Cannabis legalization is a beautiful thing. While it does indeed mean not-so-fun stuff like taxes, tricky implementation, and byproducts like sometimes excessive packaging, it also means that we can buy cannabis that has been tested for its content and safety. No more heading to an (often dubious) location to get herb with not so much information as “indica or sativa” – now things have become clearer. We have access to higher-quality cannabis, and there’s even tests to prove its worth. Testing varies from market to market, but there are some insights that will greatly help in reading cannabis labels anywhere.
THC, CBD, and Other Cannabinoid Content
The largest informational text on your cannabis label is likely to be the cannabinoid content. You probably know what THC and CBD are, but do you know about the other cannabinoids? There are several more that are likely to appear on your results, especially with flower, and there are thought to be hundreds we don’t even know about yet.
The most significant thing to know about in this regard is THCa, which is the precursor to THC. Perhaps the most beloved of cannabinoids, THC is known as “the one that gets you high.” But before THC is a thing, it’s just a sparkle in THCa’s eye. THCa is the acidic form of THC, and is what’s in raw plants. (So the next time someone in a movie gets zoinked from eating raw flower, feel free to roll your eyes.)
THCa is converted to THC through the process of decarboxylation, or being heated. This is most commonly done via lighter, but vaporizers are becoming very popular as well. A lighter will indeed decarboxylate cannabis, but at around 1,000 degrees – it will also combust it. This means smoke and its health effects, but it also changes the cannabinoid and terpene content.
THCa will start to convert into THC at about 180 degrees; but if it gets too hot, it will turn into another cannabinoid, CBN, known as “the sleepy one.” This means that how much THC the product in question contains will vary, depending on how you take it.
So when it comes to looking for THC content on your label, it’s not as simple as adding THC + THCa = Total THC Content, but it will give you information about its potential. And be sure not to disregard information about the other cannabinoids! Cannabinoids work seeming magic with our bodies’ endocannabinoid systems, and attention must be paid.
A Few Quick Tips for Beginners
If your aim is to have the experience of “being stoned,” it’s tempting to grab something with the most total THC on the label, assuming it’s the best bang for your buck – and it might be – but it’s wise to take it accordingly. Far too many people try cannabis for the first time, or after a prolonged absence, and have too much THC. Then they end up having a bad experience and assume cannabis just isn’t for them.
So if you’re a beginner, be mindful to take less bud if it’s high in THC, much like you’d treat a couple of fingers of whiskey differently than a light beer. Also, edibles are not a great choice for beginners. They can take hours to kick in, leading one to ingest more in the meantime and resulting in an unpleasant experience. If you don’t want to deal with smoke or vape, THC rich tinctures are a faster-acting choice when carefully absorbed under the tongue rather than swallowed.
Testing for Safety
Each state has different standards for what needs to be tested in order to assure safety for the consumer. For a product to be in compliance, which is required to sell it legally, things like mold, residual solvents, pesticides, and other contaminants are tested. Cannabis labels may list these different categories and “pass” or “fail,” but it also might just state “pass” or “fail.” (Failed products should not reach the consumer.) Other text on the label might include the date it was made, a batch number to determine the other products it was made with, and a “best by” date.
Cannabis Labels: Keep Looking Out for Changes
Cannabis labeling is an evolving topic, with compliance standards often in flux. As the industry progresses, it will be interesting to see how this continues to change. Hopes for full cannabinoid, flavonoid, and terpene profiles abound. Perhaps in a few years, cannabis labels will not only provide basic information and safety assurance but also fill us in on its nuances, like wine labels.
And, of course, if you have questions about this or any other cannabis topic – feel free to stop by your Have a Heart and ask one of our friendly budtenders.