Everything You Know About What Makes Weed Potent May Be Wrong

The answer doesn’t lie in the THC content, like many have believed all these years.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
Everything You Know About What Makes Your Weed Potent May Be Wrong
Photo courtesy ofWesley Gibbs / Unsplash

You know that one friend who always insists they don’t like smoking weed? A common answer to this pot predicament is usually to justify your friend’s aversion by telling them they just haven’t found the right strain.

For most people, weed with a high THC content, the psychoactive ingredient that dilates time and turns mundane dinners into delicious munchies, is considered a high quality strain. So embedded is this belief that business usually booms for those weed dispensaries (or your local dealer, depending on which part of the world you’re locked down in) that can infuse THC levels over 25 percent. But you may want to put down your glass bong, because a new study is set to shatter your beliefs.


Turns out, you’ve been making one big blunder by assuming stronger is better. A new study published on the JAMA Psychiatry network reveals that THC content has nothing to do with how high your weed will get you. Boom.

This was revealed after researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Institute of Cognitive Science studied the experiences of 121 cannabis users. Half of the participants were given high THC cannabis concentrates, while the other half preferred blazing buds. Both groups received cannabis at varying “strengths”. While flower users were given buds with 16 percent or 24 percent THC, extract users got oil with 70 to 90 percent THC level. The researchers closely monitored the participants’ blood, moods, and cognitive function. They also examined how intoxicated the participants would feel before, immediately after, and an hour after getting high. This led them to conclude that even though some users were taking in high THC concentrates, it didn’t necessarily get them more high than the other users.

“Surprisingly, we found that potency did not track with intoxication levels,” noted lead author of the study Cinnamon Bidwell, who’s an assistant professor at the Institute of Cognitive Science. “While we saw striking differences in blood levels between the two groups, they were similarly impaired.” In fact, the paper noted that every participant’s self-proclaimed highness and measures of balance and cognitive impairment were the same.


The study also raises concerns about how using cannabis concentrates could put people at a higher risk of long-term side-effects. “It raises a lot of questions about how quickly the body builds up tolerance to cannabis and whether people might be able to achieve desired results at lower doses,” said Bidwell.

These findings fall in line with theories cannabis connoisseurs have been propagating for years: that dabbling with weed goes way beyond THC. With the exception of edibles (which will get you fucked up for longer periods depending on how much weed is involved), other components like cannabidiol or CBD, which is harvested from hemp or marijuana plants that contain less than 0.03 percent THC, also come into play. There are also compounds called terpenes, which affect how cannabis influences your mind and body. All these components of the cannabis plant work together to give you a smooth and seamless high.

Unlike gin or vodka, where alcohol levels define how drunk you’re going to get, how potent your weed is can’t be determined by its THC content. Experts highly recommend that the best way to figure out if you’ve got a good bud is to literally sniff it out. But stopping and smelling the cannabis flowers could potentially be a logistical nightmare, given that medical marijuana dispensaries sell weed in pre-packaged containers. And in countries where weed is still illegal, your dealer probably won’t let you smell the strain before making the money swap.

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