The Cannabis Marketplace Needs More Low-THC Flower


We get it. Long-time cannabis users might look at the title of this article and wonder what we’re thinking. You want the most bang for your buck, right? You want a product loaded with THC, right? You want to buy cannabis whose impact is strong and unmistakable, right?

Well… yeah. But the issue of THC content in cannabis flower is a bit more complicated than you might think. Sure, your first thought might be that more is better, but think about it in other terms – like, imagine if you were buying beer. You wouldn’t simply go a craft beer supplier and get the beer with the highest alcohol per volume, right? No – you’d consider other factors, like flavor and the circumstances under which you’ll be drinking the beer. Cannabis isn’t too different. 

But let’s back up a moment. When you buy cannabis flower – the stuff you use in your pipe, your bong, a joint, what-have-you – you’re generally going to be purchasing something that has a high THC level relative to other products, like edibles or tinctures. (Not so much concentrates, but that’s a topic for a different article.) And what’s important to remember is that those relative values aren’t fixed – growers and cannabis scientists can craft a pretty broad spectrum of flowers with widely ranging values of cannabinoids and terpenes. 

There’s a reason the market is the way it is. 

As legalization came to California, so too came an influx of new cannabis users – new customers testing out the waters, checking out something they’ve always wanted to explore, looking at new options for relieving things like chronic pain or anxiety disorders. And those new customers didn’t necessarily want to start out with a high THC flower, or even start out with flower at all – those decades of associating pot smokers with goldbricking, couch-squatting layabouts die hard, and people need time to get over their old preconceptions.

A more charitable way to put it might be that new cannabis users tend to want better control and understanding of their dosages. Or that not all of them want to smoke. Or that many of them don’t like the smell or taste of marijuana. Or some combination of those factors, which works to create a marketplace that favors a growth the popularity of edibles. Sure, most edibles are very low in THC – a typical single gummi has between 5 and 10 milligrams of THC – but that’s precisely their draw! But new users don’t just want lower doses – they want to be sure of how much THC they’re getting, and edibles provide that information right on the packaging. That’s… harder to find with flower.

So many dispensaries wind up with sort of a bifurcated selection in terms of THC density: Strong flower and relatively weak edibles. This has resulted in less demand for low-THC flower, and thus less of it being created by growers. To use the craft beer analogy again, the situation is reminiscent of the India Pale Ale boom in craft beer over the past 20 years or so. A strong demand for IPAs led to many craft breweries devoting much of their energy to creating newer, grassier, more bitter beers. Great news if you’re an IPA lover, but not so much if you’re looking for a good stout or marzen. 

As such, a wholesale boost in the amount of public education is in order, especially as more and more states legalize – creating more and more markets, and more and more opportunities for the status quo to cement. But why, you ask – what’s so bad about a THC-heavy market?

There a couple of reasons.

Like we said – more THC isn’t always a good thing. But don’t just listen to us – there’s science to support it! Researchers at the University of Illinois found that cannabis users seeking to relieve emotional stress essentially had a ceiling to their highs. While stronger concentrations of THC gave higher highs, and higher highs eliminate stress better, the researchers found their subjects had a limit. After hitting a certain THC threshold, the subjects’ good vibes reversed, making them stressed out again. “Higher doses,” the study’s abstract said, “may non-specifically increase negative mood.”

And sure, frequent users will need higher available doses, but remember two things: First, not everyone is a frequent user; and second, the whole point of using THC is to be able to relax. You don’t want to pass that THC threshold the researchers discovered.

Consumers are looking for other features in their flowers. First off, a high dose may be a turn-off for anyone simply looking to take the edge off their stress – if they wanted to get completely zoned out, they’d take an Ambien and hit the sack. They want to be able to function. The best way to approach dosage is to follow the chef’s adage: Start small, since you can always add more of an ingredient, but you can’t take it away once it’s been added. 

Terpenes – the chemicals in cannabis that impart flavor and other qualities – are important to consumers as well, and an increasing number of growers are eager to meet the challenge. Over just the past few years, more and more growers are opting to have their cannabis tested for terpene levels, even though industry regulations don’t require such a test. 

With so many beginners flooding into the market, it’s important to maintain a variety of options for them, both from a business standpoint (it’s good for your customers to have more options) and from an ethical standpoint (it’s good for people who use cannabis to alleviate physical ailments or mental health struggles to have a variety of options). 

