Today’s cannabis strains are more potent than ever. Some strains, like Chiquita Banana, have even tested positive with over 30 percent THC, the primary psychoactive in the cannabis plant. But, will cannabis strains keep getting stronger? A recent article from Leafly suggests that they cannot. While some breeders out there are still trying for extremely potent buds, there may be a limit to the amount of THC or CBD a strain can produce.
How much THC or CBD does cannabis produce?
The cannabis plant can produce over 400 different chemical compounds, many of which are chemicals called cannabinoids. These cannabinoids are the molecules that provide the euphoric and medicinal effects of cannabis. While there are dozens of different cannabinoids, thus far, two of them stand apart from the others.
The first is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the herb’s primary psychoactive. The second is cannabidiol (CBD), a compound that has recently had success in clinical trials of pediatric epilepsy. Recreational cannabis is often considered high in THC, though there is a medical benefit for the psychoactive cannabinoid as well.
Thus far, breeders have selectively bred cannabis plants to develop strains that produce just shy of one-third THC (30 to 33 percent or so) and one-quarter (20 to 23 percent CBD or so). If a bud contains about one-third THC, the other two-thirds makes up the rest of the bud, from the plant fibers, sugars, proteins, and fats.
If it isn’t obvious, you can’t have cannabis without the fiber, protein, and plant matter that make up the herb. This means that you won’t be finding any 80 percent THC strains out there anytime soon.
If you’re searching for levels that potent, you may want to switch to a cannabis concentrate. Even strains that produce over 30 percent and 20 percent CBD are outliers. Most strains tend to tap out between the 18 and 23 percent THC range, and the 7 to 17 percent CBD range.
Have we reached peak THC and CBD potency?
So, if it’s impossible to produce a plant that is almost entirely THC, how potent can the plant actually get? While there has been substantial concern over the potency of cannabis in the media, it seems that the industry has already made it to peak cannabis potency.
There are some stringent genetic factors that come into play when determining the peak levels of THC and CBD. In general, cannabis plants contain about 30 to 35 percent total cannabinoids.
That means that the plants will produce either mostly THC, mostly CBD, or a mix a both that does not exceed about one-third of the dry weight of the plant. Whether or not a strain produces any given cannabinoid depends on genetic factors.
Recent studies have suggested that the cannabis plant produces three distinct chemotypes. A chemotype is a chemical phenotype, meaning an inherited ability to produce particular biochemicals and not others. This inherited ability determines what kinds of compounds the plant can produce and, to an extent, how much it can produce.
The three chemotypes include high-CBD cannabis (hemp) varieties, high-THC psychoactive varieties, and a group which produces a mix of the two. In recreational shops, you are more likely to find samples from the latter two groups.
The majority of strains available for purchase at the time of writing are high in THC and relatively low in CBD. Since THC causes a psychoactive high, breeders have selectively bred strains to meet the demand for the mind-altering effect for which cannabis is famous.
Similarly with CBD, once news got around that this cannabinoid was worth growing, breeders have begun to develop strains that produce as much as 22 percent CBD.
While it is possible that CBD levels in cannabis can get a little higher, it is unlikely that anyone will see a strain that naturally produces far over that number anytime soon.
While many dispensaries carry a high-CBD strain or two, these strains are more commonly used by manufacturers of hemp oil extracts that are more popular than ever and available for legal online purchase in many countries.
Factors that determine peak THC and CBD
If you’re hoping to get the max out of your THC, there are a few factors that determine whether or not you’ll get a high-producing strain. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when trying to extract as close to peak THC or CBD from your plants.
1. Selective breeding
Over time, cannabis strains have become more and more potent thanks to selective breeding. During the decades of cannabis prohibition, breeders have crossbred high-producing strains together to reach peak cannabinoid levels.
To ensure that you’re getting either a high-THC or a high-CBD plant, it’s important to start with high-quality genetics.
Genetics ultimately decide the type chemical production in a plant. Some types of cannabis plants produce more of one compound than others. It’s recommended to do your research before purchasing seeds or clones.
If you’re hoping to get a little of both CBD and THC, it’s good to start with a clone or a seed from a plant that has a family history of producing the cannabinoids that you want.
While all cannabis plants need some of the same basic things (warm temperatures, high-quality light, dry climate), the needs of individual strains may vary depending on chemotype and phenotype.
For example, some plants are better adapted to withstand cooler nighttime temperatures than others. Or, some may be more light sensitive and require slightly different indoor conditions.
No plant, however, will produce large amounts of either THC or CBD if it is not genetically predisposed to do so. Giving your plant optimal environmental conditions is the best way to coax THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids out from a strain.
Yet, doing so would only help the plant produce to its fullest potential, it would not inspire it to produce something that was not already made possible by genetics.
To learn more about how to coax CBD from your plant, take a look at the article here.