Holiday Cannabis Cooking Conference

Why we should probably use ranges for cannabinoids in flower

Published Apr 8, 2021 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / greenleaf123

Scientific research has shown us that there is so much more to cannabis flower than what meets the eye and that the cannabinoid experience we know so well doesn’t necessarily hinge on a THC or CBD measurement. Still, we’re all guilty of being at least a little bit amazed when we see high numbers like 30% slapped onto some delicious-looking flower.

That amount might not guarantee that the effects will be stronger, but it sure is tempting to take a leap anyway because we’re programmed to look at cannabis like this. We really don’t know how else to assess it, aside from the smell or taste, but those two things can be great in flower that will never make you feel right.

Instead, we stick to our labels, and though there is some brand or strain name loyalty, most consumers will grab what appears to be the more powerful option. Unfortunately, what most don’t realize about this, is that THC content promises on cannabis flower are typically a fallacy. This isn’t to say that they’re outright lies, more like mild exaggerations, but when you’re working within a range of around 30%, a 10% one way or the other can make a huge difference.

This is mainly a flower issue

Cannabis extracts offer a consistency that is relatively easy to test for, as there are very few excess materials in it to water down the mixture or leave it uneven. Cannabis flower, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag of crazy because, despite our greatest efforts, there is no way to guarantee a consistent THC content throughout one single plant, nevermind an entire batch or lot number.

Uneven consistency throughout each plant

Cannabis producers cultivate in a variety of different environments, with outdoor settings leaving even more up to the power of nature, but even in an ideal space like the inside of a fully decked out greenhouse or warehouse, variations are absolutely inevitable. Just to start, each individual plant will contain different amounts of each cannabinoid, with the tips offering the most potent doses, and the lower bits producing the least.

If you look beyond the individual plants and consider an entire crop, there are many factors that could result in one that is more potent than the others. Those with better access to light or nutrients will do the best, while those on the outer edges will have to work a little bit harder to never get quite so far. Cannabis plants can be impacted significantly by something as simple as a chilly breeze, from being too close to a door, and this happens even to the most skilled producers.

We keep looking at cannabis as if it’s something that needs to fit into this perfect little box, but it’s a thing of nature, and nothing natural is absolutely perfect. This isn’t the mixing of building materials or measuring ingredients for your favourite cereal. Even with clones, and the best techniques, it’s just not possible to manufacture cannabis flower in such a precise way, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave us with a range rather than an exact cannabinoid amount.

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Transparency versus sales

These discrepancies become obvious with cannabis testing, which forces many producers to feel like they have to lie. On one end of the scale, plants in a crop could produce up to 28% THC and 4% CBD, and on the other, we might see a less exciting result of closer to 22% THC and a meager 1% CBD. In this case, many producers will go with the higher number, while some fall in the middle and others err on the side of caution by advertising their lowest reading.

This huge variation leaves consumers really confused, but it also gives those who are willing to embellish by slapping a label with the highest cannabis testing results on every package an advantage over those who are trying to be honest about what they have to offer. Those who lie are rewarded with higher numbers of sales, and those who don’t, blend into the background as brands with less than impressive offerings. No matter what they do, someone walks away unhappy, but ranges could change all that.

What if cannabis producers had to openly advertise both the best and worst results from rigorous testing to give consumers a fairer idea of what they’re paying for? Well, the truth is that it would add a layer of transparency to an industry that is already having difficulty establishing a sense of trust from the general public. It might make it harder for companies to use THC or CBD content alone to stand out, and that would be a good thing because these myths have got to go.

In the end

With the way things are right now, cannabis testing isn’t anywhere near as honest as we’d like to believe, and eventually, the people are going to catch on and demand better. Cannabis producers can either get with the times and find a more productive and effective way to sell flower to consumers, or they can continue to push this false sense of superiority, something that in the long run is no good for anyone who's involved with this green market, in particular those who are trying their best to stay both competitive and honest.

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