Of the more than 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the one principally responsible for the psychoactive and intoxicating effects of cannabis consumption.
Live cannabis plants contain tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), the non-active version of this compound. When cannabis is decarboxylated through heating to a high temperature, drying, or curing, the acid molecule (the “A” in THCA) drops off, and the THC is activated. This results in the effects we associate with consuming THC. It also means that cannabis in its fresh form is not yet active with THC.
How does THC work?
One of the first things researchers realized in their quest to understand how cannabis affects the body is that cannabis contains several active chemical compounds—over a hundred.
As they studied cannabinoids, it became clear that these active compounds were interacting with receptors in the body. These receptors belong to the body’s complex nervous system, which uses neurotransmission to send and receive messages between the brain and the rest of the body. By interacting with these receptors, the cannabinoids were changing the brain’s normal communication.
This left the researchers with an important question: What allows these cannabinoids to interact with these specific receptors?
That’s when they realized the body makes its own version of cannabinoids. Beginning in 1992, researchers discovered that certain cannabinoids in cannabis resemble the molecular structure of the body’s own cannabinoids, according to a 2018 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Researchers named these endocannabinoids (since the prefix endo- means “within”).
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters, meaning they help send nerve impulses to the brain to trigger different effects on the body. Because cannabinoids (from cannabis) look and act like endocannabinoids (from the body), the brain recognizes them and allows cannabis to affect behavior, mood, coordination, and more.
Speaking of mood, check out our list of top strains that compliment a focused mindset here!
Potency refers to the amount of THC in a cannabis product. THC content is stated in milligrams per gram (mg/g) or as a percentage of milligrams per gram of cannabis. For example, if a product is labeled 15% THC and 150 mg/g, it has 150 milligrams of THC per gram of cannabis.
It is impossible to have dried flower cannabis with 100% THC, but cannabis extracts (which have been distilled) can have up to 90% THC. As a natural product, the THC content in a dried flower cannabis product may vary from product to product and between lots of the same strain.
If you’re buying from a licensed dispensary you get to see precise 3rd party laboratory certified THC percentages, which is a huge pro over your local hookup with the 1lb baggie.
If you are uncertain of the THC quantity in your bud there are test kits you can get delivered to your door that allow you to get more details not only on THC % but also other terpene profiles, with more detailed systems costing more money.
Does the amount of THC determine how high you’ll get?
Not necessarily. Other factors can affect the type of high and the intensity you feel. The presence of cannabinoids other than THC can have a large effect on the type of high that you experience. The entourage effect is the name given to the synergy of several cannabinoids acting together to amplify the effects/pleasure of the high. Often this will mean the cannabinoid profile may show small amounts of CBD, CBG, THCV, CBC, CBN, and others.
In addition to the entourage effect from other cannabinoids, it is thought that the terpene profile also plays a large role in modulating (or ‘steering’) the type of high we experience. That’s why cannabis connoisseurs place such a large emphasis on the harvesting, drying, and curing of their cannabis.
Cannabis concentrates come in a range of product types, forms, and consistencies. These products may vary in purity or chemical composition (i.e., THC, CBD, terpenes), which generally comes down to how the concentrate is extracted and refined as well as the source material from which the final extract is derived.
Many different extraction techniques can result in concentrates displaying a range of potencies, textures, and consistencies. These various forms are often named according to how they were made or their appearance—for example, butane hash oil (BHO) refers to extracts created using the solvent butane, and shatter describes a concentrate that appears glasslike in texture.
Full-spectrum Extracts vs. Isolates
A cannabis concentrate can either be full-spectrum, containing a vast array of different compounds, or an isolate, which is a precise formulation of a single ingredient.
Both have unique merits, but they provide wildly different experiences.
Extracts labeled as “full-spectrum” provide a mix of cannabis’ natural chemical compounds. These extracts often provide complex combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes in the natural ratio that the plant produces them. This results in robust flavors and nuanced effects.
Isolates are pure cannabinoids like THCA and CBD in crystalline or powdered form. These solid, stable cannabinoids are isolated, with all other chemical compounds removed.
Instead of providing the full chemical profile that full-spectrum concentrates express, isolates consolidate specific compounds and offer consumers the highest potency and purity of an individual cannabinoid.
Isolate products make dosing more precise, offer a pure base ingredient to use in other cannabis products, and allow consumers to customize which compounds they consume.
Diamonds are faceted, crystalline formations of isolated THCA. When THCA is isolated, the molecules collect and stack together, forming crystals.
Most products labeled as diamonds, rocks, stones, and gems refer to isolated THCA that has been formed within a raw extract, meaning no additional solvents are added to encourage crystallization.
Instead, the terpene fraction, the portion of the extract that is rich with terpene oils, acts as a naturally occurring solvent. Over time, the solid cannabinoid molecules separate from the liquid terpenes and leave behind rigid cannabinoid structures that look similar to quartz.
Occasionally you’ll see diamond-like products labeled with acronyms like HCFSE, short for high-cannabinoid full-spectrum extract. This means the product is nearly an isolated cannabinoid, but still retains a portion of the original terpene profile.
Sauce, sometimes called “terp sauce” or “the terpene fraction,” refers to a runny, terpene-rich concentrate. As cannabinoids and terpenes separate from one another, extractors are left with solid cannabinoid compounds and a watery mixture of the aromatic terpenes.
Sometimes sauce products are labeled with the acronym HTFSE, short for high-terpene full-spectrum extract. That means it’s a terpene-rich concentrate that still maintains a well-rounded cannabinoid profile. Sauce comes in varying consistencies, some thicker, more, dare we say, “buddery“, while others are less viscous.. all depends on the amount of plant, extraction method and level of post-extraction refinement.
Future of THC
The pursuit of ever more pure forms of THC have entranced man since the first discovery of the shwaggiest of shwags in some ditch somewhere, when some lucky Neanderthal puffed the magic dragon and opened Pandoras box. From record setting whole flower strains to new and ever evolving ever-isolated forms of THCA, the clearest diamonds known to man… once only rumor.. ahem.. ah, where were we?
The more popular cannabis gets the more extreme ganjanauts will get in their ever-persisting pursuit of the dankest of the dank, the sauciest of the sauce, and collectively, the highest of highs.