Understanding THC Levels in Cannabis


More and more people than ever before are getting into recreational smoking – that’s a great thing! Smoking cannabis is a relaxing way to unwind after work or bond with your friends and coworkers.



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But whether you’re getting into weed for the first time, or you’ve already been smoking for a while and just want to know more about this industry, you’ll need to know how THC affects a smoking session. Specifically, it’s a good idea to know how much THC is in a weed strain, as well as how different THC levels can affect your body.

There’s a good reason why licensed cannabis companies provide THC concentration information on the packaging or in instructional booklets. It’s because THC content directly affects how cannabis affects you.

But it’s tough to know how much THC is “average” when there are dozens of different strains out there to try, plus a lot of street-level misinformation going around. We put together this guide to settle the topic once and for all. By the end, you’ll know exactly what THC is, how it affects your body and how much THC is in most weed products.

Let’s dive in!  

RELATED: What’s the Perfect CBD to THC Ratio For Therapeutic Effects?

THC – what is it and how does it affect you? 

THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and it stands for tetrahydrocannabinol. In even simpler terms, THC is the part of weed that gives you the relaxing effects we enjoy. But how exactly does THC affect you?

It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists isolated THC and figured out that it was the “magic” ingredient that gave weed its properties. THC’s effects were discovered in the 1980s when scientists found special sites in the brain called CB receptors. These are exact places where cannabinoids like MJ produce certain hormonal or chemical effects. 

When your brain is affected by THC, the cannabinoid exerts its influence by changing how different cells communicate. In some ways, THC acts as a kind of slow-down switch, making your cells communicate a little less quickly and causing you to relax. THC also has effects throughout the body – for example, it’s thought to change how the brain responds to pain signals, helping with pain relief.

When you smoke cannabis, THC can enter your brain rapidly and almost instantaneously attach to cannabinoid receptors. Of course, your brain will eventually rebalance and THC will leave your body after it has been fully absorbed. 

We all now know that THC also produces a number of other effects. After all, people don’t just smoke to feel relaxed! Weed’s THC content can also cause effects like:

  • Intense, whole body pain relief
  • Lowered nausea or stomach discomfort
  • The munchies – can’t forget these!
  • A faster heartbeat
  • Decreased anxiety in many folks (although a few people actually experience increased anxiety – the exact reasons aren’t understood)
  • Dopamine release – dopamine is the primary “feel good” hormone in the brain, so it’s no surprise lots of people feel good when they smoke a joint
  • Lower tumor risk – again, the exact connection between cannabis and a lower risk of cancer isn’t understood, but it’s definitely noticeable

Naturally, just how much THC is in a given flower or joint will affect how potent these effects are. In addition, it’s important to understand THC concentration levels so you know how much THC your body is absorbing. It’s the best way to smoke safely and to avoid building up a tolerance too quickly.

What affects THC concentration? 

The THC content of a cannabis plant can be affected by a lot of different things. The combination of different factors, like growth cycles for genetic code, is what gives us different strains of MJ. In most cases, cannabis has THC potency levels of between 0.3 and 4%. However, more and more strains are being developed with higher THC content.

People often develop high-THC strains since they produce more intense effects, which boosts selling price.

Plant genetics

The first major factor that affects THC content in weed is genetics. As a cannabis plant develops, it synthesizes both CBDA and THCA. These are the precursor chemicals that come from a primary cannabinoid called CBGA. It’s all a bit technical, but the bottom line is this: some cannabis plants have only one gene while others will have both CBD and THC.

Things or extra confusing because both chemicals are created because of the same enzyme, and that enzyme is encoded by the same gene. If a cannabis plant gets two copies of a gene (one from another planet and one from a father plant), it’ll either get:

  • Two of the CBD genes
  • Two of the THC genes
  • One gene for both THC and CBD

Which combination the plant ends up with is what determines how much CBD or THC is in the resulting organism. 

When a plant has two CBD genes, for instance, it’ll have mostly CBD with very minimal (if any) THC content. The reverse is true if a plant has two THC genes, and there will be a combination of it having a gene for both cannabinoid compounds.

Good job, you’ve made it past the technical science part of this guide!

Interestingly, the fact that genes are the source of THC and CBD also means that there are limits to THC potency. Even the most genetically engineered cannabis plant can only hold so much THC before it has no more room.

In fact, THC concentration is limited to around 35% by dry weight. That’s why most high potency cannabis strains have THC concentrations between 25 and 30%. CBD is even lower – you can only find high CBD strains of between 20 and 25% concentration.

