Many cannabis enthusiasts and patients are fans of high-THC strains. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of strains rich in THC. However, not all high-THC strains are equally good. You should avoid judging a strain solely based on THC content. Cannabis is much, much more than THC. If it weren’t, more people would like pharmaceutical THC (e.g., Marinol).
The fact is cannabis is a complex plant with hundreds of chemicals, including dozens of cannabinoids and terpenes (which seem to work together like a symphony to produce an “entourage effect”). Breeding a strain solely for high-THC is a big mistake because higher THC can come at an expense. Mathematically, the higher the THC, the fewer the cannabinoids and terpenes that are known for influencing the effects of cannabis. That being said, great breeders and geneticists take significant care to ensure they preserve a rich chemical profile despite higher levels of THC.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about high-THC cannabis strains, including:
- Why would anyone want a high-THC strain? What are the benefits?
- Potential undesirable side effects of high-THC Strains
- Tips on how to consume high-THC strains safely and responsibly
- What are the best high-THC strains?
Why Would Anyone Want a High-THC Strain?
Why would someone want a high-THC strain? It really depends on the individual (and the chemical composition of the strain). Generally, when it comes to cannabis (or any other psychotropic substance, for that matter), it’s advisable to medicate or imbibe with the lowest effective dose. This makes good sense for several reasons, including reducing the potential for dependency, minimizing unwanted side effects, etc. Moreover, in numerous scientific studies, the subjects generally found lower levels of THC were more pleasant than higher levels.
However, there are valid reasons why you may want to use a high-THC strain, including:
- Medical reasons: Many people suffering from certain conditions like cancer or from severe chronic pain need much higher doses of THC than other individuals.
- Strain composition: Many cannabis users — even many regular users — are sensitive to high THC because it makes them feel anxious or even paranoid. However, that’s not always the case with every strain.
For example, Durban Poison is one of the most popular — if not the most popular — landrace strains. It regularly clocks in at a mind-blowing 25 percent THC. Despite the high THC content, many people find Durban Poison to provide an uplifting, mood-boosting, clear-headed high free of anxiety or paranoia.
Why would a high-THC strain like Durban Poison not cause anxiety while other high-THC strains might? The reason most likely has to do with the cannabinoid and terpene profile. Some of the other compounds in Durban Poison seem to attenuate effects that some may find undesirable. Curiously, Durban Poison has almost no CBD, which is known for neutralizing potentially unpleasant effects of THC. Nonetheless, Durban Poison is a favorite strain among cannabis users with varying experience and THC tolerance.
Potential Undesirable Side-Effects of High-THC Strains
While high-THC strains are immensely popular — and for good reasons — they’re not for everyone. Likewise, even for the many cannabis enthusiasts who adore their high THC, there are precautions you should take to minimize unwanted side effects.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the most commonly reported side effects along with tips on how to minimize their impact.
Anxiety or Paranoia
Even the most seasoned cannabis user can suffer from an occasional bout of anxiety or paranoia after over-indulging in a high-THC strain. Without a doubt, these are two of the most common adverse effects. Low doses of THC aren’t likely to cause anxiety or paranoia (or at worst, only cause a minimal amount). However, most of us have experienced a bit of anxiety or the sensation of becoming overly consumed in our thoughts after smoking a little too much.
Remember the off-duty cop and his girlfriend who called 911 because he thought they were dying after eating too many pot brownies? Sure, the video was funny to watch, but it’s not so funny when it happens to you!
THC has well-known biphasic effects, meaning low doses can be calming, while high doses can have the exact opposite effect and cause some severe anxiety.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid getting a case of anxiety or paranoia.
- Always, always, make sure you consume in a comfortable environment around friends you trust. Avoid unfamiliar places or situations where you’re around a lot of new people. When you’re in an uncomfortable environment, you’re more likely to feel anxious or paranoid.
- Start low and go slow. Don’t overdo it. Smoke or vape a little bit. Wait a while (at least 5-10 minutes) to see how you feel. If you feel great, then super! Stop! If you need more, consume a little bit more a little bit at a time.
- Mix your high-THC strain with a high-CBD strain. You can mix at whatever ratio you’d like, 1:1, 2:1, 5:1, whatever works best. Find your sweet spot. You’ll still enjoy the effects of high THC, but CBD will act to neutralize potential anxiety or paranoia.
