, as home-grown cannabis has become more widely available, especially in the U.K., consumption of stronger varieties has increased.
What is the reason behind the division of meaning, though? Why does skunk imply stink in the U.S. but potency in the UK? My theory is that the lack of information regarding cannabis in the U.K. is so severe, especially in terms of identifying genetics and true lineages, that the term “skunk” is used as a convenient catch-all for unidentified weed.
In the U.K., people haven’t stopped smoking cannabis because it’s illegal, but they’re subjected to the dangers of an inferior product with no quality control, no freedom of consumer choice, and no thorough testing or data on strain genetics. Unfortunately, anti-cannabis crusaders like to possess a core argument to maintain the illegality of cannabis, and skunk is a convenient target.
You might have heard the term “skunk weed,” but what does it mean? Follow an etymological dig into the word “skunk” and how it connects to cannabis.