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‘Weed is getting stronger every two weeks.’ These are the famous words by American comedian Katt Williams in one of his shows. ‘They are not sending out memos or bulletins,’ he continues. He is not wrong – cannabis breeders have rolled up their sleeves and are heavily invested in creating potent strains to meet the increasing need of weed enthusiasts who want to experience a new level of high. 

When purchasing cannabis from dispensaries, you will notice that they are ranked in order of potency – from the lowest to highest THC. Two decades ago, this range was between 0 and 9%, which is only a fraction of the highest THC strains of 2022. Now, cannabis consumers are spoiled for choice of cannabis strains with THC levels up to 34%. With such potency, what is considered high THC? Does THC percentage matter? Is there a limit to THC levels? This piece explores the answers to these questions.

Does THC percentage matter?

First, what exactly is THC? Tetrahydrocannabinol is a major cannabinoid that interacts with human endocannabinoid receptors. By doing so, this compound produces psychoactive effects that alter a consumer’s perception, coordination, thought process, and pleasure response. Does this mean that the higher the THC content, the more potent the effects? Or are there other factors that influence the intensity and duration of the high?

According to a 2021 study, the THC level determines the effects’ intensity, but it is not the only factor. To assess its effects, the 300 participants were given different forms of cannabis products – edibles, concentrates, and flowers with varying potencies. According to the results, the potency of the administered product was not the sole determinant of intoxication levels. While concentrates have the highest THC levels, they did not seem to have stronger effects on some participants. 

The study proves that there is more to how consumers experience a high caused by weed than just THC levels. It is believed that the following factors play a crucial role in how intoxicating a THC product is to a consumer;

Phytochemical composition: cannabis plants contain hundreds of compounds that work in synergy to provide the consumer with heightened effects. The phytochemicals are present in varying amounts, and each plays a different role. For example, CBD, CBT, THCV (in small quantities), and Pinene terpene are known to counter THC’s side effects, such as paranoia, anxiety, and confusion, as well as toning down the intensity of the high. Additionally, strains with considerable high psychoactive cannabinoids Delta 8 and Delta 10 will have a more intense high compared to those that don’t. 

Previous experience: regular weed consumers tend to develop a THC tolerance over time. This means that over time, a consumer will need a higher dose of THC to attain effects that they previously would have experienced with a lower dose. For such individuals, 20% THC may seem low, but to a novice consumer, that’s enough to knock them out. 

Cannabis product form: smoking, vaping, and dabbing provides a milder high compared to consuming edibles with the same potency. This is because our bodies metabolize THC differently, depending on the consumption method. Edibles have a prolonged onset but provide long-lasting and intense effects, while other consumption methods have a near-instant onset, and the effects are shorter. 

The amount ingested: dosage is a crucial factor in the intensity level of a high. Lower, controlled doses will provide a stimulating/relaxing high without adverse effects. Higher doses provide an intense high, which may result in increased heart rate, hallucinations, paranoia, and heightened anxiety.

Set and setting: when taking any mind-altering substance, having the right mind frame and being in a familiar, friendly environment are paramount. How you feel and your surroundings shape the experience, which may lead to a pleasant, smooth high or an unpleasant, overwhelming high. This explains why you can take a strain twice and have two totally different experiences. 

How much THC will get you high?

The amount of THC it takes to get a consumer high is dependent on the individual’s tolerance level. For novice consumers, cannabis flowers with less than 15% THC are recommended. Take a puff at a time as you evaluate the effects so as to avoid overdosing. New consumers are advised to take the lowest dose – 2.5mg for edibles. 

Edibles have the most prolonged onset of 30 to 90 minutes, so avoid taking more until after 2 hours. It is impossible to pin down an exact dose of THC that can get consumers high. Due to factors like past experience, age, metabolic rate, and consumption method, the ideal potency is individual-based. 

Couple laying down smoking a spliff together
How much THC gets you high is determined upon tolerance levels and how it is consumed

Is weed getting stronger?

