Urban Wellness and the hunt for THC
It's way easier to come up with a list of funny names for good weed than it is to quantify what good weed is.
“Kryptonite.” “Bomb.” “Bin Laden.”
It should be easy. THC gets you high, so you want to see bigger THC numbers, right?
Much of our attention has been focused on THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound taking up the largest portion of the chemical makeup of cannabis. But it's only one of at least 113 cannabinoids that have been isolated so far. Most of them are found in only trace amounts, and many of their characteristics have gone unexplored.
Less sexy than THC is CBD (cannabidiol), the cannabinoid that makes up most of the rest of cannabis' chemical profile. CBD has become the darling of the marijuana movement, thanks to its apparent usefulness in treating PTSD, psychosis, tumor production, neuro-degeneration, anxiety and a host of other mental and physical disorders. In particular, CBD might have helped swing the national attitude toward acceptance of cannabis after it became apparent that high-CBD strains were offering an effective treatment for Dravet Syndrome, a severely debilitating form of epilepsy that affects children and is highly resistant to other forms of treatment. Helpful was the fact that CBD is also non-psychoactive, meaning no one had to worry about getting their kid stoned.
The current cannabinoid piquing the interest of the medical community is CBN (cannabinol), which is less psychoactive than THC, but is the culprit behind those lazy afternoon weed naps. When buds are left exposed to air over time, the acid group THCA (which turns into THC when subject to decarboxylation) converts to CBNA (which turns into CBN during decarboxylation). According to Steep Hill Labs, 5mg of CBN is as effective a sedative as 10mg of diazepam. It might also be the compound that gives indica strains their characteristic dopey feel.
And all of these cannabinoids (including CBG, CBC, THCV and the ones we don't really know about) seem to have a synergistic affect on each other. CBD is not only non-psychoactive, it also seems to regulate the (so-called) negative effects of THC, like paranoia or space-time distortions. CBN is known to lower feelings of anxiety sometimes reported during experiences with high-THC strains. Israeli scientists Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam call the interaction between different cannabinoids the “Entourage Effect,” the theory of which has given rise to an enthusiasm for whole plant extracts.
But it makes grading specific strains troublesome. One has to keep in mind that a higher THC percentage doesn't necessarily mean the strain will get you higher, because the amount of CBD present will counteract the effect. It also means that choosing the right strain for your particular illness might have little to do with THC amount, especially for those patients who are using cannabis to treat insomnia, schizophrenia or epilepsy.
And finding the amount of THC in a given strain comes with its own set of problems, as I found when I visited Urban Wellness, an upscale dispensary sporting a sleek, modern retail design and located in a busy shopping center alongside a tanning salon and a hair studio. I was immediately impressed by the chrome and glass-accented waiting room and the open layout that allowed me to see and overhear the sales pitches of the employees in the showroom.
The budtender (I hate that word) immediately launched into his head-spinning pitch, zigging and zagging with “high-end” this, and “heady” that. I tuned his used-car-salesman voice out and focused on all the beautiful strains laid out in front of me.
Comfort is obviously a priority for them. The waiting room was clean and glowed warm in the afternoon sun. Comfy-looking couches and chairs sat around a table with marijuana magazines and laminated menus. The receptionist was all smiles and sweetness and helped add to the relaxed atmosphere. While I waited to be called back, patients began streaming in. This was my first experience in a dispensary with a packed waiting room, and I was pleasantly surprised at all of the conversations striking up between patients right away. I eavesdropped on the two people nearest me—a rasping elderly woman with a cane and a young cyclist in his superhero bike gear. “... It was so skunky, I could smell it from outside my hotel room,” she told him. They laughed and watched as the receptionist checked another patient in.
“Don't you just love her?” the cyclist asked, nodding toward the front desk and the receptionist behind it. “She's the whole reason I come here.”
“Oh yes,” the woman replied, “Smart of them to put her up front. A lot of these places have attitude problems. It's like, 'Hello! You're job is selling weed. Smile every once in a while.' ”
I was still chuckling when my name was called, and continued as I walked into the showroom. The clean, modern aesthetic stretched to every corner. Half of the room was occupied by t-shirts, accessories and paraphernalia. The other half paraded the medicine. The strongest eye magnets were small display cases containing buds of each strain available for sale, all lined up and separated by sub-species and CBD and CBN percentage.
The budtender (I hate that word) immediately launched into his head-spinning pitch, zigging and zagging with “high-end” this, and “heady” that. I tuned his used-car-salesman voice out and focused on all the beautiful strains laid out in front of me. The display jars were ingenious: A puck shaped thing made of clear plastic—one side had a window to see the gorgeous flowers, the other had a flip top and holes, allowing patients to get a whiff of every strain if they want to. One of the buds was so pretty I actually squeaked and said, “Beautiful,” like some kind of dweeb.
Somewhere in the chatter, I heard him say that as a first-time freebie, I would get a joint of 24k Gold, a 50/50 hybrid (THC: 16.96%, CBD: 0.05%—$7.50/small pre-roll, 0.7g). He also told me about their loyalty program, where patients get a freebie every six visits. Ah, music.
What wasn't music was the ‘tender pointing to one of the labels and saying, “The THCA is what you want to pay attention to.”
Sneaky, sneaky. See, there's a trick in there: THCA (as I mentioned earlier) is the non-psychoactive acid group that turns into THC after decarboxylation. The ratio between the mass of these two substances is not one-to-one. To find the actual THC percent mass, the THCA percent mass has to be converted through this little math equation:
THC total = (%THCA) x 0.877 + (%THC)
And that meant the Silver Kush (THC: 22.32%, CBD: 0.04% —$12.50/g), a sativa dominant strain that will make you giggly and talkative, listed the misleading THCA amount of 25.32% (as well as a THC count of 0.12%). Unfortunately, I didn't have a calculator on me, so I was unable to figure out that that comes out to around 22.32% (if my math is right). That's still a pretty damn good amount, but I can't help but feel this method of labeling is designed to take advantage of patients who are unfamiliar with the gritty details of cannabis lab results.
For an indica dominant strain, I chose Elephant Stomper Stardawg (THC: 21.25%, CBD: 0.04%—$12.50/g) mostly for the name, to be honest. It smelled fruity and tasted like lemon-lime soda. Definitely the star of the evening. This strain is a great choice for anyone in need of an expectorant. When I first started smoking the stuff, I'd had some respiratory problems firing up. The crud was invading my lungs. This tasty flower had me rolling on the ground with tears in my eyes as I wrestled through intense fits of coughing. By the end of the week, the crud was on the run thanks to what I believe to be the amazing healing powers of vitamin C and this pretty bud.
Which, dear reader, is what this is really all about: Medicine that does the job right. And Urban Wellness has piles of it. The beautiful location and friendly staff will bring me back, for sure. Maybe the intention behind labeling their medicine with THCA instead of THC isn't nefarious. In fact, some could argue that it's a more transparent way of listing lab results, since that's generally how they receive the raw numbers themselves. But considering the general standard of listing a THC percentage, they should know that it will cause confusion in the average patient, and that's not exactly the best way to keep your customers educated about your product. Word to the wise.
2910 San Mateo NE #5
Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 11am-4pm
First-time Freebies: Yes