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Cannabis 101

How to Read a Cannabis Label

09.27.22 - 4 min read

Have you ever wondered what all the numbers, percentages, and acronyms mean? If all the small print on cannabis labels seems puzzling, this guide can help decipher how to read dispensary labels.   

 The U.S. cannabis industry has exploded over the last few years. With legal marijuana programs in many states and demand on the rise, you can now choose among hundreds of cannabis products. 

Cannabis consumers are faced with countless THC and CBD Concentrates, edibles, cannabis flower, capsules, and ointments each time you enter a dispensary. Knowing how to navigate the product labels and understanding THC levels can go a long way to getting comfortable. 

If you want to make more informed purchasing decisions when shopping for marijuana products, this short guide shows how to read Cannabis packaging labels and what to look for in tinctures, cannabis flower, and edible labels ensuring the right products. 

Highlights 

  • Cannabis labels vary depending on the type of product 
  • The most important information on any cannabis label is Total Active Cannabinoids 
  • By law, every cannabis label must include the producer’s name and contact 
  • Products from reputable growers are lab tested, and information about testing labs and test dates is also featured on labels 
  • Understanding cannabis labels is key to getting the dosage of your product right 
  • Patient Care Providers and RISE patient care specialists can help you decide which cannabis product is best for you. 

Each state has different requirements for cannabis labels, but there are some common items on dispensary label packaging. These are: 

Product Name 

This one’s straightforward: If the Citradelic Sunset flower or the Mile High Mint chocolate bar is a favorite, ask for it by name next time.  

There are two distinct cannabis strains: Indica and Sativa. Indica Strains of weed are commonly thought to be sedative, while Sativa Strains are seen as more energizing. In reality though, this is not always the case. The effect of you’re the product doesn’t rely solely on the strain type, but rather on a complex web of variables like the terpene and cannabinoid profile of your product, your own metabolism and tolerance, among other factors.  

There are also hybrid strains that are neither Sativa or Indica dominant.  In fact its more common to encounter hybrids, as there are no truly pure Indica or Sativa strains on the market. Within each of these three categories, there are many subcategories and labels will offer information regarding the cannabis strain you’re buying. 

 Can’t choose between Purple Buddha, Bubble Gum, Jack Herer, and Cotton Candy Kush? A RISE patient care specialist will provide guidance for finding the strain that can produce the effects you desire. 

Weight 

How much? Seems like an easy enough question. But for the beginner, it might not be so clear and that’s ok. The mass or concentration of the cannabis is often measured in grams, ounces and pounds.  Don’t go it alone; a cannabis consultant or patient care specialist can help you figure out how much to buy. Plus, there’s always the opportunity to come back. 

Cultivator 

The cultivator is the name of the company that grew and processed the cannabis. This can be helpful information if you discover you like a product made by a certain cultivator that is sometimes branded with a different package. Basically, you can still recognize your favorite cannabis product even if it changes outfits. 

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TAC (Total Active Cannabinoids) 

What is TAC? 

 This abbreviation can be found on the labels of cannabis products almost anywhere THC pro

ducts are sold. But what does TAC mean exactly?  

TAC stands for Total Active Cannabinoids, which is the total amount of cannabinoids that can be detected in a cannabis product.  

Total Aerobic Count is another definition of TAC, which refers to a product’s whole microbial composition. But this is usually used during the cultivation process and not included on the product label. So, more often than not, the TAC on the label of your cannabis products refers to the Total Active Cannabinoids count. 

TAC shows the concentration and strength of the detectable cannabinoids present in a particular marijuana product. It refers to a product’s cannabis profile. 

What about the cannabinoids that are present but aren’t detectable? Well, keep in mind that to be undetectable, cannabinoids have to be either inactive or insufficient to have a noticeable effect. This means that the undetectable cannabinoids shouldn’t be a concern, as they do not affect the potency of the product. The fact that cannabinoids are listed in the TAC indicates that they will affect the user’s experience in some way. 

TAC & Entourage Effect: Why does TAC Matter? 

The questions always exist: “What is TAC? What does TAC stand for? Why should I care about TAC if I’m just looking for a specific dosage of THC or CBD?”  

The answer to this question is “The Entourage Effect.” What is The entourage effect? It’s the synergy of chemical compounds in the cannabis plant that some scientists believe can alter the effects you feel based on the composition of your particular cannabis product. 

