For any patient or consumer considering a medicine or wellness product, the most important information is probably reliable knowledge about the effects and safety of the active, inactive, and added ingredients in that product.
We want to know:
- What products(s) should I take to achieve my goal, or desired outcome?
- How much of it should I take (dose)?
- How effective will it be at achieving my goal?
- What are the side effects?
If you can answer those questions pretty confidently, then you will have much more success and control over how well any medicine, wellness product, or supplement works for you.
Active Ingredients Drive Effects
What we present here is a summary, or "Cliffs Notes" version of knowledge specifically focused on active ingredients, and their effectiveness. There is a lot of great information and knowledge available to everyone, but rarely is it presented in a way that really tries to make the most important knowledge easier to use and understand for a patient or consumer.
A great overview presentation on the basic science is here from Autry Parker, MD, MPH, a board-certified, fellowship-trained anesthesiologist specializing in the interventional treatment of severe spinal and neuromuscular pain.
5 Basic Cannabis & Hemp Truths
Here are 5 basic truths that are important for all patients or consumers to understand.
1. Traditional labels of Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid have an inconsistent correlation with specific active ingredient combinations. "Strain names" also do not correlate well to consistent active ingredient combinations, even with flower from the same grower.
2. There are literally billions of possible combinations. The large number of active ingredients (Cannabinoids, Terpenes, Flavonoids, Aldehydes, Thiols, Esters, Sterols, Ketones, Volatile Sulphur Compounds, etc.) in The Amazing Flower means it will be very difficult, and take many, many years to develop actionable knowledge with traditional clinical trials.
3. Terpenes are important. We know from experience in the food, cosmetics, and fragrance industries that some terpenes are very potent, and a fraction of a percent can be enough to dominate a substance's smell and taste. Many patients report that small variations can also have a significant effect on the way a product makes you feel.
4. Bioavailability varies a LOT depending on your method of consumption. Inhaling or smoking 10mg of CBD or THC will not deliver the whole 10mg of CBD or THC to your bloodstream. Swallowing (ingesting) will even deliver different cannabinoids to your bloodstream, will take longer to take effect, and will last much longer.
5. We really don't have enough good knowledge to give patients and consumers the information they need to make well-informed buying decisions. We're trying to help with that by formally and systematically collecting everyone's input. We encourage everyone to anonymously share your personal "anecdote", in our simple, 3-minute Survey. You will help us create better, more usable knowledge fairly quickly. We always publish the results here for free.
Overview of what matters most
The cannabinoids found in The Amazing Flower are not completely unique to cannabis, but are found in just a few other plants (that we know of so far). Terpenes, Terpenoids, Flavonoids, and many others occur naturally in many other types of plants and animals, and are commonly used in the cosmetics and food industries for their scents, flavors, and colors (the colorful flavonoids). However, there are some flavonoids that seem to be unique to cannabis and hemp.
Additionally, there are many other compounds in cannabis and hemp flower that are rarely discussed. Thiols, esters, aldehydes, sterols, ketones, volatile sulphur compounds, and more. They actually make up the vast majority of the weight of cured cannabis and hemp flower. We call this "The Other 70%", or the silent majority.
Traditional labels of Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid don't always correlate with consistent active ingredient combinations and ratios. "Strain names" also do not correlate well to consistent active ingredient combinations, even with flower from the same grower (see a batch comparison further down this page).We know that different active ingredient combinations result in different effects, but we have little information about which combinations work best for different objectives or desired outcomes. We hope that you will take a few minutes to learn more about the active ingredients, and start looking for the best combinations for your needs.
Active Ingredients Guides
Our Active Ingredients Reference Guides have more specific information about 18 cannabinoids, 36 terpenes and terpenoids, and 13 flavonoids, including their reported effects and boiling points.
Our opinion: We want ALL cannabis and hemp product labels (or better yet QR link codes on labels) to include ALL these major active, inactive, and added ingredient amounts for ALL products. It's really not much to ask to have the ingredients responsible for the effects of a medical or wellness product actually listed somewhere. Right?
