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Busting The High THC Myth

If you want the best cannabis experience out there, you may head to the dispensary in search of products with the highest amount of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The higher the percentage, the better the cannabis – right? 

When choosing a cannabis product, it can be tempting to view THC content as a proxy for “how strong” a cannabis experience might be. However, there is more to it than that. This Ethos guide will examine what high THC content means and how important (or unimportant) it really is to your consumption experience.

What is considered high THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the most well-known phytocannabinoids, which are naturally formed compounds found in the resin of mature cannabis plants. While there are more than 100 phytocannabinoids in cannabis, THC is the most studied one and the one most associated with intoxication.

In cannabis flower, THC percentage can range from less than 1% to more than 30% in some cases. A good rule of thumb when judging THC content is to keep in mind the following:

  • Low: <10%
  • Medium: 10% to 20%
  • High: 20% to 30%
  • Very high: More than 30%

But what exactly does the THC content mean for your overall consumption experience, and how much emphasis should you place on this percentage when choosing a product?

Does high THC mean a more potent experience?

A higher THC percentage does not equate with a more potent intoxication. While THC is indeed responsible for feeling “high,” many have taken that to mean “the more THC, the higher I’ll be.” However, cannabis is not so simple. While you might gravitate toward high THC products for this reason, research suggests that a bigger percentage THC doesn’t actually mean a difference in impairment[1]

What matters more than THC percentage is the full spectrum of compounds found within the cannabis product, particularly other cannabinoids and aromatic compounds called terpenes. Other phytocannabinoids include Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabigerol (CBD), and Cannabinol (CBN), to name a few. Prominent terpenes include myrcene, beta Caryophyllene, and limonene. Each of these compounds can influence the overall consumption experience associated with a given cannabis product. 

Does high THC flower cost more?

The myth that THC flower equates to a more potent intoxicating experience is so pervasive that it impacts the whole cannabis supply chain. Some producers position their cannabis products as “top-shelf” or “premium” and charge higher prices for them. As a result, high THC strains are far more common on dispensary shelves, and they are often more expensive as well[2]

The biggest drawback is that while you might pay more for a 25% THC strain of cannabis flower, the less expensive 17% THC strain might have been a better fit for your personal goals. Some dispensaries might try to push high THC flower even when it isn’t the best option, simply to make a bigger sale — but this does a disservice to the consumer. Cannabis is a complex plant with hundreds of compounds that can influence the overall consumption experience. We break down those details later in this article.

What about cannabis concentrates and manufactured products?

While the THC content of flower is considered high at around 15% or above, concentrates are much higher than that, with some products containing as much as 90% THC. However, much like cannabis flower, THC percentage of a concentrate alone is not a strong indicator of how potent the consumption experience would be. Similar to flower, potency is largely dependent upon the complexity of the concentrate’s broader compound profile, namely the other cannabinoids and terpenes present, and in what amounts they exist alongside the THC.

While THC content in flower and concentrates are not the main factor on which to judge potency, the amount of THC is more relevant when it comes to cannabis edibles. Edibles are metabolized differently than cannabis flower or concentrates, and for this reason, the THC content of an edible product (typically represented in milligrams) will accurately describe overall potency. To learn more about edibles, read our guide on all types of ingestible cannabis products.

If high THC doesn’t matter, what factors contribute to potency?

The short answer is it depends. The combination of other phytocannabinoids, as well as flavorful and aromatic compounds called terpenes, influence how a cannabis product makes you feel. While each phytocannabinoid and terpene could have effects of its own, they may enhance or complement each other when consumed together. This theory is called the “entourage effect,” and in the context of cannabis, it hypothesizes that phytocannabinoids and terpenes work together to influence your experience. Researchers are still working to understand precisely how the entourage effect might work.

Consumption experience also goes beyond chemistry; your environmental context also influences how you feel. Consuming the same flower alone and in the comfort of your own home would likely yield a different experience than consuming cannabis at a party. Part of choosing a cannabis product is considering the contexts in which you might consume and then selecting accordingly.

This guide offers more information on what to expect when consuming cannabis and the factors that influence your experience. If you’re interested in terpenes and how they might influence your overall experience, we’ve outlined some of the most prominent terpenes in our Tap Into Terpenes series. Read more below:

Find the right product for your goals at Ethos

Understanding the major phytocannabinoids and terpenes beyond high amounts of THC can help you better gauge how a product or cultivar may affect you. If you find yourself uncertain when it comes time to buy, Ethos associates are standing by to help. 

We know that your cannabis journey is often evolving, so if you believe there is a product out there that can make a meaningful impact in your life, we want to help you find it. Our knowledgeable associates stand ready to pair you with a cannabis product that has the right compound profile to meet your goals. 

Sources:

1. Marijuana concentrates sharply spike THC levels but don’t necessarily get users higher https://www.colorado.edu/today/2020/06/10/marijuana-concentrates-sharply-spike-thc-levels-dont-necessarily-get-users-higher

2. Wholesale marijuana prices on upswing in more mature recreational markets, reports indicate: https://mjbizdaily.com/marijuana-wholesale-prices-on-the-rise-in-mature-recreational-markets/

3. Why does high-THC flower dominate the cannabis market? https://www.leafly.com/news/industry/high-thc-flower-dominates-cannabis-market






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