Any question of what constitutes good cannabis can be answered by looking at the potency, taste, and smell of a strain. But for new consumers, the emphasis is often placed exclusively on cannabinoids, the active ingredients that deliver the plant's therapeutic effects. Things like terpenes – the aromatic compounds that give varieties distinctive tastes and smells – can be hard to identify with.
The trouble with making a strain selection based only on THC and CBD content is that it doesn't account for some of the vital elements of the flower. Cannabinoids only tell half the story. There is even research to suggest that terpenes and cannabinoids work synergistically to modify the effects they produce. Oftentimes, the best cannabis is found in mid-THC strains that have rich, flavorful terpene profiles.
At Tweed, we came across this phenomenon recently when we grew out two phenotypes of UK Cheese.
The first averaged about 10 percent THC and had an impressive profile. The other, which tipped the scales well over 20 percent, looked like a Bonsai tree and smelled like a mix of blue cheese and old weed. We kept both varieties so that our clients could experience the variances between the two.
Other examples of mid-range strains that have impressive terpene profiles include Bubba Kush, Original Strawberry Cough and Super Lemon Haze, which averages about 14 percent but looks like Christmas morning and smells like sweet lemons and wild fruit. It has won an impressive 10 High Times Cannabis Cups.
For DNA Genetics, the world's leading breeders, LA Confidential is the prime strain to showcase the above fact. LA Confidential has never tested higher than 14 percent, they say, but has the ability to sedate consumers more than a kush hybrid at over 20 percent.
Use more discretion than a young drinker when picking strains
Don, a co-founder of DNA, draws a parallel between alcohol and cannabis to illustrate the absurdity of buying only strains with a stratospheric cannabinoid percentage. He likens uninformed decisions by new marijuana users to immature plays by young drinkers. Both classes, he says, base their choice on price and percentage, rather than taste and quality. The difference, he believes, is like comparing Old English to Stella Artois. Both will get you to your destination, but only one will be worth the journey.
"You can go for the strongest, cheapest, stuff or you can enjoy a nice bottle of wine and pick up on all the subtleties," he says. "There's a big difference between doing something to get messed up and doing it because you're enjoying it. That balance is what's going to cause people to become connoisseurs and start choosing strains for flavor, for smell and for taste, like they do with alcohol now."
In addition to a tendency for people to consciously make poor decisions regarding the purchase of their cannabis, Don and Aaron also see a lack of education as a major hurdle to making informed choices.
DNA say that while new marijuana users are trying to figure out the specifics of what to look for, they are too often starting with the strongest strains available. This approach, say they, is backwards.
"Models are based around THC percentages, but what people don't realize is that it's not about THC," says Aaron, with Don adding: "People have it mixed up. They confuse high THC with really strong effects. That is the case a lot of the times, but other times it's not. The terpenes themselves end up being more interesting than any THC percentage."
Despite a gradual increase in THC percentages over the decades, consumers are still concerned with tracking down the strongest marijuana on the market. At Tweed, some of our most popular strains are high in CBD and THC. In fact, many customers seem to base their purchases exclusively on cannabinoids, rather than the equally important terpene profile of the plant. To emphasize the significance of this latter characteristic, every one of our strains is fitted with a Terpography profile in our online shop.
For us at Tweed, the conversation is always one of education and empowerment. The more we can inform consumers about the limitations of basing choices solely off cannabinoid content, the better it will be for the cannabis community at large. For now, THC and CBD content only tells half the story.
Good cannabis is based as much on scientific quantifiers like percentages, as it is on qualifiers like smell and taste.
Remi L. Roy is the Digital Content Writer for Tweed Inc.