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Buyer's Guide to Retail Cannabis Part 3: Shopping By THC % Percentages

Updated: Feb 3

The early days of recreational cannabis production are plagued by over-regulation, strict packaging laws, labels, warnings, and precautions. Lab testing is required, but is more concerned with what isn't present, rather than telling us what is. Residual solvents leftover from extraction, unsafe levels of nutrients, mold, mildew, and bacteria are all tested to make sure they are NOT present in the final product. While this helps ensure safe consumption, it tells us next to nothing about the product itself. There's a surprisingly limited amount of information available on packaging, despite the over-regulation and heavy packaging and labeling laws. In fact, for cannabis extracts in California, aside from dates, batch numbers, and phenotype (strain name), only two of over two-hundred cannabinoids are tested and labeled: THC and CBD. This doesn't even begin to consider all the various cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that cannabis contains.

With only two of over two-hundred cannabinoids tested and labeled, it's no wonder consumers are so concerned with THC percentages. Originally, I was too as it's the only number there is to compare. I was looking for something I could understand, something I could grasp, and utilize to make sense of the cannabis market. Overwhelmed, consumers naturally latch on to whatever they can understand, whatever story they have been told, trying to find stable footing in a shaky market. Luckily, it didn't take me long to realize THC percentage has very little to do with the high that is produced. Naturally, I stopped paying attention to THC percentages long ago, realizing cannabis refuses such simplistic interpretations.

A Brief History of Legal Cannabis Extracts

Some of the previous cannabis extracts available neared 90 percent THC, yet failed to provide an experience anything like today's hash products. Crumble, shatter, and wax all neared the 90% THC mark, yet are left behind as our understanding of cannabis improved.

Fresh Frozen

Realizing that much was missing from purified THC, BHO or Butane Hash Oil extractions began using freshly frozen cannabis flowers, rather than dried and cured cannabis to extract Live-Resin sauce, sugar, or badder. Using freshly frozen cannabis allowed for a significantly higher number of terpenes in the final products, causing THC percentages to naturally decrease.

By The Numbers

Take a look at the boxes below:

710 Labs lists their THC content in milligrams converting into the same percentage of THC. The Wedding Cake is about 77% THC, while the Sour Tangie is closer to 76% THC. Deduct a rough 2% of CBD from each and we're looking like roughly 20 percent of both products is unknown. In other words, out of 1,000 mg total or 1 gram, the wedding cake is 769.92 mg of total THC and CBD. Subtract that from a total of 1,000 mg and we have exactly 230.08 mg of unknown ingredients in the Wedding Cake. Until testing and regulation progresses, what remains in this other twenty percent, or 230.08 mg, does not have to be shown.

Thankfully, as I've said before, I trust my ganja farmer to provide a vast profile of cannabinoids and terpenes, which make up the other twenty percent or so of my hash. Being the professionals they are, 710 Labs lists the top five most abundant terpenes in each of their cultivars online, giving the attentive mind an idea of what is contained in the remaining twenty to thirty percent of the product.


What we can tell despite the lack of testing, is the potential for cannabinoids and terpenes to be present. If a product is 98% THC, it leaves room for no more than a possible 2% in all other cannabinoids and terpenes. Compare that with today's best hash products containing around 60 to 70 percent THC. A 70% THC cannabis extract may contain up to another 30 percent of terpenes and cannabinoids, all contributing to what's known as the Entourage Effect.

Solventless extractions natural ratio of THC to cannabinoids and terpenes provides a far more medicinally beneficial experience. For the recreational user, the increased terpenes not only provide flavor and smell, they have been shown to contribute to the Entourage Effect, providing a fuller, more euphoric high.

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

To understand the Entourage Effect, the Endocannabinoid System or ECS is the answer.

The ECS was discovered by Allyn Howlet and William Devane in 1988, proving cannabis compounds interact with receptor sites in the brain. These receptors, known as cannabinoid receptors, turned out to be the most abundant neurotransmitter receptor found in the brain. Researchers were able to prove that THC, along with other cannabinoids, bind and activate these cannabinoid receptors. Discovering cannabinoid receptor sites helped researchers to find naturally occurring neurotransmitters, known as endocannabinoids. Numerous naturally occurring endocannabinoids have been identified and bind to cannabinoid receptor sites.

Continued research found an unknown molecular signaling system that regulates biological functions. This system became known as the Endocannabinoid System or ECS and is activated by a broad range of naturally produced endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. Under stressed conditions, the body's natural production of endocannabinoids interact with brain receptors, helping regulate our internal well-being.

The Entourage Effect

Long story short, the ECS is proven to be activated by a range of cannabinoids to produce varied effects. Increased THC appears to make very little difference, while the presence and combination of different cannabinoids and terpenes (most of which are not tested for or not provided on packaging labels) activate cannabinoid receptors and dictate the quality and effects of the high. This combination of terpenes and cannabinoids work in unison with THC, causing what's known as the The Entourage Effect.


The demand for high THC percentages doesn't line up with our current understanding of how and why cannabis works. Considered in right size and in proper proportion, THC is just one of many variables to be considered. Quality cannabis extracts should not be judged by THC content, a number I often fail to acknowledge anymore, choosing instead to focus on the technique of extraction, how recent it was made, and brands I can trust.

For solventless products extracted with only ice and water, the plant's trichomes will naturally dictate the ratio of cannabinoids and terpenes along with the THC content. The same cannot be said for all chemical extractions who often manipulate 99% THC distillates with food grade terpenes to make cartridges and edibles. Long gone are the days when 90+ percent THC wax is desirable. The more terpenes and cannabinoids that remain in a cannabis extract (proportionally speaking), the more medicinally beneficial it will often be. The same is true when seeking a euphoric, recreational high. Rethink how you think about cannabis extracts to unlock the potential overlooked when placing THC first. And so it goes...


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