Yes. Breeders are crossing strains with favorable characteristics, such as THC production and dense buds, to create the ultimate THC master. This is in response to the growing demand for high THC strains. Breeding technology has come a long in the last 30 – 40 years. Even in just the past 22 years we have come from an average of 5% in 2000 to 15+% in 2022. Today, we even have strains that surpass the 30% mark, which may have seemed impossible only a few years ago. 

Below is a line chart indicating the highest recorded THC levels from the High Times Cannabis Cup throughout the years

2011: Ghost Train Haze at 25.49%

2013: Bruce Banner at 28.35%

2016: Chemdog at 32.13%

2017: Godfather OG at 34%

Graph showing the increase in THC levels from 2011 to 2017

As you can see, the percentages keep going up. Every year or so, a more potent strain pops up, which raises some questions: is there a limit to THC levels? How much THC can a cannabis plant produce? (Read on to find the answers to these questions).

What is the highest THC strain?

The most potent strain in the world is Godfather OG. This is according to lab reports conducted by experts from the High Times Cannabis Cup. Of course, you will find strains that breeders claim have higher THC content (some reaching 50%), but the lab tested and proven highest THC strain is currently Godfather OG. Other strains that come close include Chemdog, Bruce Banner and Gorilla Glue 4.

THC levels explained

How are THC, CBD, and other phytochemicals’ levels measured/determined? Scientists in modern laboratories utilize High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) or Gas Chromatography techniques to determine cannabinoid and terpene content in cannabis products. Initially, the focus was on CBD and THC, the two most well known cannabinoids. 

However, as researchers continue to uncover the multiple compounds in cannabis and their benefits, consumers grow curious and want to try them out. Consequently, lab reports are more comprehensive and cover minor and trace cannabinoids, such as THCV, CBN, CBA, CBT, CBA, and THCA. 

What determines THC potency in cannabis plants?

Besides choosing the right genetics, various other factors come into play when determining cannabis potency. When cannabis plants are grown under optimum conditions, using the correct nutrients at the right time, are free from diseases and pests, the plants are most likely to yield potent buds – sometimes surpassing the standard levels. 

On the other hand, when the plants are subjected to any forms of stress such as disease, under or over watering, nutrient burn and fluctuating environmental conditions, the potency goes downhill. This is despite selecting high THC strains. 

Is there a limit to THC levels?

This question was raised earlier on, so what do you think? Is there a limit to THC levels? THC, CBD, and other cannabis compounds are produced by tiny appendages known as trichomes (image below). These outgrowths are located on the surface of the entire plant but are abundant on the leaves, buds, and stems. Throughout their life cycle, trichomes produce phytochemicals and store them in the clear subcuticular cavity of the trichomes, which can be found above the secretory disk cells. 

Close up of trichomes on a cannabis flower
Close up of trichomes on a cannabis flower

THC, CBD, and CBC come from the acidic precursor of CBG known as CBGA. CBGA is also referred to as the mother of cannabinoids because it is through it that many cannabinoids come to be. CBGA is found in large amounts when the plants are young, but it eventually turns to the acidic precursors CBDA, THCA, and CBCA as the plant matures. When these acidic forms are exposed to heat, they turn to CBD, THC, and CBC through decarboxylation. 

The information above suggests that a plant’s CBGA levels are the sole determinant of the resulting THC and CBD ratios. Unless scientists find a way to increase CBGA levels in cannabis plants and, consequently, THC levels, it is safe to assume that we are fast approaching the limits of potency if we aren’t already there. 

THC percentage chart

As mentioned before, THC potency is relative from one consumer to the next. At Marijuana Seed City, we enjoy simplifying everything for our clients. We have designed a THC percentage chart that you can use to gauge your experience level. It also includes a list of strains that match the respective potency level.

