The Retail Fallacy: Stop Buying off THC Percentage

I figured to kick things off with a bang, for my first segment of WEIRDOS I wanted to rant about one of the most common fallacies in the California retail marketplace today, though it’s certainly an issue that expands far past our borders. That fallacy, and it’s one I know to be frustrating cultivators the world over, is that cannabis with higher THC percentages is of higher quality, or higher potency, than something with a lower THC percentage. That idea, by every measure, is a bunch of bullshit.

High THC Does NOT Guarantee A Stronger High

Now listen, I understand why it’s so easy for consumers and retailers to point to. It seems like basic math! But here’s the cold hard truth: the plants testing the highest for THC will NOT provide you with the best high. This isn’t just a subjective opinion. Remember distillate vape pens, and their ‘diet’ feeling highs? That’s what you’re racing towards when you buy by THC percentage—because ingesting straight THC doesn’t get you super lit, in fact, it’s one of the more boring highs I’ve experienced!

Also, as a quick aside, have you actually SEEN some of these super high THC testing buds in person? You can barely smell them. They might as well be plastic! We’re literally cutting our nose to spite our face here, people.

Part of what makes the cannabis high so magical are the terpene navigators that roll in tow with your cannabinoids. The aromatics, if you will. I’ve heard it best described like this: if the Cannabinoids in the plant are your engine, the Terps are your nav. The problem is, as people have tried to ‘increase the horsepower of their engines’ so to speak, they often lose terp percentages as a byproduct. You wouldn’t let a blind guy drive your Ferrari, right?

How Did We Get Here?

Let’s zoom out a bit. This nagging plague dragging down our entire industry is the direct result of poor legislation enacted by a governing body that isn’t entirely sure what it’s doing. The biggest culprit is none other than California’s DOC-required lab testing, which doesn’t require any terpene disclosure whatsoever. While the requirement mandates that brands include both the total THC and CBD percentages, as well as the total cannabinoids, brands are not required to provide the end user with any information about the terp profile of their supposed ‘medicinal’ products. That means that brands aren’t required to even test their products for terpene levels, one of the things we know to be most important to the consumption experience. How can we ever expect to have prescribed experiences if the only real information we’re providing the market is an arbitrary percentage?

Now, lab testing is expensive, so it’s not wholly fair to put the blame on brands for not submitting for these results as well, since as I just mentioned, they’re not required disclosures. From the outside perspective, as a business owner, why would you take on extra expenses, especially with an already thin profit margin, when it’s not required? That doesn’t mean we haven’t seen brands going the extra mile and doing it of course—and I can not stress enough that when it is seen in the wild it should be a clear sign to potential consumers that this brand cares about your experience—but it’s far from the norm right now, and that’s not a big surprise given the way the system is set up today.

But Don’t Just Take My Word For It

These shitty requirements aren’t just bad for the end user. It’s limiting the exciting genetics that will ever make it to market. In conversation with one of my favorite cultivators, Keith Healy, the founder of Fig Farms and the recipient of MANY Emerald Cups this year, explained:

“From the grower side I hate it, I have to select genetics based on THC most of the time. The highest THC plant is not [always] the favorite plant in the pheno hunt selection,” He tells me.

“But the lab game… Every lab is different in their selection process to get their sample. Then you have THC numbers varying lab to lab. If you know the lab’s typical process you could find lots of ways to cheat. You get people peppering the sack, throwing kief on the top layer of a bag…” He continued. “You get a bunch of fake numbers in the market.”

So not only are we losing access to genetics with more expressive terp profiles, we’re not always even getting as high of a THC percentage as the label claims? Color me shocked.

“Ultimately THC numbers are so inflated or potentially faked the consumer is basing their purchase on who’s the best cheater.” Keith laments.

(Let it be known that while these are widely known tactics to cheat the game that Keith has provided, Fig Farms flower clearly never needed a peppered sack. I’d gladly stand their flower against anyone else in the world’s.)

What You SHOULD Care About

Now, if you’re reading this you’ve undoubtedly heard about ‘the entourage effect’ before, but at the very least you’ve seen me briefly explain the importance of terpenes already. Terpenes are what provide the actual effect of your high, and though the science is still early on specifics for the terpenes we’re interested in, and given that none of it has been certified by the FDA or whoever, we can’t get that far down that rabbit hole yet. However, just like lavender has anti-inflammatory properties (hello linalool), each of these different smells and tastes provides different effects, and those effects differ from person to person, so it really is a trial and error process to finding your thing. That said, it’s one of the less risky trial and error processes out there—worst case you’ll end up a bit paranoid for a bit or with a heavy case of the munchies. You won’t however, ever feel like you can fly, like the propaganda all promised.

So, where possible, your best guide to finding the best high is actually your nose. As you’ve surely heard before, the louder the better. A strong aroma is a sure sign of something powerful, and as long as it doesn’t smell kinda like hay or grass, it’s a great measure of how the bud was prepared post cultivation. While it’s easier to fake the look and feel of quality, it’s much harder to fake the funk, if ya’ smell me.

But Jon, I just want the Dank!

Now, I know. Post-COVID very few markets are opening up their jars for you to stick your face in. Some have those puffer boxes, some are skirting the rules and have a sample on display (usually a better example of what the product looks like after being left out for a few days than what it will be fresh), but this is where the budtenders are the most crucial. As your store’s eyes, they should have the most hands-on experience with the floor’s products. Ask ‘em for the stinkiest, or for your favorite aroma if you’re more experienced. It’s hard to trust strain names these days.

That said, if your budtender points you to the product with the highest THC and not something with the most interesting nose, or vibrant looking buds, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Simple and plain, but it’s true. Ask them how often they smoke, and what they’ve actually tried in the store. If they don’t have a good grasp of what’s there, respectfully ask if they have a colleague who hangs.

Finally, remember folks, when buying cannabis there are a lot of different reasons for the pricing, several of which have little to do with the original cultivator, so do your best to look past the numbers altogether. No matter your budget, your nose will clue you in on the best bang for your buck…

The Retail Fallacy: Stop Buying off THC Percentage