Cannabis testing allows consumers to make informed purchasing decisions based on the strength and composition of cannabis products. Each person can optimize their therapeutic benefit from cannabis by finding the proper combination of CBD and THC that works best for their unique needs. Consumers benefit from a wide spectrum of whole plant cannabis remedies, not just products that are high in CBD. Generally, the goal is to administer consistent, measurable doses of CBD-rich remedies that include as much THC as a person is comfortable with.
Accurate testing is absolutely crucial for medical cannabis patients who need specific therapeutic effects, but it is also important for adult-use consumers because products vary widely in their potency, which will affect the experience. CBD can diminish or even neutralize the intoxicating effects of THC, so a greater ratio of CBD-to-THC means less of a high. Plenty of people enjoy a cannabis high and are fully able to consume generous amounts of cannabis products without feeling too high. Others find THC unpleasant, as it leaves them feeling paranoid and/or anxious from just a trace amount. An individual’s sensitivity to THC is one of the key factors to consider when determining the ideal ratio and dosage of THC:CBD. There is no single product, or strain, or ratio that’s right for everyone. In states that have medical marijuana laws, CBD oil concentrates and other products with varying ratios of THC:CBD are available so that users can adjust the effects to meet their individual needs and sensitivities. Those who don’t like THC have the option of using a CBD-rich remedy with only a trace amount of THC. However, a low-THC remedy, while not intoxicating, may not necessarily be the most effective treatment option. THC and CBD levels are important for consumers to know because they will have a strong influence on the effects of the product.
There are a variety of methods to measure THC and CBD concentrations. The most common technique is called High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), which separates and quantifies a mixture of chemicals in liquid solution. With HPLC, a sample of cannabis flower is collected and mixed with a solvent such as ethanol. The solution is then pumped through a tube at high pressure. The tube contains a material that attracts certain molecules from the sample based on chemical properties. HPLC detectors typically measure UV light absorbance associated with specific molecules. When the molecules reach the detector, their relative abundance can be measured. Because different cannabinoids travel at different speeds, they will be detected at different times, allowing for characterization of the sample. The THC and CBD values listed on the back of cannabis packaging come from these laboratory measurements.
Since the values obtained in the laboratory are used by consumers for product information, accurate potency testing is imperative. According to a spokesperson from Confidence Analytics, a state-certified laboratory in Washington, “there are no strong regulations in place about how cannabis chemicals are measured. However, HPLC has emerged as the dominant technique for measuring cannabinoids.” States are pushing to standardize cannabis testing and ensure that potency values are consistent across laboratories. If proper testing practices are in place at each laboratory, reported potency data should be similar across the board. A wide variety of testing should be completed to ensure the safety and quality of all cannabis products. Distinct testing methods are used to collect data on terpenes, contamination, and residual solvent levels.
Implementing standards for cannabis testing procedures has been challenging, as the requirements vary significantly from state-to-state. Consistent and accurate testing is important for industry transparency and consumer safety. Unfortunately, there has been controversy surrounding potency testing methods, with suspected inflation of THC concentration in some cases. Consequently, the industry needs to push for a general, national standard for cannabis testing to ensure accurate potency reporting.
Preclinical science supports the idea that a small amount of THC can confer health benefits. Oral administration of a low dose of THC (1 mg/day) resulted in significant inhibition of disease progression” in an animal model of heart atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), according to a 2005 report in Nature, which noted: “This effective dose is lower than the dose usually associated with psychotropic effects of THC.”
Because of federal cannabis prohibition and consequent research restrictions, clinical data is lacking to determine if low dose THC therapy can protect against atherosclerosis in humans. But this much is certain: The practice of micro-dosing – which entails the consumption of a sub-psychoactive or slightly psychoactive dose of cannabis – is gaining popularity among those who want the medical benefits of cannabis without the buzz.
Although banned by federal law, cannabis medicine is currently accessible in the form of concentrated oil extracts, infused sublingual sprays, tinctures, edibles, gel caps, topical salves and other products. The successful use of cannabis as a medicine largely depends on managing its intoxicating properties. Many people enjoy the cannabis high; for others it’s unpleasant. A person’s sensitivity to THC, the main intoxicating component of cannabis, is key to implementing an effective treatment regimen.The practice of micro-dosing – which entails the consumption of a sub-psychoactive or slightly psychoactive dose of cannabis – is gaining popularity among those who want the medical benefits of cannabis without the buzz.
Cannabidiol (CBD) does not cause an intoxicating high like THC. CBD can actually lessen or neutralize the THC high, depending on how much of each compound is present in a particular product. A greater ratio of CBD-to-THC means less of high. Today cannabis patients have the option of healing without feeling high.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of resin-rich cannabis and cannabis products:
Type 1 (THC-dominant) – High THC, low CBD (famously intoxicating cannabis varietals)
Type 2 (THC & CBD) – Mixed THC and CBD cultivars (intoxicating, but not as edgy as THC-dominant varietals)
Type 3 (CBD-dominant) – High CBD, low THC (non-euphoric marijuana or hemp)
There’s also a fourth type – those rare cannabis cultivars that prominently express a so-called minor cannabinoid (like CBG or THCV). But in terms of what’s currently available for patients, the THC:CBD ratio is paramount and must be considered when formulating dosage strategies.
So, what’s the appropriate dosage for each of the three main types of cannabis?
“Start low, go slow”
The adage “start low and go slow” is apropos for cannabis therapy, in general, and THC titration in particular, as discussed by Caroline MacCallum and Ethan Russo in a January 2018 article in the European Journal of Internal Medicine. The authors, who are both physicians, provide sensible guidelines for health professionals and patients regarding the judicious administration of (Type 1) THC-dominant medicinal preparations.
If a new patient is going to smoke or vape THC-rich cannabis, Russo and MacCallum suggest they start with a single inhalation and wait 15 minutes before inhaling again. The effects of inhaled cannabis usually can be felt within a few minutes, thereby providing quick relief of acute distress. If need be, one can inhale an additional puff every 15 to 30 minutes “until desired symptom control is achieved.”
As for oral administration, one should keep in mind that it can take 60 to 90 minutes before the effects of a single dose are felt. MacCallum and Russo suggest a carefully titrated regimen for consumption of ingestible THC-rich cannabis products. They recommend that patients with little or no experience using cannabis should start by ingesting the equivalent of 1.25 to 2.5 mg of THC shortly before bedtime for two days. If there are no unwanted side effects, increase the bedtime dose of THC by another 1.25 to 2.5 mg for the next two days. Continue to increase the dose of THC by an additional 1.25 to 2.5 mg every other day until the desired effects are achieved.
If there are adverse side effects, reduce the dose of THC to the prior amount that was well tolerated.
Some patterns are beginning to emerge. For anxiety, depression, spasms, psychosis, and seizure disorders, many people report they do well by starting with a small dose of a CBD-rich remedy with little THC. For cancer, autism, and many other diseases, some say they benefit more from a balanced ratio of CBD and THC. Extensive clinical trials conducted outside the United States have shown that a 1:1 CBD:THC ratio can be effective for neuropathic pain. Note: The CBD:THC ratio in not an indication of how much CBD or THC is present in a given cannabis product or strain. Some people use cannabis products with different CBD:THC ratios at different times of the day (more CBD for sunlight hours, more THC at night). Almost any cannabis strain or product theoretically could benefit a wide range of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders because THC and other cannabis components activate the CB2 cannabinoid receptor, which regulates immune function.