Why Potency Matters in Medical Marijuana

“Potency” is a term that describes the levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is a cannabinoid, or a compound unique to cannabis, that overwhelms the body’s systems and causes users to feel high. The more THC present in a strain of marijuana or a cannabis product, the more extreme the effects of that high become.

Typically, medical marijuana strains have a higher THC content than strains available for recreational use — but many users do not fully understand why. Here’s a quick explanation of how THC affects a user’s body and why medical users need higher-potency pot.

THC and the Endocannabinoid System

The first step to understanding the importance of potency is understanding exactly what THC is doing to the human body. When a user ingests THC in some way — smoking a joint, nibbling a THC gummy, dabbing shatter, etc. — that THC eventually enters the user’s bloodstream, by which the compound makes its way into the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an essential component of human physiology — and likely all mammal physiology, at least. The ECS is deeply connected to a number of other systems within the body, to include the nervous system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the immune system and more. Though researchers don’t fully understand all of the ECS’s functions as yet, they do know that it is closely tied to the maintenance of homeostasis, or internal balance despite a shifting environment, as well as pain management. The ECS produces compounds, called endocannabinoids, which affect different systems of the body and carry messages to and from the brain.

THC is a cannabinoid, not an endocannabinoid — but it looks and acts remarkably like the endocannabinoid anandamide. Thus, THC binds incredibly effectively to ECS receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system, the reproductive system, the digestive system and more, causing effects similar to those of anandamide: joy, hunger, increased libido, impaired memory and more. However, THC tends to bind to receptors in greater quantity than endocannabinoids, resulting in disruption of bodily functions.

Medical Conditions Affected by THC

It is precisely that disruption that makes THC so valuable to so many sufferers of severe health conditions. While CBD might be associated with muscle relaxation and seizure management, THC helps with mental disorders like insomnia, anxiety and depression as well as conditions that affect appetite and digestion. Both CBD and THC contribute to pain relief — THC by compelling the body to recognize more pleasurable sensations and CBD by reducing the messages of pain.

There are a number of conditions that are managed safely specifically by THC, to include:

  • Cancer treatment. Chemo and radiation therapies both tend to cause loss of appetite and intense nausea, both treatable through THC use.
  • Eating disorders. Recovery from anorexia, bulimia and other disorders that result in insufficient nutrition is easier with THC, which compels the intake of food.
  • Cachexia, or wasting syndrome. Unwanted weight loss, usually from an illness like HIV or AIDS, is better combatted with THC-induced hunger.
  • Post-traumatic stress syndrome. By disrupting anxious emotional states with euphoria — and by drastically reducing the REM period of sleep, during which dreams can manifest — THC helps those battling post-traumatic stress.

As users rely on medical marijuana for treatment, they are likely to develop some tolerance to THC, requiring products with more and more THC to experience the effects they need to manage their conditions. For recreational users, managing a high tolerance isn’t as pressing a need, which is why exceedingly potent strains typically are not available to adults without medical marijuana access. What’s more, while the medical-grade weed in California can have high potency, not every state has access to or permits equivalent THC levels.

High Potency Strains

Most marijuana available in dispensaries today has a THC content between 15 and 20 percent, but medical marijuana users have access to some strains with content upwards of 25 percent. Here are some of those strains:

  • Godfather OG. Called an indica-dominant hybrid, this strain is perhaps the strongest in the world, packing over 34 percent THC.
  • Chemdawg. One of the oldest high-potency strains, Chemdawg boasts a THC level around 32 percent — though its genetics are an utter mystery.
  • Irish Cream. A dank strain that tastes nothing like its name, this strain comes in at a whopping 27 percent THC.
  • Strawberry Banana. Conversely, this strain does taste like a sweet, fruity dessert, and it offers users an average THC level between 26 and 28 percent.

It is worth noting that breeding potent strains aren’t the only way to increase THC content. Many medical marijuana users prefer to manage their THC dosing with extracts and concentrates, which are much more reliable in their cannabinoid content. Again, many extremely high-potency concentrates are only available at medical dispensaries.