Scientists in Puget Sound Link THC-Saturated Sewage to the Success of Washington's Legal Weed

A common stereotype about frequent cannabis users is that we are always paranoid. Obviously, not every pothead falls under this description, but stereotypes do exist for a reason, and in our case one legit reason for whatever level of ingrained paranoia we have would be decades of oppression from law enforcement and the courts when it comes to weed.

Another reason that many cannabis enthusiasts have always felt nervous about their consumption is employment. The last thing you want is some corporate piss-sniffer killing your buzz with a pre-employment screening or random drug test after you’re hired.

Fortunately, with cannabis reform and legalization we are witnessing in real time the death of that stigma with the hope that one day all Americans can pee in peace without the fear that someone, somewhere might be analyzing it. Unfortunately, that day is not today or anytime soon.

You see, shit n’ piss are the new sandbox for scientists looking for large-scale trends on drug use and the data they are collecting is being used to draw some sweeping conclusions on communal cannabis consumption.

The anti-weed stigma we mentioned, though in its final stages, is still alive even in the trailblazing state of Washington which joined Colorado way back in 2012 to become the first two states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults. Because of this, traditional polling is even more useless than usual and so scientists nationwide need to find another way to get unsoiled data. In Washington, they ventured into the sewers to get it.

It was actually two sewers, technically two “wastewater plants”, that collect the… well… waste from over 200,000 residents of all ages, ethnicities, and genders living in the Tacoma, Washington region. This sample size provided the researchers with a smelly snapshot from the time that the state opened its first legal pot shops back in 2014 that could be compared to a similar sampling taken three years later once the market was… umm… really flowing.

Though wading through wastewater will not allow these intrepid souls to get pinpoint accurate data on the cannabis use trends specifically on any one individual, or even any one group, it does provide a big picture view of what direction the market is heading and the researchers from this project report that despite the smell, things are looking good.

The same substance that has led to countless lost jobs and traffic violations, the metabolized form of THC known as 11-nor-9-Carboxy-Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or more commonly as THC-COOH, is what today’s researchers are seeking in the sewage in order to determine if usage rates of cannabis rise or fall based on how high of a concentration they find in the muck.

In this particular study, the levels of THC-COOH in Tacoma’s two wastewater facilities increased by roughly 9% every three months between the Summer of 2014 and the Winter of 2016. During this same timeframe, legal sales of cannabis in the state skyrocketed anywhere from 60-70% every three months. This correlation led the research team to conclude that, “Given that wastewater represents a total population measure, these findings suggest that many established users switched from the illegal to the legal market.”


The broad scope of this form of research leaves a lot of variables unexplored. For example, it is impossible for researchers to know if the steady increase in usage means that a larger percentage of the overall population is consuming cannabis or if the same number of people are now consuming more of it. It could be neither; perhaps the availability of high potency edibles and concentrates and the rising popularity of dabbing have led to the uptick in tainted piss.

Apparently, officials in Europe and Australia have been conducting this type of research for years to rack the use of all sorts of illicit drugs but the practice is just becoming more common here in the U.S. based in part on this study that was funded by a $120,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The team in Washington claims to be a part of a coalition of apparently-olfactory-impaired scientists that spans as many as 80 cities around the world, collecting caca and processing piss in a disturbingly inaccurate attempt to understand weed and the people who enjoy it. The lead researcher up in Washington even recently boasted, “We are part of an international study… And according to wastewater, the Puget Sound area has the highest cannabis use per capita, even over Amsterdam.”

Damn, doc! Look at you, acting like your shit don’t stink up there in Puget Sound when you know better than most exactly how bad it does. Nationwide cannabis legalization will be a breath of fresh air for millions of Americans, and at least one team of researchers.

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