The major active ingredients (molecules) in cannabis & hemp
There are literally hundreds of active ingredients (molecules) that The Amazing Flower is responsible for creating. The most common active ingredients have been studied to some degree, and the majority of those have been shown to have beneficial effects. MOST of them are produced in the bulbous head of the trichomes, or "resin glands" like the ones shown below growing off of the vegetation of the actual flowers.
The large number of active ingredients in The Amazing Flower means it will be difficult to develop actionable knowledge with traditional FDA approved randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind controlled trials. Those types of "gold-standard" studies are usually focused on just one or two active ingredients at a time, and it usually takes many YEARS to get full FDA approval.
There are billions of different possible "strains"
Or more accurately, billions of different chemovars. Consider a list of the 67 major active ingredients that are in our current Active Ingredients Guide. The label would look a lot like a multi-vitamin label, which would be great!
If we consider 67 different active ingredients with just 10 possible values for each one, that means there are over 100 billion possible active ingredient combinations. And remember, that DOESN'T include the "other 70%" of compounds that are not on published test results (thiols, aldehydes, etc.)
If there are literally BILLIONS of different possible active ingredient combinations in The Flower, it seems prudent that we consider other viable methods to get better effectiveness knowledge. If we can get people like you to anonymously share your own knowledge of what works BEST for you, all in one place on the same survey, we believe we can help create valuable knowledge in a fairly short period of time.
A Strain Name or Sativa/Indica designation is misleading most of the time
We believe an understanding of the major active ingredient combinations (profiles) in cannabis and hemp products is more important than a vague label stating "Indica", "Sativa", or "Hybrid", or a clever "strain" (cultivar) name.
One of the reasons why this categorization remains today is that it is not easy to deliver a consistent active ingredient profile in cannabis and hemp flower from harvest to harvest - even in the same controlled facility with the same genetics and processes.
Cannabinoid Content Varies from Batch to Batch
Here's an example. The THC content of this single "strain" varied from around 15% to almost 25% over a period of 10 months and 14 different batch numbers.
Just because a flower has a THC content under 20% does not mean it is inferior to one that has over 30%. You may get more THC per dose, but if the terpene percentage is the same, you also get fewer TERPENES per dose.
If your "effect goal" is to focus and minimize memory loss for a few hours and you have astutely chosen a product with pinene (reported to help in this area), the 20% THC flower might actually be more effective for you for that goal. You will be getting MORE pinene per THC dose in milligrams. It's really based on everyone's unique needs, goals, and biochemistry.
Terpenes in Flower Vary from Batch to Batch
Ever notice how some flower is so pungent that it doesn't seem to matter what container you put it in, it still stinks up the room? And then some flower doesn't seem to do that at all. 4% total terpene content flower will likely be more fragrant than 1% total terpene content flower. However, that "other 70%" in cannabis and hemp flower contributes a lot to the aroma too. The "other 70%" isn't usually tested for, or included on test result reports, unfortunately.
We really need to know these a few things about terpene content in a product:
- How many terpenes were tested in total?
- Total percentage or weight of the tested terpenes and terpenoids
Sometimes a product will boast 4% terpenes, but the top terpene amount is only 0.3%. If you look closely, you'll probably find the lab tested for several hundred terpenes and the 4% total is made up of scores of obscure terpenes with less than .02% each. Whereas if the lab only tested for 40 terpenes, a total terpene content of 4% would be pretty impressive.
Below is a bar chart of the major terpenes in the same strain (cultivar) from several lots from the same producer. They were purchased from a multi-state, vertically integrated medical-only cannabis dispensary between September 2021 and December 2022.
The dominant terpenes in this single cultivar, or "strain" vary a lot from the first lot to the last lot. The color for each terpene is consistent so you can see the differences without looking at the actual percentage numbers.
The first batch is kind of out in left field compared to the other three. The next two batches show promise of some consistency, but the fourth batch is very different. Pinene, Phellandrene, and Ocimene have been essentially "replaced" by more Myrcene. The total weight of these major terpenes also dropped by about 30% (between the third and fourth batch).
