The latest in the THC vs CBD debate is that it could soon be rendered moot. Research seems to indicate that if you are looking for the strongest weed strain based on delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, you may well be looking at the wrong data. Hunting around for the highest THC strain could be the wrong approach to finding your perfect cannabis product. We unpack the research here for you.
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A Study Debunked the Myth that Some Cannabis Strains Have Higher THC Content
A recently-published article from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus discusses the findings of a doctorate student and her team who take their cannabinoid content seriously. Looking to compare the amount of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) in 33 different cannabis strains, Elizabeth Mudge found that most strains have nearly identical levels of the two cannabinoids. 
This is a very interesting finding, given that the whole of the cannabis industry believes differently. Especially recreational users make a fine art of forever chasing the strongest weed strain, and their evidence is convincing. But is it correct? Mudge’s findings could throw a spanner in the works that might just change the way we look at weed and the two main cannabinoids—CBD and THC.
Professor Susan Murch, who teaches chemistry at UBC Okanagan, offers an explanation as to how this confusion could have come about. She blames it mostly on informal breeding without research.
Informal cultivation and breeding of cannabis plants have been done for years. Breeders not only have had limited access to different types of strains, but they picked and cross-bred the plants based on their characteristics only. They created new strains based on appearances and the effects of the plants, rather than genetic and chemical science.
Differently put—the cultivators didn’t know the chemical or genetic composition of the compounds in their cannabis strains in the first place. With guesswork, and making assumptions based on how high (or not) a particular strain makes you feel, or its medicinal properties, they concluded that Plant X is the highest THC strain, while Plant Y is higher in CBD.
As said, Mudge’s research found that most strains have the same amount of THC and CBD.
But then the question begs—why are some strains causing more potent effects than others? The researchers found a possible answer for that too, when they discovered that the highly potent breeds showed genetic diversity, rather than higher THC and/or CBD levels.
This furthermore led to the discovery of new compounds that, although present in low quantities, could be linked to better pharmacological effects. This could well be the beginning of a new dawn for medicine.
Mudge feels that “… understanding the presence of the low abundance cannabinoids could provide valuable information to the medical cannabis community.”
Indeed, this is a very important finding for both the consumer and the medical cannabis community. It could shift the current paradigms like crazy.
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For instance, this means there is maybe just no such thing as the highest THC strain, only the most potent strain.
Of course, the same goes for CBD. Which could well mess with the definition of marijuana, which was emphasized in the recently-passed Farm Bill of 2018. This definition is firmly built upon the “higher CBD than THC” argument.
The industry clearly has much to learn, but hopefully, now that hemp is fully legal, more funds will become available for research like this.
The study under discussion also indicates that the presence of other chemicals in cannabis is important. Could this be why some CBD and/or THC extracts are more potent and effective than others? Perhaps, yes.
Studies on The Importance of The Entourage Effect
If you are a believer in alternative medicine, you will know that when you are using a plant for its healing effects, you are likely to experience better healing effects by using the entire plant rather than isolating the active ingredients for separate use. This notion is true for cannabis too, supported by evidence.
An increased number of research studies demonstrate the importance of the “entourage effect”, or using the entire plant to address health issues. In summary, the entourage effect points to the fact that the components inside cannabis work together in synergy. This synergy allows for more effective or stronger effects in the body.
Research shows that isolates, or pure CBD or THC, for instance, don’t achieve the same results.
In a research paper, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, (titled Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effect) renowned cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo investigates the possible interaction between phytocannabinoids and terpenoids.
His conclusion? The interactions between these components could produce synergy “with respect to treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).” 
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Irrespective of how these products are manufactured or tested for cannabinoid content, full spectrum work better than isolates. So, as said—if you’re shopping only for the highest THC strain, you could miss out on the benefits the whole-plant extract might offer.
Mudge and her team’s research raises interesting questions as to why these products test high for one cannabinoid in the first place (because it cannot be based on the strain used for extraction). Yet, currently we have limited reliable research to work with, and the entourage effect doesn’t seem to depend on the CBD vs THC debate anyway.
The science is pretty simple—full-plant extracts win over isolates in terms of efficacy.
In one 2015 study, researchers examined the difference between a CBD isolate and a whole plant CBD extract in relieving pain and inflammation. The results of the study showed that: 
- Whole-plant, CBD-effect extract was significantly more efficient in reducing pain and inflammation, compared to the isolate. Higher doses were also more effective to combat inflammation than pain.
- CBD isolates showed dose-dependent efficacy, meaning that exactly the right dose had to be administered before an effect was observed.
This supports the Entourage Effect-theory.
So, don’t spend more money on products because the label says that they’re extracted from the highest THC strain. The research is clearly still developing and new aspects to this venerable plant are discovered in leaps and bounds, it seems.