“What’s the THC percentage on that?”
“I need your highest THC Sativa, please.”
This sort of question is something we field dozens of times a day. And we get it; for those of us who engage with alcohol, we’ve been trained to know that 100-proof liquor is going to have a stronger effect than a bottle of wine – and we’re convinced Canadian beer is so much better because its 5% alcohol volume must be different than America’s measly 3% hop water.
It should be no news to anybody that cannabis is fundamentally different than alcohol, but we seem to remain in this place where numbers matter. Well, do they?
I saw an opportunity to smoke weed in the name of science, and I will always be there to answer that call, so I decided to be the guinea pig and smoke “low THC” products on your behalf. Brave, I know. I also tried some strains with big, beautiful numbers to compare. Here are the details of my experiment.
When RE-UP (Namaste‘s white-label value brand) launched, we got a couple of strains from them, at virtually unprecedented value for the time — the “catch”, I suppose, is that the packages contained small buds with THC content between 11-14%, which would be low, if you asked somebody who values those numbers. I grabbed their Sensi Star, one of my favorite indicas, which they branded as SNSSTR. “Sinister”, we jokingly called it behind the desk. It wasn’t very sinister. I experienced a mellow high, decent body effects – nothing remarkably “strong”, but pleasant no doubt. What I noticed more than anything was that the trademark vanilla-extract aroma and flavour I’m accustomed to with Sensi Star wasn’t super present. (I don’t need to be sneaky here, that observation serves as a little foreshadowing.) I was satisfied, especially for the value, but as a daily user it was a bit light for me.
Next came the Sensi Star from Alberta craft cannabis producer 7Acres, which touted 20% THC on its label, and came with the classic spade-shaped buds I’d expect from Sensi Star, along with a much more powerful aroma & flavour. It was lovely. The result was a classic SS buzz, happy and relaxed. Perhaps this content thing does matter?
Well, Namaste re-enters the chat with pre-rolls of their traditional Sensi Star. These PRs were at the same percentage as the RE-UP buds, at around 12%. I figured that if these weren’t under the white-label, they must be different. These PRs were perfect: full of flavor, and the half gram session took me exactly where I wanted to go in terms of intensity. It was absolutely on par with my experience with 7Acres.
Finally, I recently took home an eighth of Kelowna Kush from THC Biomed, a BC company whose quality/value balance is consistent and impressive. This batch of Sensi Star came in at 14.5%, had my nice round buds, and the trademark vanilla scent. I had to get another eighth when I got through it – a rarity for pot snobs like us. It’s so good. Perhaps my favorite batch from this experiment.
So what gives? THC content seemed to end up having nothing to do with which batch gave me strong effects. This is the part where I drop some knowledge on you. You may have heard your favorite cannaseur talk about terpenes, the compounds in cannabis and other plants responsible for aroma & flavor. If you have, you may also have heard that they’re being found to correlate to certain effects when we’re talking strains. It is truly the terpenes that make the difference. If there was one thing that correlated to strength in effect for me, it was strength of flavor and aroma. And since I picked a strain that I knew I enjoyed, I was satisfied no matter the size of the impact.
Think of it this way; terpenes are records if THC is a volume knob. You could play any song as loud as you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good song, or that you’ll even enjoy listening to it (it might not even be appropriate at high volume). That said, your favorite song of all time is going to hit perfect no matter how loud it’s playing. So, why ask for the loudest record on the shelf when you could let us know what you like to listen to, or how you like music to make you feel? Perhaps you could ask for our highest-fidelity record, or our most dynamic record, or any other analogy for experience-based questions. In other words, which strain has a high quality terpene profile? Which has intense effects? Which has this effect, or that effect, at this sort of strength? The volume knob does not change the quality of the music. Yeah? Everybody following?
You must understand that it can be a little frustrating when you are passionate about finding your customers the right product, but potentially perfect choices are turned down because of a number nobody knew or cared about in the decades before brick-and-mortar pot shops. The current method of cannabinoid testing has only existed for a year and change – and we are learning that current testing methods are taken from an average of multiple plants in the grow room, and are allowed a pretty significant margin of error. Even if we told you a strain is labeled at 20%, it could be 17%, or 23%, and regardless – it may not be the super-strong strain you think it must be. Our heaviest indica right now is 16%. That doesn’t mean we don’t have anything with a bigger number, it means the indica we have with the heaviest, most sedative effects is 16%. Additionally, testing has been moving to a stage in the grow process when there is less water content in the plant, and the result is that these listed percentages are going to appear noticeably lower. So, when you ask us those classic questions about THC content, expect some of our new favourite responses:
“Do you mean you want a strain with strong effects?”
“What are you trying to accomplish or feel?”
“We’re happy to tell you, but do know this is not the best way to find a perfect fit.”
Please trust your server at cannabis stores! Ask us to help you find what’s right, and we will. Ask us what has the highest THC%, and we will sell you some. We’re happy as long as you are, but everyone on both sides of these transactions would be much happier if we were open to unlearning some common misconceptions. Cannabis is an ongoing experiment, and trying new product is supposed to be exciting and educational. Don’t stop your adventure short, and be open to new information and experiences. We love you!
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