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Mar 21, 2022

Cultivating Cannabis for High Potency

Best Cannabis Genetics for Potency: Growing Marijuana for High THC%

Potency in the Cannabis Marketplace

One of the primary factors needed for growers to sell their product is the potency of their cannabis flowers, specifically the percentage or levels of THC. In the past, an average of 10% THC was considered acceptable, but nowadays, buyers demand a minimum of 18% THC or higher. This quantifiable characteristic holds significant sway in the sales process, given our cultural emphasis on quantification; it greatly influences buyers and consumers. THC quickly becomes the determining factor in negotiations.

 True enthusiasts understand that the “entourage effect” is at play for each strain, involving the combined influence of all the different cannabinoids present. While we currently know of at least 50 unique cannabinoids, with more yet to be discovered, the current marketplace primarily values THC above all else.

In our journey as farmers and breeders, we have devoted ourselves to understanding the intricacies of cannabis potency. During this exploration, we have encountered various aspects of the plant itself, sampling methods, lab discrepancies, and sales discussions. A fascinating revelation has been the discovery of the variability in THC concentrations within a single plant, even from branch to branch. 

Additionally, we have observed that THC production among a group of related plants follows a Bell curve distribution. For instance, when sampling 50 sibling plants consecutively, we have observed THC results ranging from 9% to 22%. These insights have deepened our appreciation for the complexities involved in assessing and understanding potency within the cannabis industry.

Illustration working off this graph and explanation, shows THC production distribution within a seed lot population, explains the high variation in THC between plants

Factors for Highest Cannabis Potency: Nutrients & Average Temperature

Based on the information provided by agronomists, we have learned that potassium and calcium are the nutrients that have the most direct impact on the potency of plants. However, growers may have their own perspectives on this matter. In our experience, the factor that seems to have the greatest influence on potency, aside from selected genetics, is the average temperature. Through our observations of growing identical clones and seed lots alongside our colleagues across the country, we consistently find that higher average temperatures, particularly during the night, result in higher potency levels.

Genetics and Potency

Nowadays you hear about new varieties cresting the 30% mark. To ensure an acceptably strong crop, work with high-potency clones or with seed lots from breeders like Atlas focusing on pushing average potency in a population up and standard deviation down.

Best Genetics for Highest Potency

Current Atlas Varieties known to be the highest THC strain producers available are: 

  1. Cheetah the Hut 
  2. Gelato 41
  3. Banana Cream Sundae
  4. Divorce Cake
  5. Kombucha Cream

THC% / Potency as a Chemical Preventative Pest Control

Examining the underlying factors that drive THC production in cannabis plants reveals valuable insights. Trichomes, the resinous structures found on mature flowers, are the primary reservoir of THC. These trichomes serve as a natural defense mechanism against pests, deterring insects and animals from consuming the reproductive parts of the plant. By imitating pest pressure, it is theorized that plants can be stimulated to produce a greater amount of trichomes. Some products claim to contain Harpin proteins, which are believed to potentially enhance this effect, although the available evidence supporting this claim is limited at the moment.

Potency Thresholds and Quantity / Dilution Dynamics

 Regardless of the cannabis genetics chosen, the average temperature, or the products and nutrients applied, there is a critical threshold beyond which the potency of the plant begins to decline. This can be understood as a quantity and dilution relationship: the plant can only produce a certain amount of THC. Therefore, when the flower becomes heavier or larger in size, resulting in a higher yield, the concentration of THC becomes more diffuse. This threshold is often reached after the point of ripeness for many varieties. However, for some strains, especially autoflowering ones, there exists a sweet spot where yield and potency intersect. Discovering this sweet spot is highly dependent on your specific environment and may involve evaluating factors such as trichome color, flower density, and past experiences.

Laboratory Testing for Potency

When it comes to cultivating cannabis, a step that often leaves growers scratching their heads is navigating the intersection of laboratory science and market regulations. It’s a perplexing realm that many in the industry find themselves grappling with. If you speak to any grower in California, you’re likely to hear a range of frustrations when it comes to cannabis testing labs. Believe it or not, there have been instances where identical samples of flower were sent to different labs, only to receive potency results that varied significantly. Incredibly, some of us have even sent duplicate samples to a single lab, only to receive different potency results. It’s safe to say that the laboratory process for determining potency is unreliable. 