THC percentagePotency levelStrains and user recommendation
0 to 5% THCVery low potencySuch strains contain high CBD levels and are used therapeutically for patients who want to harness THC’s therapeutic benefits without getting overly high. 
5 to 10% THCLow potency These are also great medical strains that can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. They are also an excellent choice for individuals testing THC levels (beginner consumer). Examples include Harlequin and Cannatonic 
10 to 15% THCLow medium potencyThis potency level is ideal for occasional consumers – it is not overwhelming but promises a sufficiently potent experience. Examples include Landrace and old-school strains like Afghan, Hash Plant, and Mazar. Autoflower strains like Blue Dream auto, Cheese auto, Skunk auto, and Tangerine Dream auto. 
15 to 20% THCMedium potencyThis is for intermediate consumers who have gotten the gist of cannabis consumption but are yet to go big. Strains in this classification include Big Bud, Bubblegum, Thai Stick.  
20 to 25% THCHigh potencyTo most cannabis consumers, THC levels above 20% are considered high. Such potency guarantees to knock new and intermediate consumers while still providing a stimulating, potent high to experienced ones. Such strains include Cherry Kush, Durban Poison, Girl Scout Cookies, Ice Cream Cake, Runtz, and Zkittlez.
25 to 30% THCVery high potencyAnything above 25% THC is considered very high and suitable for regular consumers. Such potency can knock someone out or lead to side effects when taken in high doses. Moderation is recommended. Cannabis enthusiasts highly seek strains with such soaring THC levels. Examples include Do-si-dos, Purple Punch, Alien OG, and Gelato fast version.
30+% THC Super high potencySuch buds are considered the crème de la crème. Only a few strains make it to such levels. These include Bruce Banner, and  Gorilla Glue 4.
THC percentage chart showing the levels of cannabis potency

How to increase THC levels in cannabis?

Earlier, we mentioned that genetics is not the only factor that matters when it comes to THC levels. Environmental conditions and the overall health of the plant are significant factors. As a grower, you can exceed the standard potency of the selected strain by providing the plants with ideal growing conditions.

Before embarking on the cultivation journey, ensure you conduct proper and thorough research on the particular strain. What is its ideal growth environment? Indoors or outdoors? Soil, soilless, or hydroponics? Which training technique produces the best yields? Does it require additional nutrients at any of its growth stages? How long does it flower for, and when is the best time to harvest? Knowing these details beforehand makes the entire process straightforward and seamless. Below are some pointers you can utilize;

  1. First and foremost as we have mentioned, genetics are important. Make sure you start by growing a high THC strain.
  2. Set daytime temperatures at 20–30°C and night-time temperatures at 25°C.
  3. Humidity levels should remain above 60% and below 70% during the seedling stage, 50% to 60% during the vegetative phase, and between 30% and 40% during the flowering stage. 
  4. Invest in an effective ventilation system to keep the air in the grow room fresh and cool.
  5. Use LED lights as they provide full spectrum light and have lower heat emissions, making them perfect for heat-sensitive plants.
  6. Use the proper nutrients at the recommended stages and avoid over or under watering the plants.
  7. Regularly inspect your plants for pests, mold, bud rot, powdery mildew, spider mites, and other pathogens.
  8. As the plant nears maturity, keep an eye on trichome color so you can harvest when the plants are at peak potency.

When to harvest for the highest THC percentage

THC is not just determined by the growing conditions, getting the harvest time right also plays a big part in growing potent bud. Cannabis plants have a 2-3 week window when their buds are at their highest THC level, this is when you need to harvest for optimum potency.

Trichomes are the primary indicators of the maturity and potency of cannabis plants. Cultivators monitor trichome color to ascertain when the plants are at peak potency. When trichomes are clear, it indicates immature and non-potent plants. This happens when the trichomes are developing and are yet to start producing THC and other compounds. 

As the plants mature, the trichomes turn milky white, indicating peak potency. This is the right time to harvest for growers looking for a cerebral-centered high. However, most growers prefer to harvest when the trichomes are 70% white and 30% amber, as the buds produce more of a balanced high. 

The trichomes turn amber as the plant attains maturity. At this point, the trichomes no longer produce phytochemicals and are starting to degrade, hence the amber color. THC starts to degrade to CBN, a cannabinoid known for its relaxing effects. Harvesting during this point, the buds produce a more of a physical high.

References:

Steeger, C. Hitchcock, L. (2021) Associations between self-reported cannabis use frequency, potency, and cannabis/health metrics. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352062295_Associations_between_self-reported_cannabis_use_frequency_potency_and_cannabishealth_metrics 

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