Cannabis Analysis Paralysis is Common
Many new cannabis users feel overwhelmed by the number of choices available when visiting their local weed shop. And who can blame them? Walking into any dispensary across the country presents you with an overwhelming number of options and choices when it comes to flower, let alone concentrates, edibles and other products. With so much choice, it is a daunting task to buy cannabis flower that’s perfect for you. But don’t worry! With a little knowledge and experience, you can become a cannabis pro, confidently selecting cannabis flower you know you’ll love.
Why High THC Might Not Be Best
A common beginner mistake is just grabbing whatever strain is highest in THC. “But isn’t THC the whole point?” you might say.
Yes and no.
While THC is an important part of the equation, it is just one component of what makes up cannabis. There are many natural compounds that grow in flower besides cannabinoids like the ever popular CBD molecule. Terpenes –think of them as plant-based essential oils– are currently believed to be what gives a strain its particular effect. Here’s why that matters.
As cannabis grows in popularity and gains new enthusiasts, we’re seeing more diversity in both lifestyle and expectations of what different folks want from cannabis. These days, your typical stoner could be:
- Gamers looking to elevate their gaming while being focused
- Stressed professionals hoping to unwind after a hectic day
- Hobbyists and artists trying to enhance their creativity
- Tired parents who need something to help them sleep
- Weekend warriors getting the most out of their adventures
In each case, the stoner in question is looking for the high that’s right for them. But to find the “right high” and enjoy the cannabis plant, one must learn to approach cannabis like a wine snob. Growers that focus only on high THC levels often sacrifice the plant’s more nuanced characteristics. The result is flower that lacks a complex aroma or flavor and may give you a feeling of being high, but it feels washed out and lacking in depth.
Sativas, Indicas, & Hybrids
When you are shopping for cannabis at your local dispensary, you’ll likely see products divided into one of three categories: sativa, indica, or hybrid. And then they are graded from low to high THC potency. Common wisdom holds that sativas are cerebral daytime strains while indicas are more stoney night time strains. Hybrids, of course, fall in the middle and feature characteristics of both. Some cultivators take this further and label hybrids as indica-leaning, sativa-leaning, or a 50/50 mix. This creates a sort of sliding scale of expected effects from indica to sativa. This diagram is typical of how cannabis newcomers learn to approach selecting a strain.
Although common, this system isn’t 100% reliable and is only really helpful as a starting point. To find the perfect strain for you, it helps to have some knowledge of the different terpenes –or “terps” as the pros call them– produced by different strains.
One common mistake new cannabis shoppers make is thinking that a particular strain is good for a particular activity or benefit. “Strain matching” as it’s called, is common, but doesn’t produce consistent results. You might have a favorite strain, but different growers may have different variants of the same strain. The different variants can produce different effects because they produce different terps. Strain names get thrown around and changed a lot on dispensary shelves (but not at High Haven) to entice customers thinking they are trending strains, which makes strain matching even less reliable.
Trust Your Nose
Rather than focusing on THC levels, or even on specific strain names, pros in the know are focused on the terpenes that grew in the flower. That’s because, while THC causes the high, it’s the terpenes that give it personality. The “terp profile” is expressed as the flower’s unique aroma or “flavor” if you’re enjoying a cartridge. And these aromas track to the characteristics we give to a high, “sleepy”, “stoney”, “uplifting”: these come from the terps present in the bud.
Where do I start with navigating cannabis products by terpenes?
What does this mean for you? Well, first, don’t worry too much about terpene names at the moment, it can be a lot to take in and there’s a better approach to make this accessible to anyone who wants more control over their high.
Instead of worrying about terpene names and effects, let’s focus on what common weed aromas you love the most. There are common aroma or flavor profiles for cannabis and these flavor profiles can blend to produce some rather interesting effects. We can still group our strains into Indica, Hybrid, and Sativa. It’s a useful shorthand for starting a conversation with your budtender. But, if you can describe the specific aroma or flavor you want from your weed, your budtender can help you narrow down your options. For example, if you ask for a strain with a strong citrus or astringent aroma you’re gonna hone in on Sativas that may give you energy or focus. If you ask for something more fruity and floral, you’re going to narrow down your options to Hybrids. To get an indica-leaning hybrid tell your budtender you want something fruity and floral with a bit of spiciness like pepper, but if you want a Sativa-leaning Hybrid say you want something with a bit more citrus or astringent. Indicas are commonly described as having earthy and spicy profiles.
This chart is a useful guide for how to match cannabis aromas to their effects.
Once you begin to associate different cannabis aromas –or “terp” profiles– with their associated effects, you can use your nose when shopping to find your favorite types of strains.
A “sour” strain is a “stoney” strain
Usually, the stronger the scent, the higher the content of terpenes, increasing the potency of effects. To this end, a dank smelling strain with an average THC content of 15-25% and a ton of terpenes can outperform a strain with a much higher THC level. And this is especially true when you find a strain with a strong “sour” aroma.
That sour aroma comes from the one terp that’s worth discussing in this post. Myrcene is the most prevalent terp in cannabis and it imparts that super sour or “skunky” aroma that grabs you by the third eye when you take it in. Sour strains are often reported as more potent even with lower THC levels. That’s because laboratory research has shown that myrcene increases your body’s capacity to absorb cannabinoids like THC. That tends to make the high more “stoney” and “hazy” with strains high in THC and more “chill” and “mellow” with strains with moderate THC levels. Next time you’re asking for something new and interesting, ignore the THC level and focus on finding those super skunky and sour strains.
Stop, and take a second smell the flower and learn to truly enjoy cannabis
As you explore the many strains available at your local pot shop and develop a preference towards certain flavors and aromas, your well trained nose will begin to find strains with those terps and you’ll be able to select products that give you what you want. Having this knowledge creates a starting point for interacting with your budtender, who can then suggest similar strains matching your favorite terpene profile. As your budtenders get to know you and your terp preferences, they can keep you informed when something you’re going to love is on the shelves. Now, grab that bag, that jar, or that cart, take a sniff or take a hit. Close your eyes and focus on the aroma and flavor of your weed, dabs, or cartridge and start down the path of becoming a true cannasseur.