Tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC, is the most commonly known psychoactive ingredient in cannabis -- the ingredient in ganja that gets you high. It also gives you the munchies, can create undue paranoia from time to time, and makes Cheech and Chong movies marginally funny. In short: THC is why marijuana has remained so popular, despite being illegal most everywhere around the world.
Over the past thirty to forty years, underground breeding has produced increasingly higher THC levels in plants, so that recreational smokers can get nice and toasted on as little herb as possible.
By comparison, strains high in Cannabidiol, or CBD, don't get you nearly as high. CBD doesn't have the psychedelic properties of its cousin, THC. In fact, CBD tends to mellow out the buzz from THC by taking energy that otherwise would go to THC production, and by physiologically countering some of THC's mind-altering effects. Because of this, consciously or unconsciously, growers haven't focused on breeding CBD-rich strains as much as they have in regard to developing strains for THC potency, size, smell and taste.
But in recent years, medical marijuana users have found more benefits in smoking plants high in CBD that just cutting down on paranoid thinking that the Man is out to get you (not that he isn't). Tests have shown it to be a legit medical wonder compound, capable of reducing pain and inflammation, shutting down stomach cramps and nausea, and lessening anxiety. Because of this increased interest, breeders have started creating cuts of cannabis specifically for their high CBD content -- and many of the highest levels are popping up in plants around Colorado.
The folks at Full Spectrum Labs have been keeping tabs on the boom in CBD-heavy plants and have joined a loose collective of testing facilities, patients and marijuana centers known as Project CBD. The group publishes cannabis studies on its website, as well as strain reviews on known CBD-rich cuts. The site is a gold mine when it comes to CBD information.
Full Spectrum spokesman Buckie Minor says he's seen a huge increase in CBD-rich strains over the last year, and Full Spectrum has even begun listing the top CBD cuts and the shops they come from on a "best of" section of its company website.
While two of the shops were in Telluride and several of the local centers didn't have the flowers in stock, we were still able to use this list to track down five of the highest-CBD strains, concentrates and edibles along the Front Range. If you know of other strains that have tested high in CBD that fellow patients should know about, feel free to share in the comments below.
R4 -- 14.55 percent CBD, 0.59 percent THC. The Greenwerkz centers in Denver and Edgewater are the only shops that carry this amazingly rare and potent strain. There's almost no THC whatsoever to this plant, the genetics of which remain a mystery. My first thought was that the cut wasn't anything special or unique -- until I touched the nuggets. The buds left a waxy, soapstone-like feeling on my fingers, possibly due to the shiny, resinous sap coating the sugar leaves of the tiny popcorn nuggets. I was less than impressed by a cut of this back in July, when I reviewed GreenWerkz; what seemed to be a less-than-mature flower produced a rough smoke with a complete lack of smell or taste. When I visited the shop again, though, I brought home a much better sample. It broke up with a light, grape-Kool-Aid scent, and while the flower burned on the harsh side, it left a buttery-thick ganja taste in my mouth and heavy, stinky smoke in my office. The budtender nailed it when she said that this strain leaves you with a "rubbery body" after a couple of bowls. The potent CBD blast gives this cut a strong sedative effect, helping not only pain, but the anxiety that can come with it. It gave me droopy eyes and a Valium-strength body numbness that eased me into a heavy, restful sleep.