- If you’ve already consumed too much, don’t worry. Keep a high-CBD strain close by. Simply smoke or vape some of the CBD strain, and it will work to reduce the undesirable symptoms.
You’re more likely to get cottonmouth (or dry mouth) with high-THC strains. THC mimics a naturally occurring cannabinoid produced by your endocannabinoid system. When you consume THC, it binds to your cannabinoid receptors and can decrease the production of saliva.
- Make sure you’re well hydrated before consuming.
- Make sure you have plenty of water on hand and continually sip on it to maintain hydration.
- Chew on sugar-free gum or mints.
- Avoid alcohol and coffee or anything diuretic.
- Suck on an ice cube or a popsicle.
Who hasn’t experienced dry, red eyes from time to time? Red eyes are a dead giveaway that you’ve either been using cannabis or have allergies. But, why does cannabis, and particularly high-THC strains, cause your eyes to get red and dry?
Some may blame the smoke, but that explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense because vaping, edibles and other intake methods can cause red eyes. Most likely, it’s due to the fact THC lowers your blood pressure while dilating your blood vessels. This, in turn, causes dry, red eyes.
- Stay hydrated! (See the previous section on how to keep hydrated.)
- Visine® is your friend! Eye drops work great to lubricate your eyes and lessen irritation while keeping the red out. However, be careful not to overuse them. You don’t want to wash out your natural tears and lubrication by overusing Visine®.
The munchies are great for some people. If you need to boost your appetite due to medication, a medical condition, or if you just love food, then you may enjoy getting the munchies. However, for many of us, munchies can be a bit of nuisance. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, THC appears to “increase our sensitivity to scents and flavors by using naturally occurring neural networks to convince the brain that it’s starving.”
- You can curb this effect by making sure you’re full before you consume cannabis and avoiding eating altogether once you’re “high.” You’ve probably noticed that once you start eating when you’re high, it just seems to taste so good you can’t stop. So don’t start!
- If you use a strain with a decent amount of CBD or THCv (or supplement with these cannabinoids) you’ll be less likely to get a raging case of munchies.
Sleepiness and Fatigue
Getting sleepy or feeling fatigued is less a consequence of THC than it is of a terpene called myrcene. Myrcene levels in indica-dominant strains are much higher than sativa-dominant strains (.5 percent – 3 percent vs. >.5 percent). In fact, there are plenty of high-THC strains — like the espresso of cannabis, Durban Poison — that can be incredibly stimulating.
- Avoid high-THC indica-dominant strains and stick to sativa-dominant strains.
- Avoid sleep-inducing strains for daytime use, or anytime you’re not in the mood for a “couch-lock” effect.
- Choose high-THC strains that are also high in CBD.
Most anyone who has used cannabis frequently has probably noticed that THC can affect short-term memory. While THC is safer than many drugs, there’s overwhelming anecdotal evidence and scientific studies that suggest THC can cause users issues encoding new memories. While THC doesn’t appear to impact long-term memory adversely, its effect on short-term memory has been well established. However, it does seem that this effect is more profound among new or casual users. The effect appears to be less pronounced among regular users.
The good news is that most research concludes that these cognitive effects are reversible for adults. Predictably, higher THC poses more risks than lower THC content.
- If you like high-THC cannabis, make sure not to overdo it. If your memory is important to you, avoid consuming too much and too frequently. And mix it up with lower THC strains!
- Use strains that also have a decent amount of CBD. A University College London study demonstrated how THC and CBD have many opposing effects. Not only does CBD neutralize the anxiety or paranoia that can sometimes accompany THC (especially for people who are sensitive to THC), it can offset adverse cognitive effects.
The London study looked at two groups. Cannabis users in both groups consumed similar amounts of THC. However, one group used strains that also contained significant CBD levels.
According to the study:
“Unlike the marked impairment in prose recall of individuals who smoked cannabis low in cannabidiol, participants smoking cannabis high in cannabidiol showed no memory impairment.”
