Anybody who last smoked weed in the '70s or '80s (some geriatrics might have last smoked in the '60s) is bound to be a little nervous about the potency of today's pot. THC levels have soared since then, and it's almost like it's a different drug altogether.
It's not really. The chemicals in pot that get you high are all the same. It's just that there are more of them, and in different configurations, in any given bud or milliliter of concentrate. Ingesting less of them will get you less high. So why is it that products with low levels of THC (per "serving," if you will) are so hard to come by?
It's because "nine out of ten people, when given a choice, will choose the higher THC product," said Shareef El-Sissi, CEO of the Oakland-based Eden Enterprises. Because of this, he said, there's a notion among purveyors that "you have to serve the maximum amount of THC to be competitive." But, he added, there is "a huge, huge, huge market that has gone underserved," namely, people who want to get high, but not too high.
As things stand, that's not very easy. We can't really know with any certainty how potent pot strains were in, say, the '70s, because the technology used to measure it back then was unreliable. The numbers given are usually 3 percent or 4 percent of the active chemicals contained in the plant. It was almost certainly higher than that, most researchers now believe, but probably not much higher. Today, THC levels of raw bud average between 17 percent and 28 percent of the active chemicals contained in the plant. Some ultra-high-THC products like shatter and wax sport levels of over 90 percent. Such products led the state of Illinois to apply higher taxes to products with more than 35 percent THC. California is now considering something similar.
Aside from the numbers, simple experience will tell you that today's pot, even the everyday stuff, is much more potent, thanks to an increase in hydroponic growing and other innovations in cultivation. But there might be lots of people out there who don't have that experience, because they have heard about the potency of today's cannabis, and are hesitant to even try it. The "huge, huge, huge" market El-Sissi referred to likely includes a lot of people who might have never entered a dispensary, but who could be persuaded to do so if they didn't think they might end up having a massive freakout.
There are options available. In particular, most dispensaries offer some kind of high-CBD/low-THC products. Those "do sell very well with our members," said Katie Rabinowitz, general manager and buyer at Magnolia Wellness in Oakland. "Some of the best sellers are: the 20:1 tincture from Cosmic View, the 2:1 Peach Gummies from Wyld, and the CBD Coffee from Somatik."
But a lot of them are sold mainly on the strength of their CBD content, to people seeking relief from some ailment. They might not have enough THC for someone who is just looking for a little buzz. And CBD tends to counter the effects of THC, making the situation even more complicated.
Given what's available, the best bet might be to go with edibles. And there are products such as candies that offer THC levels of, for example, 2.5 milligrams each. While even that small amount might be too much for a novice, El-Sissi said it's "probably the sweet spot" for people looking for a light high, though everybody's reactions are different, and some experimentation is always necessary. The problem, he said, is that many people don't like to eat just one candy, and products tend to contain, say, 20 pieces. Given the way products are packaged and priced, it might not make much economic sense for either buyer or seller to spread lower levels among more pieces.
When it comes to flower, there are even fewer options. The Harlequin strain, which contains between 7 percent and 15 percent THC looks like a lot of other strains available today, but the high is more like the one that people achieved from the brown, crumbly stuff they smoked in 1982 after cleaning out the seeds on their Led Zeppelin IV album gatefold. Indeed, it might even be less buzzy than that, given that it's also high in CBD. As far as I could determine, this strain is not available in the Bay Area.
While finding the right low-THC product is a bit of a challenge now, that will likely change soon. El-Sissi says his company and others have plans in the works not only to offer low-THC products, but also ones with totally different chemical profiles, with high levels of cannabinoids other than THC and CBD, such as CBN, Delta-8, and CBDV, the latter of which might offer a natural Adderal-like effect, increasing focus, without the confusion or anxiety that comes from a THC high. Research is still being done on all manner of cannabinoids and terpenes — the essential oils in cannabis that give it its odor and flavor. If you think cannabis is way different now from it was 25 or 30 years ago, just wait.