Even amateur cannabis consumers have an idea of what strain suits them best. These cannabis types indicate how much THC, CBD, and other compounds are in a given cannabis plant, and they often take on whimsical titles like “Purple Monkey Balls.” Some cannabis strains are better for when you want to fall asleep, and others are so energizing you could use them as pre-workout.
While you may have an idea of what strain you prefer, you might not be aware of the compound ratio that makes it work for you. According to some medical cannabis experts, you should.
Their reasoning, essentially, is this – The more cannabis is bred and sold without regulation in the United States, the more difficult it becomes for growers to be consistent in their grow practices for certain strains. Now that humankind has been breeding cannabis into various hybrid strains for over 300 years, many users are reporting inconsistent effects.
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One “Crouching Tiger Hidden Alien” product may have you bouncing off the walls, while the same strain may make you drowsy when purchased from another seller. Many cannabis users report anxiety and paranoia from cannabis strains intended to induce calm, while some people use strains intended to be energizing as sleep aids.
Choosing a cannabis product based on its actual THC to CBD ratio rather than what strain it claims to be may offer buyers some more assurance.
“I really wish more people would buy cannabis based on its chemotype (the chemicals in the plant) rather than strain,” Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a Maryland-based cannabis clinician, told GreenState. “Strains have been so mixed up over the years that I don’t even believe pure Sativa and pure Indica strains exist in the way they used to. If you know exactly what amount of CBD and THC you’re looking for, I think that’s more reliable..”
In many states, sellers are required to list the ratio of CBD to THC on the product label. Most cannabis products on the market have high amounts of THC and very little CBD, so you may have to do some hunting if you want to find a THC-dominant product that still has a good amount of CBD in it.
According to Dr. Kenneth Weinberg, Chief Medical Officer at Cannabis Doctors of New York, a 20 to 1 ratio of THC to CBD used to be normal in cannabis products. Today, many products have a 100 to 1 ratio of THC to CBD.
How does the ratio of THC to CBD affect your high?
Here’s the simple version – THC is the psychoactive molecule in the cannabis plant. In general, the more THC you have in a cannabis product, the higher you are likely to become.
CBD has many of the same medicinal benefits of THC, but generally without the psychological effect. Though some CBD users experience wooziness or drowsiness while using the product, very few report feeling “high” in the sense that traditional cannabis users do.
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But there are benefits to both CBD and THC for any kind of user, which is why the two compounds are commonly mixed. When CBD is mixed into a THC product, it can mitigate the psychoactive effects of THC, creating what is called the “entourage effect.” The more CBD in a THC product, the less intense the psychoactive effects of the product should be.
Of course, because every person’s endocannabinoid system (i.e. the bodily system that processes THC and CBD when they enter the bloodstream) is different, each person will respond to the entourage effect differently, but the intent is there.
How do you know which THC to CBD ratio is right for you?
Like much in the cannabis world, the answer isn’t simple, and it needs a lot more research before anything definite can be said.
Still, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting certain goals, medical conditions, and age groups will have the best experience with products heavy in CBD, while others will be served better by THC-dominant products.
We asked cannabis health experts Dr. Leigh Vinocur and Dr. Kenneth Weinberg what THC to CBD ratios they recommend for five common types of cannabis users
For those struggling with mental health (anxiety, depression, PTSD): High CBD
Some research shows that CBD binds to some of the same parts of the brain as common antipsychotics. It would make sense, since, while THC can sometimes trigger paranoia, many users report a sense of calm generated by CBD and often use it to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety.
For this reason, Weinberg and Vinocur usually recommend CBD-dominant cannabis products to clients struggling with mental health, as a supplement to antipsychotics and talk therapy.
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Vinocur added that CBD-dominant products are her first recommendation for patients struggling with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)- not just because of CBD’s calming effects, but also because it might affect dreams.
“There’s a growing amount of research showing CBD helps improve sleep quality, which some people say helps with nightmares,” Vinocur said. “Nightmares are one of the biggest challenges for patients with PTSD.”
For cancer patients: High THC
Cancer can’t be treated with cannabis, but many of the effects of cancer can. Medical marijuana is often prescribed to mitigate the nausea that often results from chemo treatments, as well as loss of appetite.
For cancer patients struggling with these symptoms, Vinocur generally prescribes cannabis products high in THC. It’s THC, not CBD, that is the culprit for the infamous “munchies” that often come with cannabis consumption, so consuming high amounts of THC is an effective way to get in the mood to eat. It’s also been shown to significantly decrease nausea for many chemo patients.
For seniors: CBD-dominant
The psychoactive effects of THC-dominant cannabis products can easily cause seniors to become unstable and fall. That’s why, no matter the health concern, Vinocur starts her senior patients on CBD-dominant cannabis products.
For some, the amount of THC may need to be increased. But Vinocur advises older patients to start at the lowest amount of THC possible, and work their way up until their symptoms begin to decrease.
Since CBD mitigates the psychoactive effects of THC, even a 50/50 CBD to THC ratio generally will not cause psychoactive effects.
For those with chronic pain: Half and half (depending on lifestyle)
Vinocur says she generally recommends products with a THC to CBD ratio closer to 50/50 for patients battling chronic pain – not necessarily because it’s more effective, but because these patients usually can’t afford to experience psychoactive effects from high-THC cannabis all day.
“THC is usually more effective for pain management, but these patients have jobs and need to function throughout the day,” Vinocur said. “I usually recommend half and half products for them. Ideally, the CBD will cancel out the psychoactive effects, but the pain-relieving effects of the CBD and THC combined will still be there.”
For recreational users: THC-dominant
We don’t have to tell you that cannabis products with high levels of THC will get you higher than CBD-heavy products.
But if you find yourself getting anxious, paranoid, or experiencing hallucinations after using cannabis try a THC-dominant cannabis product with a higher amount of CBD in it. Since CBD works to counterbalance the psychoactive effects of THC, switching from a high THC product to something milder may help to give you a more relaxed high, according to Weinberg.
Discover what CBD to THC ratio works best for you
Because everyone is different, no one strain or THC to CBD ratio can perfectly predict what effects cannabis will have on your body. Weinberg said that for every time one THC to CBD ratio seems to generally work for a given condition, the number of exceptions is “humbling.”
More research must be done before cannabis clinicians can prescribe products with more certainty. In the meantime, Weinberg makes a point to educate his patients on the differences between the cannabis compounds and how they interact with each other, empowering them to make informed decisions on their own.
Then, he asks them to experiment.
“I have people start with fast-acting products like cannabis products that let you immediately feel the effect,” Weinberg said. “I have them try a few different products of different CBD to THC ratios, all at the lowest possible dose so that it won’t be too overwhelming in the beginning.”
Weinberg then asks his patients to take notes on how each product makes them feel, and uses their observations to help determine what THC to CBD ratio to prescribe.
Vinocur suggested purchasing tinctures of THC and CBD isolate and mixing different ratios of them together at home. This is a good way to experiment with ratios without purchasing many different products.
However you make your decision, determining what THC to CBD ratio is right for you will help you to be a more informed consumer, and may save you from being deceived by misleading strain names. Who knows? A little more CBD in your weed might make for the difference between a quiet puff and a panic attack.
Elissa Esher is an editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.