How to read a cannabis label: THC and CBD
Published on January 20, 2023 by David Wylie
This is part of our ‘How To Read The Label’ series. We decode the language and figures used on Canadian legal cannabis labels to help you better understand the information you’re seeing.
Stories in this series:
- Part 1: A glossary of terms on cannabis labels
- Part 2: How to figure out the amount of THC and CBD
- Part 3: Common terpenes found in cannabis
- Part 4: Minor cannabinoids are emerging
Reading labels can help you understand cannabis better.
Labels are a bit of a code to crack so don’t feel out of place if you don’t instantly understand what the jargon and numbers mean.
Every legal cannabis product has both THC and CBD percentages on the label.
You’ll see them as different numbers.
If it’s your first time looking at a cannabis label, you might throw your up hands and ask “what does this even mean?”
Here’s some insight into how to understand the label.
In completely unscientific terms:
- THC is the cannabinoid that gets you ‘high.’
- CBD is the cannabinoid that keeps you ‘chill.’
These numbers will be shown in different ways depending on the format, such as flower, oils, and edibles.
How to read cannabis flower labels
On flower labels, you’ll see something like this:
THC 2.3 mg/g (Total THC / THC Total 72 mg/g)
CBD 1.1 mg/g (Total CBD / CBD Total 116 mg/g)
The second number listed, ‘Total THC/Total CBD,’ is the figure relevant to you—as it denotes how much THC and CBD you’ll get after heating and inhaling. In other words, it’s how you can figure out the THC percentage of the smoke.
With smoking and vaping, THC levels are discussed as percentages. Turning the ‘Total’ number into a percentage is as easy as adding a decimal point to the left of the last digit. In the example above, THC would be 7.2% and CBD would be 11.6%.
THC levels in flower range from practically nil in hemp to over 30% in that real sticky stuff. (More info further down on what is a ‘normal’ amount.)
CBD levels are usually low in flower, but some strains are bred specifically for it. Over 10% CBD is considered high.
Vape cart labels have the same formula.
THC and CBD numbers on vape cart labels can also be turned into percentages by moving the decimal. Because cannabis oil is used in vapes, it will have a much higher percentage, often in the 80%-plus range.
Terpene levels are also usually listed on flower and vape labels. Flower is commonly listed as having between 2%-5% terpenes. Terpenes generally add smell and taste. For more info on terpenes, check out the oz. field guide to common terpenes found in cannabis.
How to read cannabis tincture and oil labels
On tincture labels, you’ll see something like this:
THC 2.1 mg/ml (Total THC 2.1mg/ml)
CBD 10.8 mg/ml (Total CBD 10.8mg/ml)
Oil and tincture labels measure THC and CBD either per milliliter or per drop, depending on the product.
Often oils will come with a syringe to accurately measure the dose; a small syringe is about a ml.
It can be difficult to find out how much liquid is in the little bottle as it’s not clearly marked on many of the labels. It’s usually 30ml.
When in doubt with oil or water soluble liquids that use measured droppers, look for the words ‘per activation,’ which means per drop.
How to read cannabis edible labels
On edible labels, you’ll see something like this:
THC per unit: <0.03 mg (Total THC per unit: <0.03 mg) Total THC: <0.9 mg
CBD per unit: 20 mg (Total CBD per unit: 20 mg) Total CBD: 600 mg
When reading edible labels, you’ll want to pay attention to the per unit amounts. They show how much THC, CBD are infused in each piece.
With a lower THC limit of 10mg per unit, edibles have branched into lesser-known cannabinoids (such as CBN and CBG) for value-added propositions.
Cannabis drinks are under the same limitations as edibles when it comes to THC.
More useful information about reading cannabis labels
Here are a few more thoughts on reading levels of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids.
What is a ‘normal’ amount? Everyone has their own normal as some people have different tolerance levels and are affected in different ways. Edibles have a THC limit in Canada of 10mg THC per package. (Half of that is a good place for beginners to start.) With flower, anything below 20% THC is considered to be low potency, and the mid-20s is medium.
What the ratios mean: With edibles and oils, the package often shows ratios, such as 1:5. This is a quick way to see the amount of THC to CBD—in this case, that could be 1mg THC to 5mg CBD. Sometimes there are more than two numbers, which denote THC, CBD, and minor cannabinoids, which would look like this: 1:5:2.
If this still seems like a code where you haven’t cracked the cipher, give it time and experimentation and the number combinations will unlock.
Send any corrections or suggestions for improvement to [email protected].