I don’t know about you, but before I-502 my dealer definitely did not print the levels of delta-9-tetrahyrdocannabinol (THC) on my bags. I had to inspect the flowers with my eyes, hands, and nose to know if it was good or not – typically I’d just open the bag and sniff.
In the beginning of this wonderful industry we call “recreational cannabis,” it was easy for me to understand and therefore adhere to the belief that it was important to find a strain that tested with a high THC percentage. It made sense. If there were a device that measured the “super dankness” level of cannabis, I’d undoubtedly choose the product with the highest percentage of “super dankness.”
The only issue is that THC doesn’t convert directly to “super dankness.” It’s just one piece of an amazing plant, whereas “super dankness” is something that refers to its quality as a whole. It’s something that you have to open the bag to appreciate.
So what specifically contributes to the overall quality of the plant besides THC you ask? Let’s start with the basics…
1) Secondary Cannabinoids
Yes – THC is, by the numbers, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid. And it is also, to be quite frank, pretty f*$#ing incredible. However, that doesn’t mean it supplies all that magic by itself.
Just think about the fact that cannabis contains over 400 different chemicals, with each producing different effects. Even though most of these chemicals aren’t psychoactive (in fact, some are known to reduce psychoactive effects), they may be responsible for more of the “high” than you think.
It is easier to understand the power of cannabinoids by considering why CBD oil extracted from cannabis is much more effective than when it’s extracted from hemp. This is because industrial hemp contains far less terpenes and secondary cannabinoids than cannabis. Therefore, the effects are not as balanced or well-rounded from hemp extractions.
This next piece comes from CannaSafe Analytics, a cannabis testing lab. I think they sum up the concept of the "entourage effect" quite nicely.
2) Terpenes [TUR-peens]
I can’t mention cannabinoids without touching upon the importance of terpenes. These flavor angels are responsible for giving your Blue Dream its blueberry smell and flavor, your GDP its purple, and your Head Cheese its cheesiness. Additionally, like the secondary cannabinoids, they work in concert to induce even more unique effects to mix in with the cannabinoid party and balance out that THC.
My favorite terpene, for example, is Linalool, most easily recognized in lavender plants. This floral, sweet, and fresh-scented terpene gets me every time. Not only does it smell and taste great, it induces calming, anxiety-relieving, and sedating effects.
Although over 200 terpenes have been discoveredin cannabis, only a small minority has been studied further to assess pharmacological effects. We’ll have more on the individual terpenes in the near future as well!
3) Testing inconsistencies
One thing to remember while you’re gawking at a 30% THC bag is that the numbers printed on the packages probably don’t tell the whole story. First off, producers and processors can pick and choose the buds from each batch that they want to go out to the labs for testing. However, cannabis does not disperse its THC evenly throughout the entire plant. The bigger colas at the top of the plant get more sunshine and, therefore, usually produce more cannabinoids. Sometime there is as much as 10% variance from top cola to the bottom nugs.
This gives companies major incentives to send out their big, cannabinoid-rich buds for testing, while holding onto the smaller nugs to sell down the line. Once those small buds get the inflated THC percentage stamped onto their packaging, they immediately have more value even though the actual flower has a very different cannabinoid profile. Subsequently, because of this inconsistency, I tend to arch my eyebrows whenever I look at test results. It is also because of this that The Novel Tree tries to ensure that our partners use fair testing practices. We pay extra close attention to this during the screening of potential vendors as well as when product rolls in.
TO SUM THINGS UP…
Even after a full year of sampling what Washington growers had to offer, I still think checking the THC percentage is a good way to get a snapshot of the general potency of a strain. That being said, it leaves out far too many other important parts of the plant to be able to accurately determine its total effectiveness. Furthermore, it tells us nothing about all of the other reasons cannabis is so special -- aroma, flavor, unique effects, and texture. Perhaps with additional research being done, we will be able to learn more about how each piece works together to make this novel tree so exceptional.
I’ll leave you all with a question posed to me by one of our very own producer/processors while discussing this same issue: