What do you do when you want to get really high? You get some super-high THC weed or concentrate, whatever’s your poison, and take a big fat hit. Turns out, there’s a good chance you’re wasting your money since higher potency doesn’t seem to equal higher people.
Before you get all angry, there’s an actual scientific basis to that claim. Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently set out to find out whether there is a connection between the amount of THC in your blood and intoxication.
According to the study published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal, it doesn’t look good for proponents of high-THC products (but your wallet might thank us for this information).
“Surprisingly, we found that potency did not track with intoxication levels,” Cinnamon Bidwell, lead author and an assistant professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science, said in a statement. “While we saw striking differences in blood levels between the two groups, they were similarly impaired.”
The researchers gathered 121 cannabis flower and concentrate users between the age of 21 and 70, who had used cannabis at least four times in the past month, did not use tobacco on a daily basis, and had prior use of concentrates with no adverse reaction, among other criteria.
They then split them into two groups (55 flowers users and 66 concentrate users) and sent the flower users to buy 3 grams of either a 16% THC strain or a 24% THC strain, while the concentrate participants were randomized to get 1 gram of either 70% or 90% THC concentrate.
Before the subjects got to the fun part, they had their blood drawn and underwent a number of tests to give a baseline for their mood, subjective intoxication level, cognitive function, and balance.
Subjects were then asked to get high in the comfort of their home (we’re pretty sure they didn’t need much convincing), and then took all the tests again right afterward with a third round of tests an hour later.
So far, so good. But here comes the interesting part. Regardless of the form or potency of cannabis they consumed, all of the participants self-reported a similar level of intoxication and tested very similarly for balance and cognitive impairment.
Once you’re super high, more THC doesn’t really do anything
In the first test immediately after getting high, all groups performed around 11 percent worse during the balance and memory tests compared to before they got high.
However, those participants that were assigned the higher THC flower or concentrate had significantly higher levels of THC in their blood.
Minutes after getting high, concentrate users showed THC levels as high as 1,016 micrograms per milliliter, compared to 455 ug/ml for flower users. But contrary to what one would reasonably expect, concentrate users were not significantly more stoned than flower users.
“Surprisingly, we found that potency did not track with intoxication levels,” Bidwell explained. “While we saw striking differences in blood levels between the two groups, they were similarly impaired.”
These findings raise “a lot of questions about how quickly the body builds up tolerance to cannabis and whether people might be able to achieve desired results at lower doses,” Bidwell said
“People in the high concentration group were much less compromised than we thought they were going to be,” said co-author Kent Hutchison, professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder, in a statement. “If we gave people that high a concentration of alcohol it would have been a different story.”
While the researchers didn’t specifically look into why this effect occurs, they suspect tolerance as a possible explanation.
“Cannabinoid receptors may become saturated with THC at higher levels, beyond which there is a diminishing effect of additional THC,” the researchers write in their paper.
In other words, while seasoned weed or concentrate users will get high from the initial rush of cannabinoids to the receptors that spark intoxication, but adding more cannabinoids will have little effect.
The scientists pointed out that all subjects in the research were experienced users, and that a first-time weed user will likely have a much more serious reaction to consuming high-THC flower or extract.
While high-potency weed might not make the user feel extra-high, it is uncertain whether these high levels of THC could cause further long-term risk. That remains unclear for now, but it’s certainly worth considering for future research, the researchers say.