Cannabis Strength and It’s effects
A team from the University of Colorado recently published a study that looked at THC levels and its subjective effect. This study found that ingesting cannabis or cannabis concentrates with high levels of THC, does not seem to result in elevated levels of intoxication. In this study, those who smoked dried flower consumed cannabis containing either 16 or 24 percent THC. Comparatively, those who ingested concentrate products, consumed cannabis with either 70 or 90 percent THC. Each of these subjects then had their blood tested at 3 intervals throughout the experiment: before ingesting cannabis, immediately following consumption, and 1-hour post consumption. The subjects were then asked to self-report their intoxication levels, as well as conduct cognitive function and balance tests at all 3 intervals. As expected, those who consumed the higher THC varieties had higher concentrations of metabolites in their blood. However interestingly, all subjects reported similar subjective feelings of intoxication, and had similar results in their cognitive tests. This research adds further support to the belief that THC and other cannabinoids, are only one part of the equation. The other main molecules that play an important role on how a strain will make you feel are called Terpenes. Terpenes not only provide the unique aroma and flavour of a cannabis strain, they also interact with cannabinoids synergistically, to influence each other and the way the cannabis makes you feel.
In another study published recently, the authors analyzed the relationship of subjective responses, flavor and chemical composition, across more than 800 commercial cannabis varieties. The authors reviewed all publically available cultivars and compared them with the self-reported reviews. The aim was to see if there were any correlations between the terpene profiles and the subjective effects, based on keywords reported in the comments. It was determined that since terpene are inherited and less influenced by environmental factors, that the flavour and smell seem to be a reliable marker in identifying the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Users consistently rated cannabis with a citrus scent/taste (due to the terpene Limonene) as uplifting, motivating and euphoric. Cannabis with a more earthy, spicy scent/taste (due to the terpene Mycrene) was consistently reported as relaxing and sedating. These findings support the fact that terpenes are playing a key role in the effects of different cannabis strains.
What does this all mean?
In the legal adult-recreational markets, we are seeing a preference from consumers requesting high THC products. These high THC products often come at the expense of other cannabinoid and terpenes. The trichomes of the cannabis plant produce cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. However, it is often difficult for a plant produce more of one of these things, without leading to a reduction of another. There is emerging evidence showing that if the THC level has climbed, that the terpene content has often been negatively impacted. There is also an emerging popular belief that prior to cannabis legalization, many users would select their cannabis products based on the smell alone. In the legacy cannabis market, sellers often do not state a specific level of THC, the price of the buds are based on smell and look. It seems as we have moved into a regulated and controlled system, it has resulted in selective pressure, specifically for cannabis containing high THC levels. Whereas in the legacy market, it is far more likely that strains are chosen based on their high terpene content (this can be referred to as ‘dank bud’). Continued research on this topic is imperative, to further our understanding of The Entourage Effect, and how terpenes play a critical role in the effects of cannabis.
Bidwell LC, Ellingson JM, Karoly HC, et al. Association of Naturalistic Administration of Cannabis Flower and Concentrates With Intoxication and Impairment. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(8):787–796. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0927
de la Fuente, A., Zamberlan, F., Sánchez Ferrán, A. et al. Relationship among subjective responses, flavor, and chemical composition across more than 800 commercial cannabis varieties. J Cannabis Res 2, 21 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-020-00028-y