Thus, it’s important for users to ally themselves with extremely knowledgeable budtenders like the ones here at Grassdoor. An educated clientele of weed users will push growers and sellers to educate themselves even more, and to break boundaries in search of great new strains that appeal to the changing desires of today’s cannabis user.

Well… yeah. But the issue of THC content in cannabis flower is a bit more complicated than you might think. Sure, your first thought might be that more is better, but think about it in other terms – like, imagine if you were buying beer. You wouldn’t simply go a craft beer supplier and get the beer with the highest alcohol per volume, right? No – you’d consider other factors, like flavor and the circumstances under which you’ll be drinking the beer. Cannabis isn’t too different. 

But let’s back up a moment. When you buy cannabis flower – the stuff you use in your pipe, your bong, a joint, what-have-you – you’re generally going to be purchasing something that has a high THC level relative to other products, like edibles or tinctures. (Not so much concentrates, but that’s a topic for a different article.) And what’s important to remember is that those relative values aren’t fixed – growers and cannabis scientists can craft a pretty broad spectrum of flowers with widely ranging values of cannabinoids and terpenes. 

There’s a reason the market is the way it is. 

WIth the advent of legalization in California came an influx of new cannabis users – new customers testing out the waters, checking out something they’ve always wanted to explore, looking at new options for relieving things like chronic pain or anxiety disorders. And those new customers didn’t necessarily want to start out with a high THC flower, or even start out with flower at all – those decades of associating pot smokers with goldbricking, couch-squatting layabouts die hard, and people need time to get over their old preconceptions.

A more charitable way to put it might be that new cannabis users tend to want better control and understanding of their dosages. Or that not all of them want to smoke. Or that many of them don’t like the smell or taste of marijuana. Or some combination of those factors, which works to create a marketplace that favors a growth the popularity of edibles. Sure, most edibles are very low in THC – a typical single gummi has between 5 and 10 grams of THC – but that’s precisely their draw! But new users don’t just want lower doses – they want to be sure of how much THC they’re getting, and edibles provide that information right on the packaging. That’s… harder to find with flower.

So many dispensaries wind up with sort of a bifurcated selection in terms of THC density: Strong flower and relatively weak edibles. This has resulted in less demand for low-THC flower, and thus less of it being created by growers. To use the craft beer analogy again, the situation is reminiscent of the India Pale Ale boom in craft beer over the past 20 years or so. A strong demand for IPAs led to many craft breweries devoting much of their energy to creating newer, grassier, more bitter beers. Great news if you’re an IPA lover, but not so much if you’re looking for a good stout or marzen. 

As such, a wholesale boost in the amount of public education is in order, especially as more and more states legalize – creating more and more markets, and more and more opportunities for the status quo to cement. But why, you ask – what’s so bad about a THC-heavy market?

There a couple of reasons.

Like we said – more THC isn’t always a good thing. But don’t just listen to us – there’s science to support it! Researchers at the University of Illinois found that cannabis users seeking to relieve emotional stress essentially had a ceiling to their highs. While stronger concentrations of THC gave higher highs, and higher highs eliminate stress better, the researchers found their subjects had a limit. After hitting a certain THC threshold, the subjects’ good vibes reversed, making them stressed out again. “Higher doses,” the study’s abstract said, “may non-specifically increase negative mood.”

And sure, frequent users will need higher available doses, but remember two things: First, not everyone is a frequent user; and second, the whole point of using THC is to be able to relax. You don’t want to pass that THC threshold the researchers discovered.

Consumers are looking for other features in their flowers. First off, a high dose may be a turn-off for anyone simply looking to take the edge off their stress – if they wanted to get completely zoned out, they’d take an Ambien and hit the sack. They want to be able to function. The best way to approach dosage is to follow the chef’s adage: Start small, since you can always add more of an ingredient, but you can’t take it away once it’s been added. 

Terpenes – the chemicals in cannabis that impart flavor and other qualities – are important to consumers as well, and an increasing number of growers are eager to meet the challenge. Over just the past few years, more and more growers are opting to have their cannabis tested for terpene levels, even though industry regulations don’t require such a test. 

With so many beginners flooding into the market, it’s important to maintain a variety of options for them, both from a business standpoint (it’s good for your customers to have more options) and from an ethical standpoint (it’s good for people who use cannabis to allieviate physical ailments or mental health struggles to have a variety of options). 

Thus, it’s important for users to ally themselves with extremely knowledgeable budtenders like the ones here at Grassdoor. An educated clientele of weed users will push growers and sellers to educate themselves even more, and to break boundaries in search of great new strains that benefit all cannabis fanciers.

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