Meta-Analysis Reveals New Details About THC’s Effects
by Bethan Rose
It’s undeniable that today’s cannabis isn’t the same as it was decades ago. Whereas flower had an average tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of 4% in the 1980s, it’s not uncommon to now find cannabis strains with 25% THC or more. These strains are considered to be “high-THC.”
High-THC cannabis is somewhat controversial. While these strains can offer better relief to medical patients, emerging research has revealed risks associated with consuming such potent products. Here’s the scoop on high-THC cannabis.
The most common way of measuring THC percentages is through a process known as high-performance liquid chromatography, or HPLC. This process uses a liquid solvent to chemically separate various compounds from the cannabis plant, which can be measured by lab techs to provide a nearly 99% accurate cannabinoid content rating. When you purchase cannabis flower from a dispensary, the label should provide the cannabinoid content of the product.
High-THC cannabis typically refers to cannabis flower with high THC content, but it’s important to note that cannabis concentrates (think vaping and dabbing) and edibles are also very potent products that should be consumed carefully. Concentrates can have THC levels of anywhere from 50-80% and sometimes even higher, and edibles usually provide 10-50 milligrams of THC per serving. Check out the following articles for more information on these products:
Use the chart below to gauge the strength of your cannabis flower.
|Very Low||0.1-9% THC|
|High||25% THC and above|
As mentioned above, consuming high-THC cannabis comes with some risks. The more THC you consume in one sitting, the more likely you will experience some adverse side effects. These side effects may include:
Additionally, research into high-THC cannabis products has revealed more specific concerns. A 2022 systematic review of 20 observational human studies concluded that high-potency cannabis is associated with an increased risk of psychosis and cannabis use disorder (CUD). Highly potent cannabis has also been linked to cases of cannabis hyperemesis syndrome, or “scromiting,” in young consumers. Finally, a 2020 study found that consuming a high amount of THC can potentially lead to increased anxiety.
For these reasons, some healthcare professionals discourage consumers—especially recreational cannabis users—from purchasing high-THC cannabis. Although these adverse outcomes will not occur in all users, it’s still important to be aware of them. While there is no actual limit to the amount of THC a person can intake (read: no amount of THC will kill you), consuming too much can definitely be uncomfortable.
If you find yourself experiencing discomfort after consuming too much THC, check out this article: How to Stop Being High Fast: 12 Ways to Counteract THC Effects
High-THC cannabis can also be very beneficial, particularly for medical cannabis consumers with certain conditions. In fact, medical-grade cannabis products are typically stronger than recreational products to provide adequate relief. High-THC cannabis products are widely embraced by patients experiencing chronic pain, side effects of chemotherapy, muscle spasticity, nausea, and more.
Some recreational consumers can also benefit from high-THC cannabis. For those with lots of cannabis experience and/or a high tolerance, high-THC flower can deliver the intense psychoactive effects they are after. If you’re new to recreational cannabis, though, don’t jump right into high-potency THC products. Start with flower that has a THC concentration of 10-15% until you feel ready to handle stronger products.
Interested in trying out a high-THC strain? Here are some of the cannabis strains known to have higher THC levels.
High-THC Indica Strains:
High-THC Sativa Strains:
High-THC Hybrid Strains:
With a quick web search, you can see that there is a lot of debate surrounding this question. These are some of the top contenders:
Cannabis products can retain their THC potency for a long period of time when stored properly. In general, cannabis flower can retain its full THC potency for an average of six months to a year. According to research, cannabis THC content degrades by 16% on average after one year. Cannabis edibles will act similarly, although some may go bad before they lose potency due to the other ingredients they contain.
Check out these articles for more information:
The only way to truly make a strain more potent is to breed stronger genetic lineage with that strain during its cultivation. If you want to quickly spice up your joint or bowl, however, you can add cannabis concentrates like kief and wax to the ground flower. Learn more about this practice here.
Unfortunately, while there are many available methods for testing THC potency at home, none of them have been proven to offer consistent accuracy. These devices may be able to give you a general idea of the THC content of your product, but the only way to know for sure is to have a sample of it tested by a licensed laboratory.
THC has long been the most sought-after compound in cannabis due to its ability to induce a high, but many cannabis connoisseurs are now seeking cannabis that offers a balanced blend of cannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBD) and terpenes (e.g., myrcene, limonene). This is because consuming multiple kinds of compounds is thought to create amplified effects, a theory known as the entourage effect.
Cannabis flower with high levels of THC—25% or more—offers some benefits but should be handled responsibly, as consuming it comes with an increased risk of intense side effects that are less likely to be experienced with low-THC products. If you decide to take the plunge into high-THC cannabis, there are plenty of strains available in today’s market.
Are you interested in incorporating high-THC cannabis into your wellness plan? Talk to an MMJ doctor about getting your medical cannabis card.
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