THC content in cannabis is not all that it’s cracked up to be

Let me ask you this: who walks into a liquor store and asks for the beer with the highest alcohol content?



Let me ask you this: who walks into a liquor store and asks for the beer with the highest alcohol content?

If you find yourself raising your hand, you may be a certifiable party animal (and/or an alcoholic)-but, trust me, you don’t know how to appreciate good beer.

It makes me cringe when my budtender friends tell me that the highest-THC-content flower is always the one that sells out first because it is by far the most common request they receive from patrons.

Truly, this is a clear sign of consumers who are still struggling to understand how to make their purchase, coupled with an endemic industrywide failure on the part of cannabis “retail specialists” to provide the unbiased, fact-based guidance that clients deserve.

We have all been told that THC content tells you how potent a particular cultivar will be, right? Well, think again.

Although this may be true for some people, it most certainly is not true for all of us. I have personally experienced being brought to my knees by a 14-percent-THC Congolese, even though I typically smoke Kush varieties with a 25-percent-plus THC content.

This is because other compounds found in the plant-like terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids aside from THC (like THCV, CBN, CBD)-vary substantially between these two varieties.

Each of us has a different degree of sensitivity to each of the naturally occurring compounds found in cannabis.

People who use cannabis as part of their daily routine tend to want more out of their experience than just “getting high”-they want a rich, flavourful experience that leads them to the right kind of high. Whether this means relaxation, obtaining energy/inspiration, or killing pain, we are all mostly looking for that special flavour that will take us to that place.

Some people do, in fact, have a high degree of sensitivity, primarily to THC, but most with experience smoking a broad set of cannabis genetics will tell you that they are more focused on finding the genetic that provides that beloved flavour/effect.

Yes, THC is a key component of any intoxicating cannabis biochemical profile, as it does work to augment the psychotropic properties of other components, but THC alone does not determine how long the high will last, how deep it will go, or the type of emotions, feelings, or therapeutic effects it will trigger. This nuanced effect produced by the complex biochemical load of a particular cannabis variety is referred to as the “entourage effect”.

To complicate the story further, different people experience the high from the same plant differently, making it hard to make a one-size-fits-all prediction of how a particular cultivar will affect a specific person.

This is explained by the fact that the number, location, and sensitivity of cannabinoid receptors in the body vary from person to person. For this reason, knowing the THC content is not nearly as reliable in terms of predicting potency as, say, knowing the alcohol content.

When it comes to re-educating the public about THC content as the end-all measure of a flower’s worth, what I recommend to my budtender friends is the following: discard the words indica and sativa as ways of describing effects and focus instead on specific varieties and how their different gene pools relate to certain types of nuanced aromas, flavours, effects, and physical appearance.

Use descriptions of flowers that were previously enjoyed by your client to find something in stock that is at least relatively close to those variety type(s). When you see a preference for a specific type of flower, always contextualize the information as follows: “To me, this variety felt like…” or “Other clients have reported that this flower made them feel like…” and then always end with “…but keep in mind that everyone is different.”

Finally, remind clients who are always chasing the highest THC content that they may be missing out on the flower of their dreams because, despite its fame, THC is not the only player in the symphony.

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