Understanding TAC on dispensary labels is beneficial for both medical and recreational cannabis users. This helps to understand the potential effects of products better and maximize experiences. 

THC and CBD Content 

Cannabinoids are compounds in cannabis that interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system to cause various effects. The main cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are THC and CBD. Depending on the product, cannabinoid strength is typically displayed in either percentage (flower, vape cartridge, and extracts) or milligrams (edibles, tinctures, topicals, and disposable vapes). 

What Is The Difference Between THCa and THC, CBDa and CBD? 

Discerning between THC vs THCa on labels is an important one when deciding which experience is optimal.  

  •  THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the mind-altering effects often associated with cannabis, and people use it to help improve sleep and reduce pain, nausea, and vomiting. Anyone new to cannabis will want to start with a very low dose of THC and slowly, gradually increase to the desired effect. 
  • THCa is the raw, inactive version of THC. If it is not ignited using a flame or heat source, it does not convert into THC and can offer some of the benefits of THC without the state-altering effects.  
  • Similarly, CBD and its inactive version, CBDa, won’t cause psychoactive effects, but they can help with a variety of ailments such as anxiety, inflammation, and severe pain. 

On cannabis labels, THC and CBD content may be expressed in milligrams (edibles), in milligrams per milliliter (oils, tinctures, concentrates), or as a percentage (cannabis flower). 

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THC:CBD Ratio 

Many products compare THC to CBD ratio, such as 3:1 or 5:1. This is helpful to know as some research suggests that CBD can help balance out the euphoric effects of THC when used together with CBD.  [Source] 

Other Cannabinoids 

Full and broad-spectrum products usually feature a list of other cannabinoids, such as CBG and CBN. The interactions between various cannabinoids can boost the efficiency of cannabis products. [Source]    

Terpenes  

Terpenes are the organic compounds that give many foods and plants, including cannabis, their smell, and flavor. Terpenes are the best way to dial in on what works for you because they’re the ingredient that most correlates with effect.  

Some cannabis labels include terpene percentages. This information is very useful given the therapeutic effects of terpenes, which play a key role in differentiating cannabis strains.  

Harvest Date, Test Date, Packaging Date, and Use by Date. 

The takeaway from all these dates is that your product will last for a while. But don’t forget about it—cannabis is most effective and enjoyable within a year of production. (As if you’d let it linger, right?) 

Batch Number  

Batch numbers help dispensaries keep track of which cannabis products were made at the same time. Just as with food and medicine, this helps to ensure quality and keep track of the products. 

Testing Lab 

This is the name of the licensed, independent testing lab that checked the cannabis for harmful materials and confirmed the active ingredients.  

Testing lab information is very important. It is a seal of quality you should always look for. In a booming market, products that have not undergone the necessary testing abound, and they will seldom produce the effects you desire. 

Cannabis Labels and Dosage 

Understanding labels and personal dosage is vital for knowing how much of a product you should take. For example, in the case of THC concentrates, labels will tell you how many milligrams of THC are in the whole bottle or vape cartridge and also the total volume. You will use these numbers to calculate how many mg are in each mL of product. 

RYTHM Cannabis Vape Pen and Cartridge with THC Label

Cannabis Label Accuracy 

Even if you learn everything there is to know about cannabis labeling rules, it is not enough to ensure you will purchase the right product. The most important piece of advice we can give about cannabis labels is, to buy marijuana products at a reputable dispensary. 

While it may be tempting to buy cannabis edibles or CBD oil online from random sellers, it can be quite risky. A recent study showed that only about a third of the CBD products on the market are accurately labeled. Researchers evaluated over 80 products purchased online and discovered, among other things, that the CBD concentrations of 26% of products were lower than stated on the label. 

Likewise, many products labeled as CBD were found to actually contain less than 1% of the cannabinoid. THC products have also been found to contain more of the compound than stated on labels, which may present a risk of intoxication.  

Luckily, with the prevalence of states in the US choosing to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, there are more regulated outlets to purchase safely. The only protection against these problems is buying from a well-known dispensary that offers only the best cannabis products. Look for a RISE dispensary near you to be on the safe side. 

