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How to Read Cannabis Labels

How to Read a Cannabis Label Like a Pro

The following post was originally published on Miss Grass.

A woman shops at Oregon's Finest, a marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon, on October 4, 2015. As of October 1, 2015 limited amounts of recreational marijuana became legal for all adults over the age of 21 to purchase in the state of Oregon. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON        (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman shops at a marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy Getty/AFP/Josh Edelson.

Scrutinizing cannabis products doesn't have to be a complicated process. Once you know your way around a label, shopping for anything from flower to food will be easy as pie.

Really understanding any given cannabis product is a whole lot more nuanced than just knowing how much THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (cannabidiol) is in it. But that doesn't mean that gathering intel on your chosen products has to be overwhelming. There are a few simple things to know that will make the whole familiarizing-yourself-with-weed thing a lot easier.

To create repeatable and comfortable experiences, it's important to educate yourself about what you like and what works for your composition in which situations. Without properly understanding that, you're bound to have a few less-than-desired experiences. The idea is to get you equipped with a basic understanding because, in the end, getting to the point where you can scan a label and be ready to make a decision is more than a timesaver: it's the key to having a consistently good experience.

Terpenes

Until we're sure of every part of cannabis's function, too many variables can define a strain or cultivar. One such variable is the terpene profile. Terpenes are the natural, aromatic oils from plants which affect taste and fragrance. You'd recognize the presence of terpenes in things like citrus, mangoes, flowers, peppercorns, and clove, for instance. When paired with cannabis, terpenes can impact your overall experience — which is known as the entourage effect. Of the 200 or so terpenes that have been found in cannabis, the most common ones provide the scents we love to huff straight out of the jar, like limonene, myrcene, pinene, piperine, eugenol, and linalool. However, they also drive the high.

If you familiarize yourself with the most popular terpenes, it gives you the baseline you need to infer the taste as well as the head and body effects you'll be working with.

Cannabinoids

Ratio is the thing to focus on when self-testing cannabis products. Precise cannabinoid ratios are easy to achieve in tinctures, vapes, and edibles where concentrates and isolates form the active dose. But in flower — the unprocessed part of the plant we smoke — it's much more dependent on the cultivation and curing process.

Ratios can look like this:

  • 1:1 THC to CBD is a balance that won't overly intoxicate
  • 2:1 THC to CBD is for more of a 'stoned' effect; you can flip that ratio and have a high CBD result that's great for undoing too much THC

This is the most important part for those looking for a balanced high. Many people respond differently to THC, and finding the percentage that gives you the perfect dose is important. Cannabinoid percentages range from low fractions to 37 percent in some of the highest potency cultivars. Depending on your needs, THC potency can be a dealbreaker when it's not spot on. If you're a novice, staying under 20 percent THC is advisable. While strains are now hitting the upper 30th percentile, most of the 'strong' stuff you see on the market is in the 21-26 percent range. CBD will get into the 20s in an engineered CBD-rich strain, but typically it reaches around 4 percent in a common cultivar.

Lab Testing

Regulations are beginning to catch up with the demand for clean cannabis that's not harmful to those who consume it. States are using lab testing to ensure compliance with all pesticide rules, and oftentimes, the label is the place to find this information — unless you buy from a shop like Miss Grass that is committed to doing that vetting for you. Beyond pesticides, you'll want to look out for all manner of contaminants such as mold, solvents, pollution, animal waste, and even bugs. This information may not be presented on the label, but it doesn't hurt to inspect your cannabis flower for contamination and keep a keen eye out for product recall, especially for vape cartridges. Don't let the excitement to try a new product stop you from doing your homework.

Harvest Date

The harvest date of your cannabis is certainly not a sell-by date, but it can raise questions if it's not lining up with the shelf life of a product. When consuming products made with isolates and concentrates, the harvest date is relatively irrelevant, as concentrates don't degrade. But for smokeable flower, seeing anything with a harvest date that's older than six months can be a little alarming. In prerolled joints or loose flower, it would be best to avoid anything over half a year, as the cannabinoids and flavor can degrade after this much time. But sealed products like those canned in nitrogen or in vacbags are better for much longer — sometimes up to a year.

So, off you go. Take this information and buy the best cannabis you can find. It doesn't always have to be the most potent, the freshest, or the most expensive. Just make sure it's the right product for you.

Danielle is an New York City-based writer. Off-duty, she enjoys a good cup of coffee, a clean motherf*cking house, cooking gourmet meals, and studying botany, cosmetic chemistry, and natural healing.

Image Source: Getty / AFP / Josh Edelson
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