The media of various countries has in recent years had enormous difficulty comprehending the nature of “skunk”, and generally see it as an umbrella term for all high-THC, usually indoor-grown cannabis.
Inaccurate and misleading articles abound, adding to the genuine confusion many feel when seeking insight into the various strains available today.
examples of media ignorance towards skunk
It is the UK media that is arguably the loudest voice decrying “skunk” in today’s world. Flagrant examples of misrepresentation can be easily found, even in publications that are allegedly neutral or liberal.
Unsurprisingly, the notorious Daily Mail has made numerous references to “skunk” and its dangers: in 2009, the article “Skunk cannabis smokers seven times more likely to suffer from psychosis” claims that “ultra-potent skunk cannabis is seven times more likely to trigger psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia than traditional hash”.
Given that “traditional” hash in the UK has for many years been a poor-quality product, low in cannabinoids due to heavy use of potentially-harmful additives, there are various problems with the Mail’s allegations.
The BBC also waded into this particular controversy, alleging that skunk represented a “‘bigger psychosis risk’ than other cannabis types”; the Guardian and the Independent also covered the story, with the headlines:
“Skunk users face greater risk of psychosis, researchers warn” and “The Big Question: What is the truth about skunk, and have the dangers been overstated?”.
The source of the confusion lies in poorly-written scientific literature
While coverage is somewhat less biased in the latter publications, it is worrying that the use of “skunk” as an umbrella term for high-THC cannabis is ubiquitous and unchallenged.
The original source material for these claims was published by the British Journal of Psychiatry, and the text clearly associates “skunk” with [def]sinsemilla[/def] (seedless) cannabis (“78% of the cases group used high-potency cannabis (sinsemilla, ‘skunk’)”).
Such disregard for the facts highlights the need for clear, accurate reporting through all steps of the scientific discovery process so that media elements are not encouraged to twist the facts in order to fulfil specific agendas.
What is Skunk?
Skunk is indeed a higher-potency strain than many traditional landrace varieties, as it results from crossing various landraces to maximise the desirable characteristics, which for many cannabis users includes potency.
Prior to the spread of high-potency strains intended to be grown indoors using the sinsemilla technique, many cannabis users in the Western world were dependent on imported cannabis that was often poorly grown, transported and stored. The corners cut in the production process meant that prices could be attractively low.
When these landrace varieties are grown using modern techniques and handled with greater care, they may well result in a finished product that is as high or even higher in cannabinoid content than selectively-bred “skunk”.
As well as this, there are hundreds, if not thousands of high-potency strains that are not “skunk”.
Skunk No. 1 (the most famous variety and the first to be stabilised) is popularly believed to be bred from three landrace strains:
Columbian Gold, Acapulco Gold and Afghani. Skunk is the basis for many high-potency, indoor strains, but is not an equivalent term for all such forms of cannabis.
What are the highest-potency strains of cannabis?
It is difficult to accurately assess which are the most potent forms of cannabis. The effect of cannabis may vary according to the individual, and individuals that are more sensitive to THC may find high-THC, low-CBD/CBN strains to be the most potent.
Individuals more sensitive to the effects of CBD, CBN, and other cannabinoids whose neurological effects have not been studied exhaustively may find that strains containing different cannabinoid ratios are more potent.
However, in general terms, it is widely considered that the Haze family contains some of the highest-potency cannabis strains.
The Kali Haze, for example, can often achieve above 20% THC when grown correctly, and is a hybrid of Mexican, Colombian, Thai and South Indian genetics, with no skunk ancestry.
Is the media right to show such concern?
The highest-potency forms of cannabis available today are not herbal. They are hashish, oils, tinctures and other extracts, and their potency can reach as high as 80%, for some expertly-made products. Such high-strength products are not widely available outside cannabis hot-spots such as Amsterdam, so the media need not fear their malign influence unduly.
Indeed, as studies have consistently shown that the average cannabinoid content of most commercially-available strains has stayed relatively constant over the last few decades at around 4-5%, it is unclear why the media should be so panicked over “skunk”.
The obvious, yet unsatisfactory answer is that the media is not interested in the facts, just in sensationalising scientific literature in order to sell more copy.