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New Study Finds More THC Does Not Equate to a Stronger High


Researchers at the University of Colorado report THC strength doesn’t correlate to potency.


Trying to enlighten the masses to the intricacies of cannabis has been no easy task.

For decades, the prevailing wisdom when it comes to getting high was the stronger, the better. Back in the days before modern-era growing techniques and the “cooperation” of law enforcement, speedy grows that favored quantity over quality were the best way to make a buck. By contrast, numerous legends of the game went a different direction, treating their crops like family and dispersing it as a medicine.

Now that the cannabis lexicon has expanded by leaps and bounds, a mentality of “the more THC, the better” has begun to cede space to hemp-derived CBD products and items built on the premise of microdosing. What was once a pool of options has now expanded into an ocean. Regardless, sales data provided by legal dispensaries shows that many customers’ top priority is still to buy stuff with the most THC for the cheapest price.

Implicit in this logic is the belief that the higher the THC percentage, the more potent the product will be. However, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado, this strategy may be in need of a massive overhaul.

Relying on 121 cannabis users, the study’s authors split the group in two. Half were given cannabis flower at several strengths, while the other half was provided with cannabis oil. Flower notably tops out at around 25% THC, while oil (one of many forms cannabis extracts or concentrates can take) regularly tests between 70% and 90% THC.

In summarizing their findings, the University of Colorado team conceded that “use of cannabis concentrates was associated with higher THC exposure and potentially greater risk” but surprisingly found “differences in short-term subjective and neurobehavioral impairments did not track specifically with strength of the cannabis consumed.”

To summarize: people didn’t report being “higher” on concentrates than they did when consuming flower.

“Despite differences in THC exposure,” the study’s authors noted in JAMA Psychiatry earlier this month, “flower and concentrate users showed similar neurobehavioral patterns after acute cannabis use and the domains of verbal memory and proprioception-focused postural stability for both groups were associated with THC.”

This news may come as a revelation for some, but others will likely point to these findings as further proof that stripping cannabis down to its THC levels is akin to mistaking a skeleton for a body.

As we continue to learn more about things like terpene profiles and our own endocannabinoid system, proof that THC volume alone does not determine how high one feels would seemingly favor the growing chorus of voices who believe individual responses to cannabis are ultimately determined by a myriad of circumstances.

Examining the University of Colorado study, subjects self-reported feeling a consistent level of “high” regardless of whether they’d consumed flower (testing at either 16% or 24% THC) or an oil (testing at either 70% or 90%). With the important exception of edibles — which reach the bloodstream through a circuitous path and thus tend to last far longer — one can interpret the data published in JAMA Psychiatry as saying the difference between low-potency products and high-potency products is negligible.

That’s quite a revelation if consumers opt to take it seriously. Not only are low-potency strains often cheaper — in some cases, buyers have actually been forced to toss their inventory because no one has purchased it.

This could also be bad news for concentrate brands, which have gained immense popularity as a fast and efficient way to get the most bang for one’s buck. While dabbing has since become a culture unto itself, the holy grail caliber hunt for products testing the highest in THC may ultimately be seen as misguided in light of these latest revelations.

At day’s end, it will be the market, not science, that determines what sells. That said, the prospect of what the two could accomplish were their visions aligned is something worth fighting for. The work is in helping consumers to understand that by staying informed about cannabis science, they will help themselves get the most of the plant too.

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