What does total potential THC mean? Does total potential THC matter? Why?

If you visit our shop, you’ll see that we have a downloadable file of the 2018 Farm Bill. Ironically, on page 420, you will find where the new governing federal hemp law defines the testing protocols for hemp’s THC levels to be on a post decarboxylation basis.

This should be every hemp business’s regulatory blueprint, along with the FD&C Act.

What does total potential THC mean?

In laymen’s terms, decarboxylation is the process by which CBDa converts to CBD. Similarly relevant to hemp laws, decarboxylation is the process by which THCa converts to THC. Total potential THC is the common term for the measurement that represents the Delta-9 THC concentrations on a post decarboxylation basis. Similarly in the cannabis community, decarboxylation commonly occurs via heat, or more specifically, combustion.

Furthermore, any accredited labs have the equation for calculating total potential THC on their lab tests, which is: (0.87)THCa + THC = total potential THC. There is roughly a 13% weight loss by THCa as it converts to THC, as it converts and releases the carboxyl molecule into carbon dioxide.

Although many hemp products do not require decarboxylation for consumption, some do. Likewise, hemp flower, or smokable hemp, products are inherently decarboxylated during consumption.

Does total potential THC matter?

Our team reached out to the USDA to ask. We were lucky enough to receive a returned call from Patty Bennett. She is heavily involved in the USDA’s regulatory evolvement to implement the 2018 Farm Bill. We asked her a very simply question, and received a very simply answer. We asked, “does THCa matter in hemp’s legality?”

It will come at no surprise to some that her answer was yes.

The “post decarboxylation” language in the law mandates THCa be included in THC’s calculation relative to hemp legality.

Why is total potential THC important?

This language in the Farm Bill has a specific purpose, which is to limit hemp’s potential as an intoxicant. With hemp and marijuana being closely related legally, this creates an extremely fine line between hemp, as an agricultural commodity, and marijuana, an intoxicating controlled substance. Horseshoes and hand grenades do not apply here, and the law is very specific.

Some of the products most affected by this is the smokable hemp category.

For example, in September of 2018 I was visiting dispensaries in Colorado while I was traveling for a conference. There was a “sauce” concentrate for sale with 70% THCa, less than 0.1% THC, and roughly 8% CBDa, and non detectable amounts of CBD. This product was intoxicating, even though it had less than 0.3% delta-9 THC, because the THCa would be decarboxylated during combustion.

This is why the post decarboxylation language exists in the farm bill.

How does total potential THC effect smokable hemp flower farms and brands?

Long story short, it is detrimental. High CBD breeders have successfully identified, and attempted to commercialize, high CBD varieties of cannabis. Due to the lack of understanding of the post decarboxylation language in the farm bill, some states have not proactively enforced this language. This enabled small and medium size businesses to build their operations on false pretenses.

Oregon is probably the most notorious for this. Although the CBD flowers marketed and sold to retailers under the assumed protections of the Farm Bill, when factoring in the THCa of those flowers, 9/10 the flower is outside of the federal definition of hemp. You will also find that companies and businesses who tell you that THCa does not matter, tend to not comply with federal law otherwise. The “hemp flower” being sold out of Oregon is of high grade, has potent CBD levels, but unfortunately almost all of it is federally defined as a controlled substance. Just because enforcement is very thin and is still getting its footing, this does not change federal law.

Because regulatory authorities have not publicly addressed this issue. Whenever they do, the majority of hemp flower farms and brands will have a much harder time selling their crop. Similarly, they probably will not be able to sell their crop at all.

Finally, with the majority of high CBD cannabis strains grown being above the federal threshold for total potential THC, the industry should be prepared to pivot to compliant varieties.

hemp flower less than 0.3 total potential THC
Hemp Flower with less than 0.3% total potential THC

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