Here’s a tip: if your favorite strains are low in CBD, don’t worry. There’s an easy fix. Add a high-CBD strain or supplement your usage with a CBD vape or tincture. The CBD should help keep those pesky cognitive effects at bay. Also, consider adding vitamins and supplements — like B vitamins and ginkgo biloba — to your diet that are known for boosting memory and may be able to counter some of the effects of THC.
Increased Risk of Dependency
Many studies have found that high-potency/high-THC strains present a higher risk of becoming dependent on cannabis. While cannabis is less addictive than alcohol, nicotine, opioids, and other drugs, some users do become dependent on cannabis.
- Take periodic “herbal holidays” of three to five days. Taking a break once per month or at least quarterly allows your body to reset. After taking a break, you’ll likely find that your tolerance goes down (which is a good thing) and you’ll reduce the risk of developing a dependence on cannabis.
- Use CBD regularly. CBD is incredibly versatile, and some studies have found that CBD is not only non-addictive, but it may also be anti-addictive. Several studies (nearly two dozen) have found that CBD may be an effective intervention to treat addictive behavior. While we still need more research, the studies so far are promising. Not only might it help prevent addiction, but it may also help those in recovery prevent relapses, cravings, and cue-induced drug-seeking behaviors.
What Are The Best High-THC Cannabis Strains?
There’s no shortage of high-THC strains, but here’s a list of a few of the most popular ones:
THC: Mid 20 percent
Durban Poison is one of the few landrace strains you can easily find at your favorite dispensary. Landrace strains are strains that haven’t been cross-bred. They exist in their original form. Most landrace strains are incredibly rare and hard to find. Durban Poison is an exception.
Durban Poison is known for its distinctive sweet and spicy anise taste and scent. It may be better known as the “espresso of cannabis.” Fans report Durban Poison gives them energy (like a cup of joe) along with a clear-headed cerebral high. It’s a great daytime strain that can boost creativity and mood. Many users also find it makes them more social, making it a great strain to take when going to a party or social event.
THC: More than 20%
An indica-leaning hybrid (60% indica, 40% sativa) GSC, which was formerly known as Girl Scout Cookies, has become one of the most popular strains on the market in recent years. Thanks to its pleasant aromatic, earthy, minty flavor, impressive genetics (it was bred from Durban Poison and OG Kush), and enjoyable effects, GSC has won numerous Cannabis Cup awards.
GSC hauled its way up the ladder of fame in recent years, and it isn’t hard to see why. The genetics in this hybrid are strong, with a THC content that regularly tests above 20%. Expect a crushing wave of blissful euphoria that enshrouds both mind and body with warm relaxation for hours.
THC: 22% – 25%
Kosher Kush arrived on the scene in 2010 and has won awards — multiple Cannabis Cup awards including the High Times 2012 Medical Cannabis Cup — ever since. Kosher Kush’s genetics remain a bit of a mystery, but we do know that its THC content regularly clocks in between 22 to 25 percent. As the name suggests, Kosher Kush is kosher and was the first commercial cannabis strain that was blessed by a rabbi.
Indica-dominant Hybrid (70% indica)
THC: 18% – 24%
Ghost OG boasts an impressive heritage. A cross between Afghani Indica and OG Kush, Ghost OG is known for being colorful (with distinctive tones of green, purple, and yellow) and having a leafy appearance. While its THC content is sky high, it’s rich terpene profile tempers the effects of THC. Most users claim Ghost OG provides a euphoric high and eases stress and promotes relaxation.
THC: Approximately 20%
A popular and well-known classic cannabis strain, Chemdawg is a well-balanced hybrid strain that is pretty close to being half indica and half sativa (55% indica, 45% sativa). As you may suspect from the name, Chemdawg has a scent that resembles a chemical, specifically acrid fuel. It’s become popular thanks to its memorable flavors and invigorating euphoric high.
There you go! Hopefully, you’ve learned the benefits and risks of high-THC strains, as well as how to consume safely and responsibly. Our short list should give you a good starting point if you’re interested in trying some different strains. Our list is far from being exhaustive, however. Other favorite high-THC strains include Grape Ape, LA Confidential, White Widow, Dutch Treat, and Super Silver Haze.
For more high-THC strain recommendations, drop by your local Have a Heart location and our enthusiastic budtenders will be happy to help you find what you’re looking for!