There are many misconceptions surrounding the use of medical cannabis, particularly when it comes to the plant's psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). And especially about THC effects.
One of the most persistent misunderstandings is that the higher the percentage of THC, the more effective a product will be. But the more we learn about cannabis, the clearer it becomes that this is not always the case.
THC Isn't the Only Medicinal Compound
Cannabis is an incredibly complex plant that contains over 400 phytochemicals, over 100 of which are cannabinoid compounds, according to recent research. Many of these cannabinoids are already prescribed to patients in Australia who have conditions like anxiety, pain, or inflammation.
In recent years, one of these compounds, cannabidiol (CBD), has seen a sharp rise in popularity due to emerging research into its benefits and its lack of psychoactive effects.
Other cannabinoids that are gaining scientific traction include tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabinol (CBN), among dozens of others.
Cannabinoids aside, the cannabis plant also boasts a range of other beneficial ingredients, including terpenes and flavonoids, which are increasingly compelling from a research perspective for potential therapeutic uses.
What Can Influence THC’s Effects?
Aside from the fact that THC is just one component of cannabis, the THC percentage you see on the label may not accurately indicate its “strength.” This is not the distributor's fault—several factors are involved.
THC Listed on the Label Is a Range
In Australia, medical cannabis is allowed a 20 per cent variance from the label. This means that a product displaying 20 per cent THC could theoretically contain anywhere from 18 to 22 per cent THC.
This potential variation is because cannabis is a natural product; naturally, there can be some variation in THC percentage from one flower to the next. Every batch of flower is carefully tested for phytochemical profile, but the label reflects the potential for a slight variation within the batch.
Cannabinoid Profiles Can Affect Strength
There is a growing body of research on how different cannabis compounds interact with each other and lead to varying effects on the body. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect, which can be responsible for softening the impact of THC.
For example, when a product contains both THC and CBD, the CBD can reduce the strength and duration of the intoxicating effects of the THC. Some research suggests a little dash of CBD could increase pain-relieving properties.
Terpene Profile Can Change the Overall Experience
This is another example of how the entourage effect could reduce THC’s overall effects. While there is less evidence on how terpenes interact with THC, early research suggests their presence may affect a patient's overall experience.
Like many supplements and medications, a product containing THC that has passed its use-by date is likely to hold less than the label indicates. A study showed that almost 100 per cent of THC in a product had degraded after four years of being in storage.
To avoid THC degrading prematurely, patients should store products safely according to label instructions: away from sunlight, in a dry, cool location. Oxygen and light contribute to oxidation, degrading THC oil’s effects over time.
THC Effects: It’s Complicated, So Let us Help
As we learn more about medical cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, we have come to appreciate how much the entire cannabis plant, not just THC, offers patients. Figuring out the most effective medical cannabis product and dose isn’t as easy as looking for the highest percentage of THC. It requires a careful assessment and substantiated medical advice from a qualified doctor.
If you think medical cannabis might be able to help with your chronic condition, book a consultation with a doctor at a medical cannabis clinic or your local GP. They'll be able to assess your symptoms and history and decide whether you're eligible for a medical cannabis prescription.
There are a number of risks associated with the use of medical cannabis and your doctor will explain these to you before issuing a prescription. Medical cannabis affects everyone differently and may not help with your chronic condition.