We hear it over and over again – people walk into a store and ask for the highest THC product for the lowest possible price. But a great experience doesn’t depend on THC alone.
THC occurs in three forms of marijuana: delta 9 THC-a, which doesn’t have any psychoactive properties; plus CBN, which provides pain relief; and delta 9 THC, which has psychoactive properties. Ninety percent of THC is delta 9 THC-a.
In order for delta 9 THC-a to become psychoactive, it must be altered/decarboxylated by heat and time. This means blending your cannabis flower directly into your smoothie won’t do much for you.
Some processors can speed this natural process by heating plant material in an oven, and users also instantaneously decarboxylate while smoking.
THC molecules can also change to CBN if someone’s flower is improperly stored or exposed to too much heat. CBN is modestly psychoactive, but is also associated with “couch lock,” where you have no motivation to move. This feeling is why most people shy away from old weed, and why good processors properly store their material.
But more goes into your marijuana experience than just THC. Cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, and others all play a role in how your brain and body react. (Cannabinoids refer to the 100 molecular compounds in cannabis that can naturally bind to receptors in the brain and body).
Another component is terpenes, the naturally occurring volatile organic compounds found in most plants. Terpenes are what make roses smell like roses and bananas like bananas, and give distinctive aroma and flavor to your favorite cannabis strains. Terpenes can and do affect how THC molecules are absorbed, how it is transferred through the blood-brain barrier, and how it binds to your cannabinoid receptors.
Terpenes occur in varying concentrations in different parts of the plant. Those found in the top of plants attract flying insects to help pollinate the flowers. In the stems and branches, different terpenes discourage crawling bugs that may want to eat or lay eggs on it. The terpene profile of a specific strain can vary based on where that flower came from on the plant.
Producers are under pressure to deliver strains that contain higher and higher THC levels because of what consumers believe they want and need. But this can come at the expense of potentially breeding out other cannabinoids and terpenes. Here is an analogy: some tomatoes at the store are red and look ripe and appealing, but many have been altered to survive shipping without bruising. An unintended consequence of this breeding has produced a tomato that has less flavor, inferior texture, and takes away from enjoyment of what would otherwise be a perfect BLT.
Like “vine-ripened” tomatoes bred for single qualities such as color or shipping-hardiness, breeding strains only for high THC levels can lead to a decrease in flavor and lower satisfaction. Focusing on THC alone can result in lower concentrations of other essential cannabinoids and terpenes. When you go to your favorite retailer, rely on advice from your budtender or processor and remember that sometimes the best product doesn’t have the highest THC.