Protocols for Testing Cannabis for Potency

When it comes to testing cannabis for potency, there are several protocols available. The most widely used method is gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). This method is known for its high level of accuracy and is capable of precisely measuring THC and other cannabinoids in cannabis samples. Another method commonly utilized is high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). While HPLC is a more affordable option compared to GC-MS, it may not offer the same level of accuracy in potency testing.

The results of potency testing are typically expressed as a percentage. For example, a sample that contains 20% THC would have a potency of 200 mg/g.

When it comes to testing the potency of your cannabis harvest, here are some important considerations:

  1. Choose a reputable lab that specializes in testing cannabis and has a proven track record.
  2. Take the time to compare different labs in your area and establish trustworthy relationships with them.
  3. Follow the correct protocols for sample preparation and analysis as provided by the lab.
  4. Ensure that the results are accurate and consistent. If you notice significant variation between samples, it may be worth discussing the results with your lab or exploring alternative testing options.
  5. Because lab testing is often necessary in other elements of compliant cannabis business on a county and state level, it’s important to vet your lab for additional testing offerings in terms of heavy metals, contaminants, & pesticides to ensure they can cover the bases for you in a variety of ways. 

Sample Gathering Protocols for Farmers Performing THC Testing

When it comes to gathering samples for testing THC for potentcy, farmers should keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Timing: Collect samples towards the end of the flowering stage when THC levels are typically at their highest. Timing is crucial as the potency of cannabis can vary throughout the growth cycle.
  2. Sample size: Ensure that the sample size is sufficient to be representative of the entire crop. A general guideline is to collect a minimum of 5 grams of flower from each plant.
  3. Sample location: Select samples from locations that accurately reflect the overall crop. Avoid collecting samples from damaged or diseased plants, as they will not provide an accurate representation.
  4. Sample preparation: Follow the testing laboratory’s instructions for sample preparation. This may involve grinding the sample, collecting a specified amount per plant and from a specific part of the plant, or gathering a representative sample from multiple plants of the same variety.
  5. Storage: Keep Cannabis storage samples in a cool and dark place until they are sent to the laboratory. This helps preserve their integrity.
  6. QA/QC: Use clean and sanitized equipment to prevent contamination from other plants or materials. It is also important to clearly label the samples for proper identification.

What Consumers Actually Want from Cannabis Products

Unlocking Medicinal Benefits, the Entourage Effect, and Terpenes/Aroma

In recent years, the cannabis industry has witnessed a significant evolution as consumers become increasingly interested in the potential medicinal benefits, the entourage effect, and the role of terpenes/aroma in cannabis products

Understanding Medicinal Benefits

Recognizing the Therapeutic Potential

Consumers are seeking cannabis products that offer potential medicinal benefits, such as pain relief, stress reduction, and management of various health conditions. They are interested in products that can enhance their well-being and contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

Exploring Cannabinoids

Consumers are aware of the diverse list of cannabinoids present in cannabis, beyond just THC and CBD. They seek products that leverage the potential of lesser-known cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and CBN, which may provide unique therapeutic effects.

What is The Entourage Effect?

Consumers are increasingly intrigued by the entourage effect, which suggests that the combined presence of multiple cannabis compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, may have synergistic therapeutic benefits. They are interested in products that embrace this holistic approach.

Seeking Full-Spectrum and Broad-Spectrum Options

Consumers look for products that offer a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum experience, providing the benefits of multiple cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds while minimizing THC content. Such products allow consumers to potentially harness the entourage effect without unwanted psychoactive effects.

Terpenes and Aroma

Appreciating the Role of Terpenes

Consumers are exploring the impact of terpenes, what are terpenes? They’re aromatic compounds found in cannabis., and consumers are exploring the impact of them on their experience. They desire products that highlight specific terpenes known for their potential therapeutic properties, such as limonene for mood enhancement or myrcene for relaxation.

Customizing Experiences

Consumers seek cannabis products that allow them to tailor their experiences based on the desired aroma and specific terpene profiles. They value the ability to choose strains and products that align with their preferences and desired effects.

The Nose Knows

This study here  explains that it’s aroma, not THC, that is the most likely to give consumers a positive experience.  Whether we’re talking about artisanal chocolate, essential oils, wine, or fine spirits like mezcal, the perennial alchemist or connoisseur is seeking not just a mind altering experience, but a positive, uplifting sensory experience from high quality ingredients. The same is true for cannabis. Our nose knows quality, and the best cannabis is bred and grown with this in mind, as we do within the Atlas Seed breeding program.


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