The Potency Myth

As patients demand high THC products a one-of-a-kind blind cannabis competition tests assumptions and bares surprising results.

Curio’s OG Kush Breath 36% THC

Until 2017 most consumers of cannabis in Maryland were mostly captive to whatever single strain of flower their “person” had on offer. Flower would come in a baggy and was judged based on smell, appearance and effects. It was a frustrating world fraught with disappointments and surprises as indica fans were served racy brick-weed sativas, sativa-fans could find nothing but pretty nugs of couch-locking indicas.

In the 1990’s High Times magazine started testing for THC at its Cannabis Cup. This gave us our first bit of science based vocabulary as THC was understood to be the sole psychoactive element in cannabis. Logic dictated that higher THC cannabis was more potent and more potent must be better. It was a single cannabinoid world and without any actual testing data most assumed that really strong flower that produced persistent desirable effects must be high in THC. CBD came to the american zeitgeist this century and has been promoted to have mood stabilizing, anti-inflammatory properties. Supposedly bred out of all modern cannabis because it reduces the “high”, CBD has been viewed by some as a bit of a granny-cannabinoid, good for you -perhaps- but boring.

Entering a modern legal dispensary for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. Menus typically show whether a product is “indica, “sativa” or hybrid”. Within these category comes a list of unfamiliar strain names posted next to percentages of THC and CBD. Further investigation brings an alphabet soup of other cannabinoids and a list of multi-syllabic terpenes. Suffering from info-overload consumers choose for desired effects based on the Indica-Sativa spectrum and then THC percentage, the higher the better. This philosophy guides tiered pricing at one of my favorite Maryland dispensaries and the hype on reddit about an elusive 36% THC strain.

The Test

The Cultivation Classic is a one of a kind craft cannabis competition held annualy in Portland, Oregon. Judges are given instructions to go on a 2 day cannabis fast and then sample flower varieties in isolation over the course of a month, recording their experiences as they go along, only to see the farm, strain, and cannabinoid data after the fact.

“Credible Cultivar winner” 2019 Cultivation Classic

In the most recent episode of the Cannabis Cultivation and Science Podcast co-organizer of the event, Dr Addie Rae, discusses how experienced judges, some cultivators themselves, were surprised by the revealed analyses’ of the samples they had rated highest. Only a minute fraction of those considered across all 150 judges to be enjoyable tested over 20%. The most universally regarded varieties had near 1:1 THC:CBD ratios. Unfortunately dispensaries have a hard time selling flower that tests below 17%, and many of customers studiously avoid high CBD:THC ratios based on faulty assumptions. Even in Oregon, the land where craft cannabis is allowed to exist (sigh) and dispensaries are more prevalent than Starbucks, these strains can be hard to find.

Moral of the story…

We don’t know very much: Take any budtender, friend or random blog-poster claiming expertise on cannabinoids and their effects with a grain of salt. The true experts seem to agree that we still don’t really know very much. Dr Rae shared an intriguing anecdote: there exists a whole class of non-terpene chemicals in both hops and cannabis that produce perceptible odors, do not show up on lab results and have yet to be fully investigated. Explore a variety of cannabinoid profiles, maintain an open mind to try varieties you may have assumed were not for you and trust your subjective experience to see what does and doesn’t work.

Help us legalize homegrow in Maryland:

Please sign the petition linked here. With only 15 growers in Maryland, Patients need and deserve an alternative!

Published by mdcannaconsumer

A cannabis consumer since coming of age in 1990’s Kingston Jamaica. Committed to influencing cannabis legislation and regulation to promote patient-consumer interests in product-quality, affordability and safe access. I believe the best way to achieve these goals is through legalized patient home-grow and a vibrant market where businesses large and small are allowed to compete for patient preferences.

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