If you spent a day as a budtender in any dispensary across the country, this would be one of the most frequent customer inquiries you would hear.
Short for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC is famous for its psychoactive, intoxicating properties that make us feel “high.” A simplified, prohibition-era understating of cannabis has created a narrative for consumers that associates higher levels of THC to a better, longer-lasting high. Modern cannabis marketing and product development has reinforced this idea, which is evident in the current race for higher and higher values on packages. But how do these numbers come about?
Licensed Producers (or LPs) are required by Health Canada to send samples of their cannabis to a lab to test for cannabinoid levels, which are labelled on each container for sale. However, even the best accredited labs are imperfect, and results may skew based on the type of sample provided, batch size, and methods used. In a comment to MJbiz.com, a Health Canada spokesperson explains: “There is no variability limit for dried cannabis because, unlike cannabis extracts or edible cannabis products, dried cannabis is heterogeneous, which means that the amount of THC and CBD varies between different parts of the plant as well as between different plants within a lot or batch,”
Since current consumer trends favour cannabis with high THC values over all other qualities, sometimes it can be difficult for great products to make it to wholesale listings, simply because the THC percentage is perceived to be “not high enough” by a market constantly craving more (though research is finding the upper limit for THC in dried cannabis flower to be around 35%, and even that is a rare find.) This can sometimes steer LPs into testing their product in specific labs which, while safe and accredited, use testing methods that provide inflated cannabinoid values. This leaves consumers to be misled into products less potent than promised, as well as ignoring the diversity of cannabis users. Though not the biggest demographic, those seeking less potent products are finding themselves with less and less offerings on dispensary shelves.
Enter Ekidna, a company of passionate scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who have created a portable, purpose-built cannabinoid testing system that gives results in five minutes. To do this, they use lab-on-a-chip technology that has been reliably used in medical testing for several decades.
A dried flower sample is weighed and shaken in a capped tube filled with solution, which is then transferred into a second testing tube containing a chip in its cap. This tube is placed into the Ekidna reader, which connects to any Windows computer or laptop to provide straightforward, accurate results.
Members of the Ekidna team stopped by Plateau to give us a tutorial on their easy-to-use system, which gave us an opportunity to test some of our most popular cannabis flower, particularly those claiming high THC levels.
We followed these tests with sampling these cultivars ourselves, making notes on bud quality, flavour, terpenes, and effects.
With Ekidna, we tested the following strains:
Wes’ Coast Kush by MTL
Labelled at 36.0% THC, this cultivar tested at 26.27% THC with Ekidna. This was the largest variance we tested, with a difference of 9.75%.
Despite the discrepancy in these results, we were delighted by the large, frosty buds in the container that gave an aroma of sweet, gassy kush. When smoked in a joint, this provided an enjoyable draw with a delightfully sticky resin ring. This was my favourite high, providing a giggly euphoria before mellowing into a balanced relaxation that leaves you wanting more, but not in a way that feels lacking.
Select Pheno #7 by Coterie
Labelled at 35.5% THC, this cultivar tested at 27.5% with Ekidna. With a variance of 8%, this was in the middle of the pack in terms of label accuracy.
The buds in this package were smaller and on the dry side, but the unique terpene profile provided a herbal, slightly musky aroma. In a joint, this cultivar was the least flavourful of the three, as well as the least enjoyable smoke. Effects were relaxing and calm, but not very hard-hitting or long-lasting.
Dank Sinatra by Next Friday
Labelled at 24.7% THC, this cultivar tested at 22.5% with Ekidna. These results were the closest to the label, with a discrepancy of only 2.2%.
Out of the three samples, this was the most enjoyable to smoke in a joint. The smooth pull invited strong earthy and spicy aromas that reflect its Hashplant genetics, and burned nicely. The effects were heavy, relaxing, and long-lasting, providing a happy couchlock for the remainder of the evening.
Given our results, in addition to several recent reports of cannabinoid content being misrepresented in cannabis testing, packaging, and marketing, how are consumers meant to trust that we’re buying the best bud out there?
While it may be disheartening to see such a discrepancy of THC values, we choose to see this as an agent of change in how we consider and consume cannabis. To get the most out of your bud, there are several components to look for beyond THC:
There are hundreds of active compounds in cannabis, including cannabinoids and terpenes, all of which play a role in the experience we have with the plant. As we learn more each day about minor cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, and CBC, the more we can harness their full capabilities to influence the type of high we’d like, or simply to use their more therapeutic properties alone or with CBD. Alongside minor cannabinoids, discovering which terpenes work best for you in terms of preferred aromas and effects can tailor your experience even further.
Cannabis has been selectively grown and bred for decades, creating unique cultivars (or strains) that provide very specific aromas and effects based on different combinations of terpenes and cannabinoids. Different plant genetics are part of what make cannabis so versatile, and will affect individuals in unique ways. This is evident in the ‘sativa/indica’ binary that many still associate with plant genetics and how they influence our high.
If our experience with Ekidna has taught us anything, it has been that every step of cannabis production, from pheno-hunting to packaging, is integral in bringing the best product to market. While THC labels may be higher on other mass-produced cannabis brands to satisfy the market, a much better overall experience can be gained from choosing LPs that select the best genetics, employ growing methods tailored specifically to the cultivar, as well as hand-finishing that maintains the integrity of the plant. Choosing quality brands that use craft methods also holds a higher likelihood of receiving flower with the most ripe and intact trichomes, the part of the plant that holds all the good stuff.
These tests are the first in our new “Fact or Cap” series launching on Instagram, where we will test some of our favourite flower to see how the numbers measure up, and if they matter at all in our enjoyment of them. If you’re curious about a certain cultivar, or have any other burning questions, talk to us in-store or find us on Instagram (@plateau_ca).