Growth conditions

The growth conditions of the plant, like the climate or the soil content, can also play a big role in THC levels for the resulting cannabis. This is a big part of why there are so many MJ strains these days – people are growing their own plants in a wide variety of climate and elevation settings and mixing new soils to see what happens.

Even the time of day in which the plant is harvested can affect its final flavor, THC content, and more. Therefore, cannabis enthusiasts often try out lots of different strains so they can find their favorite.

Harvesting and processing methods

The harvesting and processing methods used by a cannabis company will determine its THC content as well. For example, Emjay produces its cannabis for delivery by using organic processes and advanced farming science. As a result, its MJ products are top-tier and always induce excellent effects.

Some cheaper, more commercialized organizations may use subpar extraction processes. This can ruin the resulting weed and lead to lower THC content, as well as change things like the flavor profile, high duration, and more.

Sex

Lastly, the sex of the plant can affect its THC levels. For whatever reason, female cannabis plants have higher THC levels in general compared to their male counterparts. It may be due to minor biological differences between the plants.

RELATED: The Extraordinary Global Growth of High-THC and Medical Cannabis

Common THC levels in weed

Learning what makes THC more concentrated in weed is fun and interesting, but you’re probably wondering what THC levels most modern weed varieties have.

Of course, THC concentration will vary from place to place and plant to plant. However, you can use this basic chart to determine whether a given weed strain has a “low” amount of THC, a “high” amount of THC, or something in between.

  • Low: 0 to 5%
  • Medium: 5 to 10%
  • High: 10 to 15%
  • Very High: 15 to 20%
  • Extremely High: > 20%

The vast majority of weed companies produce cannabis strains around the low to medium range. That’s because most people smoke cannabis recreationally or like alcohol, where they’ll smoke with their friends or coworkers to get some mild effects and to enjoy some social lubrication.

Most people don’t smoke weed for extremely high THC effects. However, you can find high concentration THC products aside from typical weed flowers for smoking, such as cannabis concentrate (dab) and other products.

How much THC is in your weed? You’ll have to look at the product packaging, as it’s illegal for a company to sell you a weed product without telling you its THC content. That way you can avoid accidentally absorbing too much THC and can anticipate the kind of experience you’ll get once you start smoking.

What counts as a “lot” of THC in weed?

Ask any commercial grower or recreational smoker how much THC is “a lot” and you’ll probably get some varying answers. But in our opinion, anything above 20% is a lot of THC and should only be smoked carefully.

We don’t recommend high THC concentration weed products for beginners, as it’s impossible to know whether that much THC will agree with your system. Remember, even though most people enjoy smoking cannabis or absorbing THC in other ways, it occasionally causes negative reactions (like causing anxiety instead of alleviating anxiety).

Because of this, we’d recommend starting off with a low THC concentration weed strain at first if you’re a beginner to cannabis. Then you can slowly work your way up to higher concentration stuff after you know you enjoy the experience. 

Here’s another important note: if you try to purchase a weed product with a lot of THC, always look for lab or testing data. That data can tell you how they created the product and will lower the likelihood that you’re being scammed. Some subpar weed companies try to trick new smokers into purchasing “high” THC weed when it’s really low concentration instead. 

What’s the highest THC possible in weed?

There are tons of high THC weed strains out there, and it’s not certain what strain can really take the championship title of “highest THC content”. However, there are plenty of strains that are known for their relatively high THC content. These include:

  • Bruce Banner, which has 25% THC
  • The White, which has 23% THC
  • Gorilla Glue, which has 23% THC
  • Lemon Kush, which has 22% THC
  • And more

Is weed today more potent than earlier weed strains? 

Yes, but not as much as you may have been led to believe. In fact, rumors say that weed potency levels have risen from anywhere between 10% and 25% since the 1960s.

In reality, although cannabis produced today is more potent than the cannabis of bygone decades, it has only risen by about 3.5% on average. So while modern cannabis might give you a slightly stronger experience, you wouldn’t be completely thrown for a loop if you were to time travel to the 1960s and back.

Why is this the case? It’s probably because there’s a lot more weed experimentation going on due to widespread legalization and the ability for small, independent growers to produce their own cannabis strains. Even smaller companies are now able to produce top-tier cannabis products, improving their THC content and the experience for their customers.

Furthermore, data from previous decades may be skewed since all cannabis testing was only done on certain strains from limited geographic regions. For example, many historic weed tests were done on Mexican cannabis varieties, which usually have very low THC levels of between 0.4 and 1%.

How do different levels of THC affect you? 

It’s certainly interesting how there are so many different THC levels and concentrations to pick from these days. But it’s also important to be aware that different THC levels may affect you differently, even if you are an experienced weed connoisseur.

