Whether it’s a car, clothing, or cannabis, chances are you have a vested interest in decision making variables like cost, quantity, quality, reviews, etc. Ultimately, you want to invest in the best, but WHAT IS the best when you don’t know what you like or need?
Cannabis’ effects can be quite personal, both biologically and psychologically, making it that much harder to gauge your best fit. As you progress in your relationship with cannabis, these effects will be revealed and you’ll develop an idea of what works best for you. The key is to first, practice mindfulness. That’s more than some yogi bullsh#@, it’s a way to practice discernment in a measurable, approachable format. What was your mood at the time? Where were you when you tried it? Did you feel safe? What was the expected outcome? What actually happened? And how long? If you don’t monitor your experience, how can you make informed/improved decisions? No matter your time and commitment level to all to this, there are ways to guide your journey and avoid a few panic attacks or unpleasant couch locks along the way.
Take note of the percentages of THC in the strain. While this number is far from the end-all, be-all of the plant, it can provide a valuable indicator of how much THC is in the cannabis. While listed as simple percentages, interpreting those numbers can be challenging, especially since there aren’t any standards between states - so don’t count on that California strain with 22% to actually be the same as some flower from Washington with 22%. This is because cannabis is not yet federally legal so testing, measuring, packaging, and labeling standards are set exclusively by state based agencies and policies rather than by universal measures/standards.¹ No matter which state you’re in, the key thing to know here is that those THC percentages are all trying to convey the strength of that flower by listing the cannabinoid levels of the product as a percentages of its total dry weight.
So let’s talk about other measurements you’ll see and what you need to know. You’ll probably see information on more than just THC and CBD. There’ll be units of measure on things like CBDA, CBD, and THCA. And excuse us while we take a minute to dispel a myth here -- THC is not made directly by the cannabis plant. Cannabis produces THCA, the non-psychoactive precursor to THC; it’s only once the THCA has been decarboxylated that THC is produced. Decarboxylation typically happens when the THCA is heated to a sufficient level, typically by using a vaporizer, oven, or lighter. This is what people are talking about when they say “activated” vs. “inactive”. If you’re looking for something strong and psychoactive, then in reality you’re looking for something with high levels of THCA.
So what if the flower in your bag or jar doesn’t contain very much THC then, why is it that you can almost always find the THC percentage in a strain, but are often left in the dark in terms of the THCA? Does it matter?
This is where the inconsistency between states and companies can create even MORE confusion. Some labels will list THCA, THC, and total THC. Some will mention it as THC/a; and others still will only have THC written, typically referring to the total of THC and THCA in the strain. What this means is that when you’re told how much THC is in a strain what they’re really referring to, is how much THC will be present as a percentage of dry weight after the THCA has been converted to THC. This is where it can get really tricky, because you can’t directly calculate this total converted THC if it isn’t listed with the THCA and THC percentages; unfortunately it’s not as simple as 1 + 1 = 2. It can get pretty nitty gritty math-wise here, but the challenges with calculating THC percentages comes from (A) the difference in molecular weight between THC and THCA; and (2) the inefficiency of converting THCA to THC. Some labs have estimated that 75% could be a reliable upper limit for what percentage of THCA molecules are successfully converted to THC.
Finally the amount of THC you will actually ingest depends on your consumption method. As we’ve talked about before (check out our post on bioavailability here!) how you combust and consume cannabis directly impacts the amount of THC is available for your body to absorb into the bloodstream and from there your brain. Decarboxylation starts at 180 degrees fahrenheit and peaks at 200 degrees before THC starts to degrade into CBN. Because of the variability involved in activating THCA through combustion via flame, vaporization is recommended as the most efficient consumption method. For now keep these aspects in mind and remember to work with your budtender to find products from trusted and reliable sources. Remember, higher isn’t always the best in this case!
Jikomes, Nick and Michael Zoorob. “The Cannabinoid Content of Legal Cannabis in Washington State Varies Systematically Across Testing Facilities and Popular Consumer Products” Scientific reports vol. 8,1 4519. 14 Mar. 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-22755-2