As one of the leading medical cannabis dispensaries in Maryland, we get a lot of first-time patients coming through our dispensary doors. One common theme we’ve seen is a focus on THC, particularly seeking cannabis with a high THC%. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of the feelings commonly associated with cannabis and is calculated by adding the percentage by weight of THCa multiplied by 0.877 plus the percentage by weight of THC.
We think it’s important to educate our patients (and all patients!) on why THC amount doesn’t really matter, when a patient may need cannabis that’s high in THC, and in what instances patients may want to seek out cannabis with a lower THC%.
THC isn’t an indication of quality
THC shopping, or purchasing a cannabis product based on its high THC% (and nothing else), can be equated to purchasing a bottle of wine based on its pretty label. There is absolutely no correlation between a cannabis product’s THC% and its quality. In fact, one study by the University of Colorado actually found that THC content is a poor indication of potency.
In the study, 121 study participants were given cannabis products with varying degrees of THC% and the self-reported “intoxication” levels of the participants were about the same across the board. In short, participants who consumed cannabis with high levels of THC felt more or less the same as participants who consumed cannabis with lower levels of THC. This basically debunks the notion that a THC number is an indication of performance.
It’s mostly marketing
Sadly, this misunderstanding is due, in part, to how cannabis products have been marketed in the recreational (and less so, medical) cannabis markets. In recreational markets, many cannabis companies care more about pushing products than they do about educating their customers on the medical benefits of their products. In addition, since customers seek out cannabis with a high-THC content, it’s not uncommon for dispensaries to charge more for cannabis that tests at more than 25% THC.
In consumers' minds, the higher price indicates higher quality. This is why high-THC cannabis often sells out quickly while lower-percentage cannabis sits on shelves for much longer. Since the cannabis companies are making a profit regardless of a person’s reason for using it, they aren’t in a rush to disrupt the status quo. This is why medical cannabis dispensaries exist even in recreational markets. It’s also why some medical markets are opposed to going recreational too quickly.
At CULTA, we strive to be transparent and honest with our patients, even if that means some of our patients may seek out lower-THC products or products listed at a lower price-point.
THC is just one cannabinoid
If THC was the only “ingredient” in cannabis, THC% would matter a lot more, but THC is just one cannabinoid in a plant with over 100 of them! In simple terms, cannabinoids are a group of substances found in a cannabis plant. They produce their effects by interacting with the receptors in our central nervous systems. We discuss some of the most popular cannabinoids and what they do more in-depth in this blog.
On top of that, patients who select a cannabis product for its THC% are also ignoring a cannabis plant’s terpene profile, not to mention the unique smell and taste of the cannabis. Terpenes are essential oils that, together with cannabinoids like THC and CBD, determine what unique benefits a particular strain can offer. As we said, there’s a lot more to think about than just THC!
When you’ll want lower THC products
As you probably already guessed, there are a variety of reasons why a patient might want lower THC products. Not only are lower THC products good for beginners, but they can also support smoking cessation or tolerance breaks.
Here are a few other reasons why products with a lower THC% may be beneficial:
- Can be good for the middle of the day for clarity
- May offer better dosage control throughout the day
- Can be good to curb nausea without being too psychoactive
- May be able to treat depression while remaining functional
Additionally, if you experience biphasic effects (the fancy term for anxiety caused by higher levels of THC), switching to a lower THC product may be able to help reduce some of that anxiety.
When you’ll want higher THC products
Of course, there are certainly instances where seeking out higher THC products makes sense for certain individuals. According to testimonies from our own patient coordinators, a higher THC% has helped patients seeking pain management, an appetite stimulant, or a sleep aid. Some studies have also shown that THC can ease a number of PTSD-related symptoms, including agitation, depression, insomnia, flashbacks, and nightmares. Other common reasons to use THC-rich products include reducing nausea and vomiting and inflammation. (Click on the links to read more about the medical research!)
Confused? We’re here to help
We know - there’s a lot to think about when it comes to selecting a certain cannabis strain or product. There are terpenes, THC, other cannabinoids, and things like price and consumption methods to think about. Then there’s the question of storage, side effects, and smell and taste. Fortunately, no medical cannabis patient in Maryland has to go it alone. Your certifying provider can help, and so can we.