As a good rule of thumb, expect any regular weed effects you’ve experienced in the past to be more intense as THC content increases. While it’s true that other ingredients in a given weed strain can also produce certain effects, it’s the THC that makes most of the pot-specific effects we’re familiar with.

For example, if weed normally relaxes you and alleviates your anxiety, a high THC content product will do an even better job of that.

For other people, however, higher THC levels can produce opposite or different effects compared to what they experience with a lower THC product. For example, if you normally feel relaxed while smoking a 10% THC strain, a 20% THC strain might actually increase your anxiety.

Whenever you decide to bump up a level and try a new strain of weed with way higher THC content than you’re used to, it’s always a good idea to take it slow and be careful. Don’t assume that a new strain will feel the same as an old one.

Smoking vs eating weed

You should also be prepared for slight differences depending on whether you smoke or eat the weed. When you smoke cannabis, any THC content can reach your bloodstream extremely rapidly since it is absorbed by the lungs. Therefore, you’ll feel effects seconds after inhaling smoke from a bong or joint.

On the other hand, edibles have to take a longer path until they are absorbed by your bloodstream. Your liver has to first metabolize the THC, which requires any edible products to go through your digestive system. So you may not feel any effects until an hour or so after eating the edible. Remember this and don’t overeat edibles, especially if they have high THC content, if you don’t feel any effects right away.

There’s a bright side to eating edibles instead of smoking weed, however. The digestion process takes longer, but the effects from edible THC products usually feel stronger and will last longer compared to the effects you’d feel with a normal smoke.

RELATED: Too High to Drive? A New Way to Measure THC Impairment

How to calculate THC in weed

As we said earlier, legitimate weed companies should provide you with the THC content for your strain on the packaging somewhere so you’re fully informed before ingesting or smoking. But that doesn’t do much for you if you want to calculate how much THC is in an individual joint, a bite of pot brownie, or something else.

Fortunately, you can use a really simple formula to estimate THC content in weed on the go. Here’s the equation:

  • Take the weight of the joint in milligrams and multiply it by the THC potency or percentage

Remember that 1 g equals 1000 mg. The equation can also look like this:

  • Joint weight (mg) x THC percentage = THC content in mg

Here’s a hypothetical example. Say you have a 1 g joint with 20% THC flower stuffed inside. Plug those values into this formula and you’ll get:

  • 1000 mg x .20 (or 20%) = 200 mg

In that example, the joint would have a THC content of 200 mg.

Of course, you can also follow some rules of thumb. Most basic joints have between 60 and 150 mg of THC. This is a little more than was common in the 1970s when most joints only had around 10 mg or so. 

You should also note that this won’t tell you how much THC your body is absorbing from the joint. To learn that, we have to go over bioavailability.

THC bioavailability explained

In a nutshell, bioavailability is just the proportion of THC that can activate in your brain after it enters your bloodstream. If you smoke 200 mg of THC, that doesn’t mean that your brain will then absorb 200 mg full stop.

There are lots of factors that can affect the bioavailability of THC from a smoke or edible. When smoking, as an example, how much smoke you puff can play a role in the bioavailability of THC, as well as how long you inhale, and more.

When you puff more frequently on a joint or bowl, you’ll increase how much THC is consumed in the primary smoke, which means you also waste less THC in the side stream or excess smoke.

Bioavailability can be calculated by measuring how much THC is in your blood and comparing it to your blood THC levels before you started smoking. Naturally, we don’t expect you to be able to do this when you’re at home relaxing! But some experiments show that typical bioavailability ranges from between 2 and 56% depending on the person and their smoking technique.

Bioavailability and high effects

Your high or the effects you feel from smoking weed are more dependent on your dose instead of other factors. The better you puff, the more THC content your joint will provide. That’s why experienced smokers often get more value out of their weed products.

Note that this also means that you can enjoy lower THC content products more intensely as you become more experienced. You may not need to get an ultrahigh THC concentration flower to have a good time.

Summary

In the end, how much THC is in weed is heavily dependent on almost too many factors to count. Genetics, plant harvesting method, plant growing climate and soil content, and even how you smoke can all affect how much THC your blood absorbs and the kinds of effects you experience as take a puff or eat an edible.

It just goes to show how varied and unique this industry is! Fortunately for you, you don’t have to search far and wide for high-quality cannabis products.

Instead, you can call Emjay! As LA’s premier and most well-reviewed weed delivery service, we’re well-equipped to handle all of your weed delivery needs. We have super flexible delivery schedules and can work with you to make sure that you get your favorite strains on time or even on a recurring basis!

Best of all, we’re completely vertically integrated – that means we own all of our infrastructures and employ our own drivers. We pass our savings on to you, our customers.


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