When it comes to heavy weed smokers, there’s one specific thing a lot of people look for with their flower – high THC content. What is THC? That would be the main psychoactive cannabinoid in the cannabis plant – Tetrahydrocannabinol. Naturally, one would assume that flower with higher levels of THC would lead to a more intense high than compared buds with lower THC content. And while that does seem logical; its not always the case. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and asked the server for the dish with the highest caloric content? Of course not, that’s ridiculous! Yet, people will go to the dispensary and ask for the highest THC flower. Similar to how food is composed of various qualities – flavors, smells, energy content, ingredients, etc. – cannabis, too, is made up of multiple qualities – flavor, taste, moisture content, THC potency, terpene content, and presence of other cannabinoids. What does the flavor, smell, and presence of other cannabinoids have to do with the effect of the high? I’ll tell you; its something called the “Entourage Effect”.
What is the Entourage Effect?
The Entourage Effect. This is what makes the weed’s high become what it is. When multiple cannabinoids are integrated, their medicinal and psychoactive effects may become altered and enhanced. So, yes, THC is the main psychoactive ingredient – but, its effectiveness is potentiated by the presence of terpenes and other cannabinoids. If you were to smoke weed that had all the terpenes and non-THC cannabinoids removed, no matter which strain you chose, the highs would all be exactly the same. The whole Indica vs. Sativa feeling is determined by the terpene content. Yep, you heard that. The terpenes – you know, the compounds that plants produce which have smells and tastes – the same ones from lemons, pine, lavender, oranges – those are what determine if the strain is going to feel like an indica or a sativa. This is why it is so important to follow your nose when you buy your weed! Yes, you can buy this 20%+ strain that smells okay, OR you can try the strain that tests at around 14% and smells STINKY – I guarantee you you’ll be more stoned off the stinky guy. It’s science.
How Many Different Terpenes Are There?
There has been over 120+ terpenes identified from the cannabis sativa plant. Terpenes were likely evolved to protect these otherwise defenseless plants from pests and predators. Over time, plants specialized their production of these aromatic compounds and utilized them to both protect from predators, and also to draw in other creatures as a way to encourage both pollination of the plant and seed dispersal. The terpenes are produced by the trichomes; the same glands which produce the THC. Terpenes are dominantly found in the resins of the cannabis buds and are what help contribute to the sticky, fragrant quality of the flower. These terpenes are the exact same as the ones produced by other plants, too. Have you ever wondered how your Super Lemon Haze legit tastes like lemons? Well, that is because both the lemon tree which grew the lemon, and the cannabis plant, both produced THE EXACT SAME COMPOUND – limonene! It’s crazy to think about, but those aromatic compounds are what determines the effect of your weed! Strains with terpenes like limonene tend to have an energizing sativa high, while strains with about 0.5% of myrcene are usually indicas with sedative effects! Here’s a list of a few terps with their smells + plant equivalents:
Myrcene – Musky, Earth-like /Cloves
Linalool – Lavender /Lavender
Limonene – Citrusy, Lemony /Lemons
Caryophyllene – Spicy, Peppery /Black Pepper
Pinene – Pine /Rosemary
Eucalyptol – Minty /Eucalyptus
Humulene – Spicy, Earthy, Woody /Hops
Valencene – Citrusy, Orangey /Valencia Oranges
How Many Cannabinoids Are There?
Considering the genetic variation of the cannabis plant, and given that there’s 120+ terpenes produced by the plant, you would right in your assumption that there’s a lot of cannabinoids out there too. A study by Aizpurua-Olaizola O, et al. identified 113 unique cannabinoids from seven different plants! Of those 113, only about 8-9 are found in significant quantities. If you’ve heard of at least one other cannabinoid, likely was this one; CBD! Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second-most well known cannabinoid aside from its stoner cousin, THC. It is touted for its medicinal value, and as a result, is legal in many places where THC is not – provided that CBD is extracted from ONLY industrial-grade hemp [At least this is the case in the U.S., where I’m based.]. Many of these cannabinoids are variations of the acid-forms of THC, CBD, and CBG (Cannabigerol). CBG is referred to as the “mother of all cannabinoids” as all cannabinoids derive from CBGA. Here’s a list of the 8 most commonly found cannabinoids in bud:
CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)
Keep in mind that these cannabinoids as they are will not get you high. You see the ‘A’ at the end of those cannabinoids up there? That means that they are all in their acid forms. THCA won’t get you high, but THC will. There’s a specific chemical reaction that must occur for these compounds to be converted into their psychoactive forms – decarboxylation. Decarboxylation? Sounds like something you’d need a lab and a chemistry degree in order to perform, right? Well, yes, or… you can use a lighter. Simply holding a lighter to the flower is enough to ignite it and decarboxylate the solid THCA resin into a gaseous THC smoke. Did you know you were smoking *chemistry*??
Got Stoned; Forgot? (GS;F)
Thanks for reaching the end of this article! Here’s the stoner equivalent of a tl;dr – the gs;f.
THC content is not the only thing that determines your high
Entourage effect is the combined effect of multiple cannabinoids + terpenes
Smell is a very good indicator of a good high (most scent = more terpenes)
Terpenes are what determines indica or sativa effects
Cannabinoids are found in their acid forms in the plant
Decarboxylation is science talk for igniting bud
Decarboxylation is what converts the acid-type cannabinoids to their proper, metabolizable form
THC = psychoactive
THC + Terps + Cannabinoids = more psychoactive
When you’re buying weed, simply follow your nose
If you ask for only the highest content flower at the dispensary – you will be made fun of afterwards by the staff