How Much Does THC Percentage Matter?

The THC percentage of a cannabis strain is often used as a basis for pricing and bud selection by consumers, but does THC percentage matter? As it turns out, the THC percentage of different cannabis strains has a lot less to do with how high you’ll get than previously thought. 

If you’re looking for the most potent weed (or perhaps something on the milder side), understanding how the cannabinoids and other compounds in this complex plant interact with your body can help you select the most appropriate strain—and maybe even save money in the process.

THC Dose Does Not Equal Potency

While calculating THC content is useful for dosing and baking, the amount of THC you ingest with each pre-roll is not as reliable a predictor of the psychoactive effects you will experience as the alcohol content of an alcoholic beverage (it is however, fairly reliable for predicting the effects of edibles). 

In the case of alcohol, a higher alcohol percentage will invariably lead to greater intoxication effects. With THC percentages in non-edible cannabis products, the relationship between THC content and intoxication isn’t so clear-cut.

THC Levels and DUI

The lack of correlation between THC and impairment can be seen in DUI (driving under the influence) laws across the United States. In Seattle, Washington, for example, a blood concentration of 0.5 nanograms per milliliter is considered DUI—even if the driver is not actually impaired. 

In other states, DUI is determined more by the behavior and observed impairment of the driver than their blood concentration of THC, because it is acknowledged that cannabis affects people differently and THC levels don’t tell the full story.

Research Proves that THC Percentage Isn’t Everything

In case there was still any doubt, a study from the University of Colorado, published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2020, revealed that THC percentages were a poor indicator of psychoactive effects

In the study, participants either smoked flower with THC percentages or 16 or 24%, or cannabis concentrate with 70% or 90% THC. According to balance and memory tests before, immediately after, and one hour after cannabis use, the smokers and concentrate users didn’t show marked differences, even though the concentrate users had much higher blood THC levels after use.

The Real Value of THC Percentages

Simply put, the THC percentage of a cannabis product tells you how many milliliters of THC are in one gram of cannabis plant matter or cannabis concentrate. For example, one gram of cannabis flower with a THC percentage of 20% contains 200 milliliters of THC. Likewise, 0.5 grams of cannabis concentrate with a THC percentage of 90% contains 450 milliliters of THC.

Knowing how much THC is in a product is useful for determining how much cannabis bud, concentrate, or vape oil you need in order to ingest the desired amount of THC. This is particularly useful if you’re dosing cannabutter for baking weed cookies or making low-calorie edibles at home. With a high-THC flower, for example, you won’t need to use as much bud as you would with flower that contains lower percentages of THC.

The Endocannabinoid System and the Entourage Effect

To understand why THC percentage doesn’t matter as much as you thought (in the sense that THC content doesn’t automatically equal greater potency), it’s necessary to understand how the different cannabinoids and compounds in the cannabis plant interact with the cannabinoid system found in the human body: referred to as the “endocannabinoid system.”

The Endocannabinoid System

The human body contains an extensive network of cannabis receptors that are divided into two types: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain and peripheral nerve terminals and CB2 receptors are mostly found in the cells and tissues of the immune system

Together, these two networks of cannabinoid receptors regulate the functions of homeostasis in the body—including temperature, inflammation, and sleep cycles. The cannabinoid receptors respond to the body’s own cannabinoids—anandamide and 2-AG—as well as to cannabinoids from plants.

Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and the Entourage Effect

The effects of a cannabis strain on a given user depend on the other cannabinoids and compounds that are present in the plant matter as well as the sensitivity of the cannabis user’s endocannabinoid system. The way cannabinoids and other compounds work together synergistically is referred to as the “entourage effect.”

Cannabinoids

There are over 100 different cannabinoids that could be present in a given strain—including THC (which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis), CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC, and many more. 

CBD—known for its potentially beneficial effects on mood, sleep, inflammation, and the skin—has been shown to “tame” the effects of THC. So high THC cannabis that’s also high in CBD might actually not get you as stoned as cannabis with a lower THC potency and little to no CBD.

Terpenes

Then, there are aromatic compounds called terpenes. Terpenes are found throughout the plant kingdom and are responsible for the diverse aromas of cannabis plants. In the same way that the cannabinoids affect a strain’s effects, a strain’s specific terpene profile also influences the experience of cannabis consumers when smoking weed.

Myrcene, found in mangoes, Blue Dream, and OG Kush, has relaxing and sedative effects that can make you feel more stoned. In contrast, strains high in caryophyllene are more likely to make you feel energized. Limonene, found in citrus fruits and Sour Diesel, can help to moderate the effects of high THC strains or help you sober up from weed if you’ve gotten higher than intended.

Reliability of Cannabis Tests

Because the cannabis industry has traditionally associated a higher THC percentage with more potent weed, strains with more THC typically fetch a higher price and are more popular with cannabis consumers, which is why dispensary shelves are full of cannabis products marked at 25-35% THC.

However, it’s important to be aware that the THC levels—even of legal cannabis—may have been inflated to boost flower sales. Growers, for example, may send the top part of the flower for testing so that the results will show the highest possible THC levels. However, the actual THC content of the cannabis flower you’re sold might have less THC than the tested sample.

How to Find Good Weed

Knowing that THC percentage doesn’t matter as much as previously thought—that is, high-THC cannabis doesn’t necessarily produce stronger psychoactive effects—the best way to find good weed is to talk to the budtender about the cannabis effects you’re after and educate yourself about what good weed looks like in the jar. Sometimes, the strongest flower actually has lower THC numbers, higher THC : CBD ratios, and a diverse cannabinoid and terpene profile. 

The most satisfying cannabis will be the one that provides the effects you’re after—whether or not it’s high THC weed. And while other cannabis users are paying top dollar for high THC strains, you could end up getting higher with cannabis that has a lower THC content while saving a lot of dough.