How to Read Cannabis Product Labels

by | Oct 12, 2023 | A High Class Blog, Starter Guides

Isn’t it wonderful that cannabis is legal in Canada?! With every pro, however, there is a con. This article aims to share with you some of the laws, restrictions, and requirements that cannabis producers must follow to legally offer cannabis products. Some of which are confusing for the average consumer. 

“THC” vs. “Total THC” on Cannabis Labels

Hash label showing thc and total thc levels. This is probably THE most confusing element on government-regulated cannabis labels. Sometimes the “THC” amount is the same as the “Total THC” content on some products, but on others, the amounts are different.

This is why…

The “THC” listed on a package is the number of active cannabinoids contained in the product at the time of purchase BEFORE it is heated by vaping, smoking, or cooking.

The “Total THC” refers to the levels of active cannabinoids in the cannabis AFTER it’s been prepared for consumption by heating through vaping, smoking, or cooking. This total amount identifies the potential potency that the product may have when consumed.

cannabis drink label As you can see above on the right, this is an image of a label for a 2-gram Afghan Black hash product from Vortex. It has both CBD and THC levels as well as, total amounts for each. For both cannabinoids, the amounts have increased from the base levels to the total amounts. This reflects the potential potency of both CBD and THC after the heating process.

Compare the hash label above to the drink label from Collective Project on the left. In this case, the Cosmic Cowboy drink levels of both THC and CBD do not change from base amounts to their respective totals.

The reason for this is that both the THC and CBD have already been processed and do not require any further processing, such as heat, before consumption. You will find this on almost all edible products, whether they are drinks or gummies, as these products are ready to consume.

Potency Defined by Health Canada

Health Canada says, “Inhaled 3-6mg THC is sufficient to reach the threshold for psychotropic effects, and an inhaled measure of 10-20mg THC is sufficient to produce marked intoxication.”

THC portions of 2.5mg – 3mg or lower are associated with minimal psychoactive effects but more therapeutic benefits.

In layman’s terms, these guidelines are shared to give you an idea of “safe amounts” of THC to consume before they affect the average person. “Psychotropic effects” refer to changing brain chemistry (which can mean different things, including positive brain changes) vs. intoxication, which means your cognitive and motor functions are altered enough that your judgment can be called into question.

CBD oil capsules label example Government-Regulated Cannabis Levels

A certain number of our customers are seasoned cannabis consumers and have been sourcing their products elsewhere for many years. Their tolerance levels are quite high and so when they shop in our store, they are sometimes surprised and disappointed to see the maximum THC levels within our products.

Please note the following government-regulated levels:

  • Edibles: max 10mg of THC/unit
  • Oils/capsules: labels state totals
  • Extracts (ingesting): max 10mg THC/unit
  • Extracts (inhaling): max 1000mg/package
  • Topicals: max 1000mg of THC/package
  • Dried flower: if a product is labeled 15% THC, it means THC makes up 15% or 150mg per gram of the total cannabis content. The average highest THC level for dried cannabis is 30%.

Regarding dried flower THC levels on labels, this year there have been news headlines where some Canadian cannabis producers are inflating THC levels on their labels. (Source: MJbizdaily.) This is still unresolved, according to a September 25th, 2023 Globe and Mail article about the matter.

According to private testing done in the United States, the inflated THC potency levels on labels are an industry-wide issue. The experts in these articles seem to contend that it may be consumer-driven demand for high THC products placing competitive pressure on companies to inflate their levels by as much as 20%.

The legalized cannabis industry is now in its fifth year. This is still new territory for Canada and while there have been many bumps along the way, there will probably be many more before the road becomes smooth! Stay tuned to our blog as we all navigate through these waters together.