Harlequin -- 13.65 percent CBD, 6.03 percent THC Harlequin isn't as rare as the R4; a few growers create the cut, and it can be found at shops around the country. But Boulder's Flower of Life had a flower that tested the highest so far -- and it was on the shelf the day I stopped in. Astonishing, rust-colored pistils (hairs) coated the bud like fur; with a scope, it was easy to see the delicate crystal trichomes that give this bud its extra THC boost. The combo of old-school Colombian, Thai and Swiss landrace mixed with a Nepalese indica had sticky pockets of amber resin on the green sugar leaves left behind in trimming, and the bud was thick and dense. Breaking it up left a greasy film on my fingertips and created a lavender smell that left a floral scent lingering around my desk as I twisted up a little joint. There was nothing outstanding about the taste, but halfway through the doob, I could feel my spinal column go from al dente to soggy noodle. Compared with the R4, the added THC boost created an almost foggy buzz to start with, then a classically stoned feeling for about two hours after. This was a go-to cut the other night, when stomach cramps got the best of me and all I needed was some pain relief and sleep. The shop has also harnessed the CBD power of the strain for edibles and a concentrate, Harlequin Hope, that, at 39.35 percent, tested out the third-highest for CBD that Full Spectrum's lab has seen. Page down for more reviews.
Luca Brasi -- 8.44 percent CBD, 10.93 percent THC The Clinic hasn't had the cut of Bubba Kush that took home the CBD award at the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup last April on its shelves for some time -- but this Luca Brasi is the next best thing. A cross of that award-winning, 12.35 percent CBD Bubba Kush cut and Corleone OG Kush, back-crossed with the Bubba Kush, brought this powerhouse of a CBD cut to the table. Coming in at 8.44 percent CBD and 10.93 THC, this is one of the most equally balanced and overall potent cuts around town. A very strong, rubbery kush scent cut with an underlying organic-soil earthiness left my hands smelling like I'd been digging in the garden all day. The taste matched the smell perfectly, making it a pleasant puff as well as potent medication. Much more uplifting and buzzy due to the higher THC content, the strain was good for numbing the pain without knocking me down for the count. Actually, the herb had me feeling uplifted and active even after a big bowl, without any tension or anxiety, thanks to the decent THC levels. It was also good at calming nerve pain in my stomach and easing cramping after a less-than-quality street-taco session. Clinic staffers promise that the award-winning Bubba Kush will be back, but in the meantime, this is a perfectly suitable alternative.
Purple Diesel CO2 oil -- 35.3 percent CBD, 40.26 percent THC Flowers aren't the only way to smoke or vaporize your meds, and concentrates can offer the most bang for your buck when it comes to pain-relieving CBD. Somehow this cut, with her sativa-strong genetics, gave the growers at Kind Love some of the highest CBD levels of any of their plants -- and the resulting hash oil ranked fifth-highest for CBD concentrate on the Full Spectrum list, behind two types of CBD from Telluride, Harlequin Hope from Flower of Life, and a Bubblegum Kush BHO from Boulder's Project Greenergy. When we tested it, this Purple Diesel CO2-extraction was the highest-potency CBD hash oil available on the Front Range. It was nowhere near as sputtering and watered-down as CO2 extractions often are; the oil had a jelly-like consistency that bubbled and melted when gooped on top of a bowl of flowers. Although there was not much taste beyond a bland, hashy finish, the kick it provided to the bowl full of flowers was noticeable within minutes. It also burned when smoked by itself on a red-hot titanium skillet, though too much left my fine motor skills shot, and typing was damn near impossible for a half hour. But lower doses were enough to end eye pressure, body pressure, lower-back nerve pressure and pretty much the sense of anything pressing in life whatsoever.
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Cannatol Pills -- 7.95 mg CBD This Project Greenergy product is a pill, so there's really nothing to review with regard to smell or anything like that. When I cracked open a Cannatol pill and tried out some of the coconut-oil-based liquid, it tasted way better than the bland pill itself. So you don't get that flavor benefit when you swallow one of these buggers; instead, you may just enjoy some hash-tasting burps for an hour or so. Still, it does the job. I ate one first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, and while one was enough to give me the floaties for an hour or so and put me in a pleasant (and talkative) mood, I think two would be a more appropriate dose for pain relief or more serious ailments.
William Breathes is the pot pen name for Westword's medical marijuana dispensary critic. Check out more reviews from him in our blog, Mile Highs and Lows. While you're at it, catch up on all your ganja news over at The Latest Word.