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How to Read Cannabis Product Labels 

July 10, 2020

Ever looked at the back label of a cannabis product and wondered what the heck all the information meant? You’re not alone. 

For longtime stoners, it’s kind of a new problem to have. Legal cannabis means access to more information about your bud that never existed before. It’s not just an unlabeled bag your friend gave you anymore. 

There’s a lot of useful information on the back of Cannabis dispensary products and it’s worth learning to read them thoroughly. So let’s begin. 

What’s on the label when you buy Cannabis flower?

Buds from the dispensary tend to have the most information on the label. Some of it seems self explanatory, like THC levels. Other components are more confusing. Like, what is THCa, even?

Cannabis THC content 

The first thing you’ll probably look at when examining a cannabis product label is THC content. After all, it’s common to assume that THC content directly translates to how high you’ll be getting. This is not necessarily true. 

The percentage listed actually refers to the ratio of THC present in comparison with other cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant. 

You may notice labels that refer to the “total THC” or “maximum” levels. This refers to the total amount of THC available for use. What does that mean? Well, we have to look at THCa. 

Bonus: How Long Do Cannabis Seeds Last?

Cannabis THCa content 

You’ll notice labels mention THCa, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. It’s a mouthful. But it’s also a crucial part of looking at how intoxicating a product will be. 

THCa is a naturally occurring acid in the cannabis plant. It has no intoxicating effects. As cannabis dries, THCa slowly converts to THC, the intoxicating component in cannabis. The process is sped up by heating cannabis, a process called decarboxylation. You may recognize the term from edible recipes.

Before transitioning to THC, THCa cannot get you high. So when you see THCa listed on a label, know that it represents the precursor to THC, and is not a direct representation of how high you will get. 

Adding up the THC and THCa content will not give you an exact measurement of how much potential is in the product. It will, however, give you a good idea. Some labels will list a single, total THC percentage rather than break down the different forms of THC. 

Cannabis CBD and CBDa

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid that has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for its therapeutic potential. 

And much like THC, CBD has its own acid precursor: CBDa, or cannabidiolic acid. It converts to CBD when heated, or after aging for a long enough time. 

When you see total CBD percentages, it’s a combination of CBD and CBDa present in the plant. 

Other cannabinoids 

Additionally, you may see more than just THC and CBD-related percentages on the back of your cannabis product. 

These percentages are found in the same way as CBD and THC. If you’re looking for specific effects from your cannabis, it’s a good idea to look at all of the cannabinoids present, as many have various therapeutic effects. 

Cannabis Terpene percentages 

Not all labels include terpene percentage, but it is very useful when they do. Terpenes are organic compounds found in cannabis (and other plants) that contribute to each strain’s unique taste and smell. 

They also play a big part in the effects of a given strain. Terpenes, much like cannabinoids, have unique therapeutic effects. Different terpene profiles from strain to strain will result in different effects. 

What’s on the label for cannabis edibles?

Cannabis edibles have similar labels indicating cannabinoid content and general information. But they don’t always have as thorough of a breakdown of each component. 

Instead, you’ll see more of an emphasis on a lot number, expiration date, and nutritional information listed on the packaging. The package will probably include a recommended dosage.  

What’s on the label for cannabis topicals? How about cannabis bath salts?

Cannabis bath salts and topicals normally include information similar to other cannabis products but usually clearly mention “DO NOT EAT” on them. Cannabis bath salts and topicals have serving size as well as total thc/cbd levels and ingredients used. Both Cannabis topicals and bath bombs tend to include thc and cbd, and added ingredients like herbs and oils, with soothing effects.

What’s on the label for cannabis tinctures?

Tincture labels typically include a lot of information. If you haven’t used one before, it can be a bit overwhelming. 

You’ll see the typical breakdown of cannabinoids including THC and CBD listed in milligrams. The amount listed refers to the potency of the product. 

You can also expect to see dosage on the label. Typically dosages will be per drop, or half a dropper, of a given tincture. 

Tinctures will also include nutrition facts, since they are digestible. 

What other information is listed on cannabis product labels? 

Many people look to product labels to discern how potent a product is and gauge the effects they’ll feel. But there is other important information listed on products labels that are worth checking. 

First, you’ll notice there is a strain name listed. This is typically displayed on the front of the package. You’ll also see the grower/producer where the product originates listed. Additionally, you’ll see the classification of the strain: indica, sativa, or hybrid. 

Beyond this general information, you may see a harvest date listed which details when the plant was harvested. There may also be information regarding lab testing. 

For greatest transparency, the test results should include when the tests were conducted, as well as the name of the laboratory. Cannabis lab tests check for pesticides, mildew and mold, residual solvents, and other contaminants. They also check for potency. 

There should also be a batch number or ID listed on the product. The batch number is important for matching up test results to ensure accuracy, as well as helping dispensaries identify and track specific products. 

More information about cannabis product labels 

There is a lot of information to take in when looking at cannabis product labels. The rules for packaging in Washington state are thorough and companies must maintain compliance at all times. If you’d like to learn more about the rules, check out this guide, from the Liquor and Cannabis board.

One thing you’ll never see on a cannabis label is false or misleading information about the product. This means there should never be descriptions of how cannabis may “cure” certain ailments. There should be no concrete medical claims. However, there are plenty of products available designed to assist with specific situations, such as insomnia or anxiety. You’ll notice these products never claim to cure or treat any conditions. 

Further, cannabis products will never have any sort of imagery or depictions that may appeal to children or persons under the age of 21. That’s why you never see cutesy cartoons or imagery that may appeal to children on cannabis labels. 

That’s a lot of cannabis label information to take in! Need a break? Stop by Satori and stock up on your favorite cannabis products. See if you learn anything new about your favorite strain with your knowledge of cannabis labels! 

Satori MJ is a recreational cannabis shop featuring many dispensary locations! Check us on out on YelpLeaflyInstagramFacebookGoogle and Twitter.

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