These days, many cannabis consumers and thus the industry as a whole are consumed by the quest to reach ever-higher levels of THC. As data rolls in showing a consumer preference for high THC products, the subject often dominates the cannabis conversation. Industry news headlines report fierce debates between legislators hoping to cap THC potency and operators who reserve the right to shoot for the moon. THC juicing is ubiquitous in dispensaries around the country; some producers and labs are in danger of having their licenses taken away for claiming inaccurately high THC levels. But in spite of all the buzz, these headlines are missing the point: high-quality cannabis is about way more than just high THC.
The prevailing more-THC-equals-better mentality often results from a lack of consumer education. Knowing that THC is the cannabinoid responsible for getting them high, a less sophisticated consumer overwhelmed by options at the dispensary might think of THC levels as an indicator of how much bang they’ll be getting for their buck. As Chris Roberts notes in his Forbes article, “THC shopping is almost as bad and dumb as buying wine based on how cool the label looks.” Taking such a superficial approach to cannabis comes with serious opportunity costs. The range of sensations available through whole-flower cannabis consumption is so vast that overemphasizing the role of THC is short-sighted.
If you think of a cannabis plant like a piano keyboard, THC is only one of the many notes you can play. Just as you might enjoy different types of music depending on your mood, there is no reason to eternally limit yourself to a one-note cannabis experience. The full-throttle high of THC-heavy cannabis might get the most airplay, but that doesn’t make it better. To many connoisseurs, a great high is about nuance and dimension, something which is generally achieved through organic growing practices, cultivation expertise, and the natural light so frequently devalued by THC chasers.
Consider a well-crafted cocktail. What sets a good mixed-drink apart is the presence of balancing elements—like bitters, fresh-squeezed citrus, and floral essences—that work with the alcohol to elevate your buzz to the level of euphoria. Similarly, the terpenes found alongside cannabinoids in the cannabis plant create an entourage effect that can completely transform your experience. For instance, linalool is a terpene that is also found in lavender, which explains why smoking some joints can feel as dreamy as soaking in a lavender-scented bubble bath. Mercene is a terpene shared with the hops found in your favorite pale ale, and it has been found to help with pain relief. Likewise, limonene, a terpene produced by both cannabis resin glands and the rinds of citrus fruit, has been found to help alleviate anxiety. When the THC levels are so high that they completely overpower the accompanying terpenes and subtler cannabinoids, the effect for consumers might be an increased sense of anxiety that these other elements might have otherwise tempered.
This brings us to another major drawback of overemphasizing THC—alienating potential cannabis users who are afraid of getting too high. One hit of the high-octane weed sought out by extreme smokers might be enough to put a newbie off cannabis for life. Exploring the wide world of cannabis is a lot less fraught when lighting up a joint doesn’t immediately take you into the stratosphere. High intensity smoking may not be for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you should throw out the baby with the bathwater. A more delicate, lower-THC strain leaves novices and veteran smokers alike feeling delightfully stoned without a hint of panic or paranoia.
Each engagement with plant medicine represents an opportunity to delve into multiple points of connection to self and others, and it’s important that consumers feel empowered to choose the experience that’s right for them. Cannabis plants have as much personality and variety as people do—one of the many reasons the two species are a match made in heaven. As Michael Pollan explains in The Botany of Desire, cannabis has co-evolved with humans to offer new windows into consciousness in exchange for increased cultivation. “By disabling our moment-by-moment memory,” he writes, “the cannabinoids open a space for something nearer to direct experience.” The sophisticated interplay between terpenes and cannabinoids takes on a whole new dimension when it encounters the endocannabinoid system uniquely calibrated within each person.
As a result, finding your reefer soulmate is a more involved process than simply picking up the highest level of THC you can find, which studies are finding may be subject to the law of diminishing returns. As in all things, seeking depth and balance in cannabis yields rich rewards, which Rebel Spirit just proved at the 2021 Oregon Growers Cup. They brought home the cup itself for Best Pre-Roll, which was made using Gooble Gobble, a Rebel Spirit proprietary strain that came in at 20% THC. Rebel Spirit stands by its tagline: Live Free * Fly High. In this case, be sure to look for more than THC when choosing your experience.
By Holly Devon, Staff Writer