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5 Pro Tips on Assessing Potency for Cannabis Flower

In the realm of Cannabis consumption, understanding potency is paramount. Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or a newcomer, gauging the potency of cannabis flower can greatly influence your experience. 

In Episode 20, we looked at some of the product data in the Vermont marketplace provided by the Cannabis Control Board. Currently, about 75% of the products available in the market are flower, either sold by weight or as pre-rolls. Most flower menus at retail stores are oriented around strain or cultivar names and cannabinoid percentages. For new and experienced consumers, it can often be challenging to determine which flower is going to deliver your desired experience. Potency is an important part of that decision making process, as it can either make or break a positive outcome. While the percent of THC is definitely an important factor in determining potency, it is not the only consideration. Below we offer our top 5 Pro Tips on how to navigate your menu options and assess potency for cannabis flower.

Tip 1: Know Thyself – Your Endocannabinoid System

The foundation of assessing potency lies in acknowledging that everyone’s interaction with cannabis is unique. Yes, there are some general guidelines to consider when making product decisions, but ultimately, it is going to come down to your own physical constitution, your metabolism and the functionality of your endocannabinoid system. 

What is your endocannabinoid system you may ask? That’s a big question, and if you want to do a deep dive, we highly recommend visiting Project CBD to learn more. In the meantime, here is the brief answer. Your endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids spread throughout your body, governs your experience with cannabis. The ECS plays a critical role in regulating various physiological processes, including mood, appetite, pain, sensation, and immune function. 

Your ECS is modulated partially through the introduction of cannabinoids, either endocannabinoids which your body produces, or phytocannabinoids, which we get from plants, primarily cannabis. Your ECS is going to process cannabis products differently than anyone else. It is going to take some time and experimentation for you to figure out your relationship to cannabis. We suggest that you go low and slow through this process; begin with flower that has a lower percent of THC, below 16% if you are a beginner, and consume small amounts until you have gauged the effect. Stick with one cultivar of flower for a couple of weeks so as not to confuse your experimentation with new information. As we stated earlier, potency is not determined by THC alone, the presence of other cannabinoids and terpenes will affect your metabolism of THC. More on that in the following tips!

Tip 2: Cultivar Names & Their Implications

Do cultivar names matter? Yes and no. Gone are the days of referring to cannabis varieties as “strains.” The term “cultivar” is now the scientifically accurate way to describe these unique plants bred for specific traits. Cultivar names may offer insights into potency, flavor, aroma, and effects. For example,  “Sour Diesel” is typically known for its high THC content, diesel-like aroma, and uplifting, energizing effects. It is important   to note however, that cultivars with the same name will vary in cannabinoid and terpene content based on where and how they were grown. It is a plant after all and it will change based on its environment. Because of this, it is always a good idea to review the Certificates of Analysis associated with each harvest to confirm the cannabinoid and terpene content.

Tip 3: Dive into Cannabinoid Content

Cannabinoid content is a critical factor in determining potency. By state law, all flower being sold in the regulated market must be accompanied by a Certificate of Analysis (COA) that provides a cannabinoid summary. This will usually include a listing of concentration of about 12 individual cannabinoids and will highlight percentages for “Total Cannabinoids” plus “Total THC” and “Total CBD”, the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis. 

While THC content is often emphasized, it’s crucial to appreciate the diverse effects of cannabinoids beyond just getting “high.” THC offers benefits like pain relief, anti-inflammatory effects, and more. CBD, another significant cannabinoid, doesn’t induce a high but enhances therapeutic effects and potentially counteracts THC’s intoxicating effects.Perhaps the most important piece of information on a cannabinoid COA is the percent for total cannabinoids. As we learn more and more about this plant, we understand that it is the synergistic interaction between its different compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and other plant compounds, that determine and enhance the therapeutic effects and potency of the flower. This is what is known as the entourage effect. So take a look at the other individual cannabinoids on the COA; even in small amounts, they can be contributing to your overall experience. Learn more about minor cannabinoids here!

Tip 4: Unraveling Terpenes’ Role

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis. They contribute to the plant’s flavor and aroma, and may also have therapeutic effects. Different cultivars have different terpene profiles, and these can have an impact on the overall experience of consuming the flower.

The concentration of terpenes in cannabis flower can vary widely depending on the cultivar and growing conditions. Studies have shown that the  concentration of terpenes in cannabis flower ranges from 1-5% by weight. Anything above 3% is pretty special in ouropinion, both in terms of flavor and potential potency. However, the concentration of terpenes alone is not necessarily an indicator of quality or therapeutic benefits. The terpene profile, or the specific types and ratios of terpenes present, is also important. Just like with cannabinoids, the presence of even a small amount of a particular terpene may influence how the flower may affect you; it could make the difference between a sedating or stimulating experience and how potent the effects are overall.

Vermont does not require terpene analysis on flower, but many cultivators are providing this information to retailers and consumers. Ask for the terpene COAs if you do not see terpenes listed in flower descriptions on menus or display cards. Some retailers and producers offer these COAs on their websites as well.

The certified labs in Vermont test for about 20 different terpenes. Check out this link if you’re interested in learning more about both major and minor terpenes.

Tip 5: Set & Setting – Mind Over Matter

This brings us back to our original idea that the most important factor in determining potency in cannabis flower is you!  In Tip 1, we talked about how your own unique physical constitution and body chemistry will influence your experience of cannabis. Equally important is the intention that you bring to your decision to consume cannabis. 

Set and Setting can have a significant impact on the overall experience. “Set” refers to your mindset, mood, and expectations when consuming cannabis. For example, if you are feeling anxious or stressed before consuming cannabis, it may intensify those feelings. On the other hand, if you are feeling relaxed and calm, it may enhance those feelings. Establish an intention before you consume to set yourself up for success. Creating the right setting will help in this regard. Setting refers to the physical and social environment in which you consume. If you are trying to relax, consume in a safe and comfortable environment and be mindful of social factors such as the presence of other people, noise, and distractions which can impact your experience either positively or negatively. For more information on how to approach your cannabis journey, followed by 5 Pro-Tips on how to come down from an uncomfortable high, Check out Episode 3!

Alright, that’ll do it for our top 5 Pro Tips on assessing potency for cannabis flower. For all of the details, tune in to the complete episode which originally aired on April 13, 2023. If you enjoy what you hear, please like, follow, share and leave a review. Thank You!


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