Kevin Jacoby | November 14, 2022

New Oregon-Based Study Confirms THC Potency is Not Indicative of Product Quality or Consumer Experience’

A new study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychoactives that concludes, based on anonymized data collected from a Portland-based cannabis competition, Cultivation Classic, that there is no correlation between THC potency and a positive consumer experience.

The study, titled “The Nose Knows: Aroma, but Not THC Mediates the Subjective Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis Flower,” is authored by owners of Smart Analytics and researchers from Legacy Health, both based in Portland. The article notes that “THC potency appears to have been widely adopted as the primary indicator of quality” in legal cannabis markets, and that consumer studies indicate that THC potency “is a leading factor in purchasing decisions,” which has led to the market creating a directly correlation between THC potency and retail price per gram. Given the acknowledged public health risks associated with excessive THC use, the authors describe this dynamic between consumer decision making and industry response as creating a “risky feed-forward cycle.”

Instead, the authors argue, the best indicator of whether a consumer will have a positive experience from a given cannabis cultivar is entirely based on whether that consumer finds the aroma of the cannabis to be pleasant or appealing. Neither terpene content (that is, the amount or types of terpenes present), THC potency, or even THC dose had any correlation with a positive high. “Our analysis revealed that, contrary to both market dynamics and consumer perception, neither THC potency nor THC dose had an impact on subjective appeal,” the authors wrote.

While this is not the first study to debunk the rationality of consumer-driven demand for high THC products, this is the first study to demonstrate that an appealing aroma is statistically associated with a pleasant consumption experience. The authors point out that this puts cannabis on-par with other agricultural products that are graded at both the industry-level and by consumers primarily on aroma, like hops, tea and coffee, and gives both the cannabis industry and its regulators a path forward to reorient consumers to what is most important by regulating consumer sales to allow and encourage consumers to smell the product before they buy it and by otherwise de-emphasizing the market value of high-THC products.

As I noted previously, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission is currently embarking on a campaign to verify the accuracy of reported THC potency figures in an effort to combat concerns of THC potency inflation. To that end, OLCC has published draft rules to require relabeling in the event their audits reveal a statistically significant variance in the reported THC potency result. The findings of this study suggests that OLCC is at best tilting at windmills and at worst endangering public health and safety, and the better approach is to change consumer thinking through evidence-based education coupled with an industry-wide change in emphasis away from THC content.


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