Budtenders hear the question potentially hundreds of times per day; What’s your highest THC? We’re learning that most of the time, people are asking this question because they’re looking for a certain kind of effect. Usually, they’re looking to get as “high” as possible. Every once in awhile though, the person is asking because they have a legitimate medical need for THC, and they’re under the impression that more will be better. THC is tricky, though. It doesn't always work that way.
Medical patients who use THC over long periods will likely report that the effects of the plant get diminished over time. Without abstinence breaks, the body develops tolerance to the cannabinoids and they no longer have the same powerful impact they had when use began. Unlike other substances, cannabis doesn’t work more if we consume more; it simply stops working. It’s sort of like if we leave the tap water running. The tub can only get so full before it just overflows, making the extra water simply excessive. It’s similar with THC; a person can only get so “high” and then the plant becomes ineffective.
Because the user begins to experience less of an effect, they may be tempted to increase their THC use. They may believe that the more they consume, the better relief they’ll get, or the more enjoyment they’ll receive out of the plant. Here’s the trouble, though: for a very small percentage of cannabis users, long-term use of THC in high quantities can lead to a miserable condition known as Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome, or CHS for short.
No one knows exactly why CHS occurs, although it’s suspected through the limited research available that overuse of THC can cause the brain’s receptors to sort of backfire. Instead of helping to control nausea and vomiting, it can stimulate it. Users often think they have a stomach bug when they experience abdominal pain and cramping, followed by persistent vomiting. Not understanding what’s happening, they consume more cannabis in an attempt to control the discomfort. This leads to increased symptoms, often resulting in hospitalization of the user. Because most cannabis users are hesitant to reveal their use to medical staff, their symptoms can get misdiagnosed.
One difference between a stomach bug and CHS is that sufferers report a desire to bathe or shower in hot water. Interestingly, the hot water is believed to trigger the receptor in the brain that is misfiring, enabling it to work properly and thus relieving symptoms. The desire to bath is hot water to relieve the discomfort is an important symptom, because it seems to be a telltale sign of CHS.
Remember friends, Cannabis has over 100 different cannabinoids. THC is only one of those. It’s responsible for stimulating our appetites as well as our minds. Sometimes this is what we’re after, other times not. Remember to consider the remaining 99+ cannabinoids and what they bring to the table. High doses of THC consumed daily over long periods of time can cause serious problems for users. Often, they’re unable to use Cannabis at all after they develop the initial symptoms. If they are able to, it’s usually only low THC varieties that are tolerated.
CHS is a rare condition, although ER and hospital staff report seeing an increase in sufferers since cannabis became legal. This could be due to the increased availability of high THC products, such as concentrates and distillate oils.
So what does this mean for the recreational smoker? It means practicing mindfulness with cannabis consumption can pay off big time in the end, because if one wishes to have a lifetime of enjoyment from the plant, one might be better off using it in moderation rather than attempting to blaze the biggest dabs ever, all day every day. Not just because big dabs can be a waste, but because too much THC can potentially be a bad thing.
Instead of searching for those high numbers, look instead for the best product available. Know that more doesn’t always mean better. If one is using cannabis for medicinal purposes, daily, consider exploring mid or low range strains. The effects might provide more sustainable relief over long periods of time than high THC varieties.
Most importantly, know this is a thing. Know the risks involved with high THC use, and educate your friends. Together, we can create a safe consumption community.