How To Read a Cannabis Label

The prohibition lifted and suddenly it felt like an Oprah show – you get pot and you get pot and you get pot! There was so much pot at the dispensary, in fact, that it felt like (dare we say it?) too much pot. It’s called “choice paralysis” – we have too many options to choose from and it’s exacerbated by the confusing industry lingo on each product label.

Molly Jones is cannabis demystified, so let’s start with knowing how to read a cannabis label like a pro. Sativa vs. Indica, CBD vs. THC, dosage levels and terpenes – let’s break it down.

What are Sativa and Indica?

There are three different strains of the Cannabis plant – Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis – each with its own purpose and effect. It’s like wine – different kinds of grapes (white vs red) make different kinds of wines (Champagne vs Cabernet Sauvignon) suited for different moods (happy vs cozy).

For cannabis, the Sativa plant is known for its uplifting, social, and happy effects while Indica is relaxing, mellow, and sleepy. Pro tip: the easy way to remember Indica’s low-key effects is “in-da-couch.” Ruderalis is not intended for consumer use.

The hemp plant is a distinct strain of the Sativa plant that is high in CBD with less than .03% of THC. If those acronyms sound like gibberish to you, let’s talk cannabinoids.

What are Cannabinoids (THC vs CBD)?

THC and CBD are cannabinoids which are compounds in the cannabis plant that are responsible for the effect you feel when you consume it. In normal speak, when you feel high or calm or sexually aroused, that’s the cannabinoid at work. For more on how cannabinoids interact with your body, head here. There are over 100 cannabinoids in the plant and each has its own recipe of effects so knowing your cannabinoids is one of the best ways to control how you’ll feel.

The two most common cannabinoids are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). Generally speaking, THC gives you the signature cannabis high while CBD is non-psychoactive and offers a ton of health and wellness benefits. For a deeper dive into what THC and CBD offer, head here.

How Much Should I Take?

PSA: Every body is different. In the same way that some people can drink red wine for days yet others get a headache from just one sip, cannabis affects people in different ways. Like alcohol, there are many factors that can affect your experience like what you’ve eaten that day, the atmosphere you’re in, and your tolerance level.

That said, dosage levels are one of the most important factors in your cannabis experience so we don’t want you flying blind. The first step is to consider the cannabinoid you’re consuming, CBD or THC.

Because CBD is non-psychoactive, it’s very well tolerated, even in large doses. In fact, some guy made the news by taking 55,000 milligrams of CBD and reported “just feeling a little drowsy.” We here at Molly Jones have found that 25-30mg of CBD is the perfect amount to take the edge off.

Dosage concerns are normally reserved for THC because of its psychoactive effects. The “standard” dosage level seems to be set at 10mg of THC, but we still think this is too high for anyone except a daily user. Instead, we strongly support the art of the microdose, starting at 2.5mg or 5mg THC per use.

Some products, including tinctures or oils, are measured in a THC:CBD ratio. This essentially means the higher the THC number, the stronger the buzz. In an 18:1 CBD:THC product, chances are slim that you’ll feel high because it’s so heavy on the CBD. On the other hand, a 1:1 CBD:THC or 3:1 THC:CBD product will have psychedelic effects.

How Long Does It Take to Kick In?

Depends on the product. Smoking or vaping cannabis kicks in within five minutes. Sublingual products that go under the tongue (i.e. tinctures) and topicals (i.e. lotions and patches) are absorbed into the blood stream and take effect within 30 to 45 minutes. Edibles take the longest, ranging from 30 minutes to up to two hours.

Terpenes

Mostly noted on the labels of dried flower, terpenes are the natural, aromatic oils from plants which affect taste and fragrance. Terpenes are present in things like mangoes, flowers, and lavender, for example. When paired with cannabis, they work with cannabinoids to create unique and specific effects. Research on the importance of terpenes and how we can work with them to tailor our experience is still ongoing.

What to Look For

For authenticity and quality, make sure the product you’re consuming has been lab tested by a third party laboratory. Most brands who take this extra step are proud to share and have that information easily accessible. We’re also starting to see more cannabis, especially CBD, coming in internationally (especially from China) which doesn’t have the same rigorous testing as America. Try to buy products made here in America, either in California or Colorado.

This list covers the basics of what a product can offer, allowing you to feel more confident with how you’ll feel when you consume it. Gone are the days of eating that questionable cookie from a ziplock bag at a college frat party. #praisebe

  1. That’s a good idea to check to see if the cannabis has been checked by a third party laboratory. I would think that would give an unbiased opinion on its quality. I’ll have to make sure to do that to make sure that get what I am paying for.

    1. Definitely! And using a third party lab is costlier so if a brand pays extra for this service, they’ll almost always offer that up on the product page. If they don’t, or you’re not fully trusting, ask to see the lab results.

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