You’re standing in front of the cannabis counter at your local dispensary, and after reading a strain label that uses jargon you feel you need Google Translate to fully understand, you buy the recommended bud and go back home. You trust the label, right?
With the new abundance and unprecedented access to all forms of cannabis, needs to come a deeper, more transparent understanding of what individuals are ingesting in the many varieties of the readily available plant.
Why is Potency Important?
You want to know exactly what’s in the food your putting into your body, why should cannabis be any different? Being able to properly read your cannabis label and understand its contents is extremely important. For those turning to cannabis for medical purposes, properly understanding cannabis potency labels is critical for proper, consistent, and responsible dosing.
Before buying your next flower, make sure you understand what it contains and how it differs from others of similar, or different strains.
Because cannabis is a heterogeneous plant, it is inherently varied. One of the biggest misconceptions is that you are getting the same potency flowers just because you consistently buy the same strain. Not only can there be an enormous variation of potency among umbrella strains, but in flowers within the same batch as well. Being labeled as ‘Gorilla Glue or ‘Purple Haze’ for example, does not ensure the flower will be the same on every visit to your dispensary.
Mindful Potency Readings
Although potency labels are incredibly important, the lack of uniform protocols and regulations among labs cause flowers to be measured and labeled against different standards.
Below is a chart examining how a single sample varied in its THC potency labeling across several different labs. So while you should always read and understand your cannabis label, also keep in mind that potency labeling is still quite subjective.
“Expecting all buds within a container to be of the same potency is like expecting all grapes within a bag to be of the same ripeness.”- Cannabis Science and Technology 2018
Now that you’ve got the potency basics, let’s get you equipped on how to read potency labels like a pro.
Total THC & CBD content
Total THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and Total CBD are the two most important values to look at when choosing your cannabis. These represent the total amount of THC and CBD that is activated once the cannabis has been decarboxylated (heated). THC & CBD interact with each other to create the total effect. Total THC and Total CBD refer to the active percentage of each the product contains.
Total THC content
THC is the main cannabinoid in cannabis responsible for its psychedelic effects.
THC is a major component in what people refer to as cannabis ‘potency’ with normal ranges hovering anywhere from 3 or 4% in weaker strains to around 20% in higher potency strains.
THC has proven greatly effective in treating chronic pain and ease side effects related to illness such a Chron’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and side effects of cancer treatment and epilepsy. THC has also proven greatly effective in treating sleep issues like insomnia, and appetite disorders.
Total CBD content
While there is a popular tendency to focus on the THC content to achieve a certain level of ‘high’, the CBD content in cannabis is sometimes overlooked.
CBD offers many of the same health benefits as THC without the psychedelic effects.
For those looking to treat inflammation, depression, anxiety, bowel disease, and alleviate many types of physical pain without the psychedelic effects, look for a potency label marked higher in CBD and lower in THC.
Sativa & Indica
Another marking on potency labels is if the flower is labeled as a Sativa or Indica strain. Sativa strains produce a more energic, euphoric feeling, while Indica’s effects are more mellowing. If you are looking for a strain to land the effects of THC during the daytime for example, stay away from Indica (or in-da-couch as it is aptly nicknamed) strains. In the same vein, if you are looking for something to help you relax and head to sleep, stay away from Sativas, instead opting for an Indica strain.
As you might remember from our article, Taking a Bite Out of Edible Potency Testing, potency labeling on edibles is one of the largest issues when it comes to accuracy in cannabis potency labels. Edibles accrue the highest number of mislabelings and often boast a THC content that differs greatly from what is actually contained in the product. Edibles can be quite potent, so make sure you are consuming the correct dosage.
“One of the most common causes for mislabeling is the inaccuracy of the products THC count. This can come in the form of ‘under-labeling’ (understating the amount of THC contained in the edible) or ‘over-labeling’ (overstating the amount of THC contained in the edible). Wherever the mislabelling falls on the spectrum, the desired result will not be produced for the user potentially causing negative side effects, or simply not being effective.”
The Many Faces of Potency Labels
Although potency labels vary from dispensary, to state, to country, don’t get overwhelmed!
Some cannabis producers, including dispensaries, brand their products with unique packaging and logos to give them an edge. Although they might look different, all cannabis products should contain the same important potency information. Below are a few examples of different cannabis potency labels. Unique in their branding, they all contain the same basic information.
Read all labels carefully, and remember, because cannabis potency labeling is a new phenomenon which still lacks uniform standardization and regulation, approach all potency labels with a healthy dose of skepticism. For those who want a more accurate reading of their cannabis potency, at- home tests are now available.
Want to learn more about at-home potency testing? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.