How to Read Cannabis Edible Labels 

Because cannabis-infused edibles belong in two separate product categories (cannabis and food), knowing how to read edible labels that include information about both cannabis content and food ingredients is important 

In California, for example, edible labels include the following information:   

  • Product identity 
  • Net weight/volume 
  • Total THC/CBD content (entire package) 
  • THC and CBD per serving 
  • Government warning about cannabis products 
  • Manufacturer identification and contact 
  • Ingredients list  
  • Instructions for use/cooking if needed 
  • Expiration date, use-by date, best-by date  
  • Batch number 
  • Sodium, sugar, carbohydrates, and total fat  

The most important thing to look for on a cannabis edible label is THC/CBD content. Doctors and cannabis specialists recommend dosage in mg, so knowing how many mg of THC are in a marijuana cookie or how much CBD is in a gummy will help in getting the dosage right. For example, in the case of THC-infused cookies, you must divide the total THC content by the number of cookies in the package.  

Cannabis edibles: Incredibles Windy City
Cannabis edibles: Incredibles Windy City

Some producers include the THC content per serving size rather than per gram or item. Make sure you know exactly how much THC/CBD is in each cookie, each gram of cannabis-infused cooking ingredients and each CBD gummy, etc. before you consume marijuana edibles. 

Do edibles expire? Edible labels feature “best by” dates because, though it is safe to consume the products up until the expiration date, THC/CBD potency may have diminished. To get the maximum power out of edibles, always consume before the “best by” date.  

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How to Read Cannabis Tincture Labels 

The most important element in marijuana tincture labels is the breakdown of cannabinoids; mainly THC and CBD, listed in milligrams. This helps explain how potent the product is. The THC:CBD ratio is usually included as well. This will give you some idea about the tincture’s potential for psychoactive effects.  

Though you may not be planning to have tinctures for lunch any time soon, they are considered digestible products. As such, their labels may also feature nutrition facts. 

How to Read Cannabis Topical Labels  

Topicals are somewhere in between cannabis concentrates and edibles. They usually include all the basic information plus a warning that the product should not be eaten. Topical labels will usually tell you how much THC/CBD is in the package, plus what ingredients are included, other than cannabis. Aside from marijuana extracts, topicals often contain different oils and herbs. 

How to Read Cannabis Flower Labels 

In the case of cannabis flower labels, the most important thing is potency analysis, expressed as a percentage of the dried flower’s weight in grams.  

The THC percentage of dried marijuana flower is typically between 1% and 30%.  

For example, if you buy flower labeled as “20% THC,” you are getting 200 mg of THC per gram of flower. This will be a rather potent flower. Whereas smoking 5%-THC flower will have a moderate effect, 20% marijuana flower could make you feel relaxed or euphoric from the first hit. 

The effect of cannabis flower on your system is not only determined by THC or CBD content. Terpenes, as well as your endocannabinoid system’s unique response, play a key role. A RISE marijuana flower specialist can advise you on the potential effects of a wide range of cannabis flower products. 

Shop-Flowers-How-to-Read-Cannabis-Labels

How to Read CBD Labels 

Under U.S. laws, federally legal CBD products can only contain under 0.3% of THC.  

Aside from THC and CBD content information and third-party lab results, the most important element in CBD labels is identification as full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate.  

  • Full spectrum CBD has a rich cannabinoid profile, including trace amounts of THC.  
  • Broad spectrum CBD has various terpenes and cannabinoids, minus THC. 
  • Meanwhile, CBD isolate has no other cannabinoids or terpenes, just CBD. 

How to Read CBD & THC Concentrate and Extract Labels 

Understanding THC labels is vital for enjoying the benefits of cannabis. When you purchase THC concentrates, you want to know the THC content per milliliter/gram. Some might say, why worry, asking “does THC content matter?” It does. The higher the THC content, the more potent or strong the cannabis. Look for information about cannabinoid profile and terpenes. 

THC concentrate labels also feature all the basic cannabis label details, including allergen/toxin presence, as well as refrigeration instructions when needed.  

If you purchased a concentrate, the listed THC level should be above 50%. If the THC percentage listed on the label is 20 or 30%, you are not really getting a concentrate. 

THC concentrates can be consumed in a variety of ways, using vape pens, dab rigs, or as part of edibles and tinctures.   

How to Read Dispensary Labels 

Marijuana labels can be complex. However, no prior knowledge of cannabis is necessary to come in and make a purchase. Our cannabis consultants and patient care specialists are there to help. 

If interested in trying out a new product, just ask a cannabis consultant or patient care specialist to review the label with you. At RISE, our passion is helping our guests and patients become more informed consumers. 

Find a RISE dispensary near you, give us a call, or send us a message today. 

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