Cannabeginners: Cannabinoid Ratios, Why They Matter

Understanding how ratios help predict the effects of full-spectrum cannabis.
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Full-Spectrum cannabis contains the entire spectrum of more than 100 phytocannabinoids, but those cannabinoids are not present in equal amounts. Knowing the ratio of one cannabinoid to another can help you predict what the effects of that cannabis could be.

How Breeding Influences Cannabinoid Ratios

It is hypothesized that before THC was identified as the cannabinoid responsible for making people feel “high,” that there were more balanced cannabinoid ratios in landrace cultivars (those bred by nature rather than intentional human breeding). “They kept getting bred to go higher and higher in THC, so most strains have very low CBD,” said Dennis Hunter, cofounder of Cannacraft, who produces CBD-rich products under the brand name Care by Design.

Thankfully, in 2008, the first cannabis testing lab in the United States opened their doors, and Steep Hill Labs modernized the science of cannabis lab testing, with help from Harborside. Thanks to their testing and research, Steep Hill and Harborside can “even be credited with rediscovering CBD.” Other early CBD pioneers responsible for this industry gamechanger are Fred Gardner and Martin Lee, who worked with the grower Wade Laughter to start Project CBD, beyond starting Project CBD, Wade also is the breeder who created Harlequin, one of the earliest CBD-rich cultivars identified by Steep Hill. Now, more and more cultivators are breeding for the complete cannabinoid and terpene profile, rather than just THC.

How Do Cannabinoid Ratios Affect You?

Every cannabinoid ratio will produce different, sometimes radically different, outcomes, so it is important to know what the expected effects of a given ratio could be. You should also pay attention that the bigger number in the ratio is the cannabinoid you want it to be (i.e. If you don’t want to be very high, make sure that 4:1 is CBD:THC instead of the opposite).

Ratios With More THC than CBD

It is unlikely that you will see cannabinoid ratios offered with more THC than CBD, but if you do, a 1:2 or 1:4 CBD:THC ratio would probably be the most common and would still make you feel high but there would be some CBD to potentially calm some of the intoxicating effects. These ratios would likely be good for people who are sensitive to THC but still curious about trying it, though a 1:1 ratio might be a better way to start, as it would contain even more CBD. 

1:1 – A Balanced Ratio

A 1:1 ratio of CBD:THC is equal parts of each cannabinoid and is possibly the most common ratio found in cannabis products, in a wide variety of product types (edibles, tinctures, capsules, topicals, and possibly even flower or extracts). This is a good ratio to start with for people who are new to THC but curious what it would be like to feel “high.” This ratio is wonderful for people suffering from pain, as both THC and CBD work as analgesics using different mechanisms in the body.

Low CBD to THC

The most common low CBD:THC ratios are 2:1, 3:1, and 4:1, which all have similar effect profiles, with minimal euphoria from the THC and more medical benefits from the CBD, made even stronger by the presence of THC through the ensemble effect. These ratios are also very good for pain,  but as CBD has benefits for numerous conditions, ranging from cancer to skin conditions like eczema, these ratios can be used for a wide range of medical conditions. 

High CBD to THC

There is a bit of a jump between the low and high CBD to THC ratio products, with the lowest high CBD:THC ratios sold being around 8:1, and ranging as high as 40:1. While the low CBD:THC ratios still have some minimal euphoria from THC, unless someone is taking a very high dose, it is unlikely that 8:1 and higher ratios will produce feelings of intoxication. Specifically, ratios above 18:1 CBD:THC are commonly used in cases of pediatric epilepsy as they do not produce intoxication. Aside from epilepsy, high CBD:THC ratios can be useful for a wide range of conditions just like lower ratios of CBD to THC, but the additional CBD may change the impacts in your body. Just like one needs to do some trial and error to know their dose with edibles, there is some trial and error to figure out the best cannabinoid ratio for your needs.

What’s the Research On Ratios Say?

Most research on cannabinoid ratios can be lumped into two categories, research on a 1:1 balance on THC and CBD and research on high CBD:THC ratios for epilepsy. The research on high CBD:THC ratios for epilepsy is pretty unanimous that CBD is beneficial for some types of epilepsy in some people. The research on a 1:1 balanced ratio has primarily focused on the product Sativex, which is a tincture taken orally and is approved for “symptomatic relief of pain in advanced cancer and multiple sclerosis.” Cinnamon Bidwell is a neurobiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Cognitive Science, and has offered a caveat emptor to cannabis consumers, “The marketing and the consumer lure is far ahead of what the research can really support.”

Ratios: Not Just CBD and THC

While this article has focused on the ratio of CBD to THC, it is important to consider the more than 100 other phytocannabinoids, as well as terpenes and other chemicals, like alkaloids. For example, as we discussed in our last Cannabeginners, while the research on it is mixed, some people see benefits for sleep from using CBN. As both CBD and THC can also have benefits for sleep, rather than just using one cannabinoid, consider using ratios of all three, such as 2:1:1 CBN:THC:CBD. On this topic, the American Society for Testing and Materials’ D37 Committee on Cannabis was just meeting in Denver, and one of the standards they are working on is regarding how cannabinoid ratios can be best presented to consumers. 

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