We know from experience in the food, cosmetics, and fragrance industries that some terpenes are very potent, and just fractions of a percent can be enough to dominate a substance's smell or taste. Scientists say active ingredients that contribute 0.05% or more in weight are considered "pharmacologically interesting". Variations in terpene amounts and ratios can have a significant effect on the way that a product affects you physically.
So, it's apparent that a single professional "medical-grade" grower has a tough time producing a consistent active ingredient profile from the same genetics and phenotypes. It doesn't mean they are a bad grower. It just means that it is very, very hard due to the complexity of The Amazing Flower.
Terpenes help create the taste and aroma
Since our mission is to help find out what works best for different consumer and patient goals, we think knowing more about terpenes is important. Research shows they definitely have effects on humans. But most of the research was done on the effects of single terpenes by themselves, not combined with 10 other terpenes, 3-5 cannabinoids, and the "other 70%".
They can also affect people differently, so the only way to really know what they do combined together is collecting data from lots of different kinds of patients and consumers. Our research survey is one way we are trying to help out with this "knowledge gap". It only takes 3 minutes and will contribute to developing more useful knowledge about cannabis products.
We put together a quick-reference guide to cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that are most commonly found in cannabis and hemp flower. This guide of course does not include ALL the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in The Amazing Flower, but it covers the most frequently found active ingredients in lab test results (COAs). There are several hundred cannabinoids, terpenes, terpenoids, and flavonoids in The Amazing Flower, and that's a big reason why it is truly amazing.
Several studies have shown that a combination of many of these active ingredients together are usually more effective than a single, isolated compound (synergy). This property is called the "Entourage Effect" by many. Although perhaps the "Ensemble Effect" is a better term since there really is no single "star" ingredient in The Amazing Flower from a medical perspective.
Based on the best research we can find, cannabinoid bioavailability varies quite a lot depending on your method of consumption. Swallowing (or inhaling) 10mg of CBD or THC product will NOT deliver 10mg of THC or CBD to your bloodstream. That's the simple definition of bioavailability. We have a detailed Bioavailability page that includes a discussion and lists the 30+ references we used, including quotations from the studies and experts.
Below is our infographic that shows cannabinoid bioavailability estimates based on study averages for the main methods to take cannabinoids. All of the methods usually deliver their effects for a duration of 1 to 3 hours, EXCEPT edibles, which can deliver effects for over 8 hours (more on why ingesting is different below).
Point to ponder: Smoking is rated rated lower than vaporizing in terms of overall efficiency, however some people report that they actually use LESS product when they smoke versus when they use a vaporizer. People are different. It's really what works best for you, and you're not like anyone else, physically or chemically.
Swallowing or Eating Cannabinoids Is Different...
...mostly because the cannabinoids get processed (metabolized) in the liver before they hit your bloodstream ("1st Pass" metabolism). The liver converts some active ingredients in cannabis and hemp into completely different molecules. Most Delta-9 THC is converted to 11-hydroxy(OH)-THC. CBD can be converted to 7-COOH-CBD.
This is one reason why people say that eating or swallowing THC gives them a very different effect than when it is taken in any other way. The effects from ingesting usually last MUCH longer than inhaling or tincturing, too.
Swallowing has a low overall bioavailability for the most cannabinoids but can be dramatically improved when ingested with saturated fats. There have also been recent advances in creating single cannabinoid (isolate) nanoemulsions and microemulsions that increase the bioavailability of ingested cannabinoids BEFORE they get to the liver. These new technologies certainly hold promise, but the research is still limited.
Be very careful when dosing Nano- and Micro-emulsions. Most people will need to take less than you would with a normal product designed without these technologies. Our bioavailabilty page has summaries and quotes from key research in this area, including nanoemulsions and microemulsions.
And PLEASE never forget that cannabis affects different people in very different ways. It requires some trial and error, so remember to always START LOW (dose) and GO SLOW (increasing the dose) until you find the dose, administration method, and active ingredient combinations that work best for you.