- State THCA Average – 16.998% based on over 6000 test results during 2014
- Buddy Boy Farm THCA Average – 23.03% based on over 170 tests through November, 2014
- Buddy Boy Farm THCA tests 6.032% higher on average than the state average
When we first received our test result showing a tested THCA level of 41.7% we were, to put it mildly, skeptical. We, like most in the industry, had always thought that the maximum levels of THC were likely in the 27% to 28% range. After all, it was only in the last few years that “High Times” winners even got near these mid-to-high levels in the 20s, and while we knew we were doing a good job, it seemed very unlikely that we had broken world records (as fine as our grow looked!). Here is the whole story of how we came to understand the true potential of the cannabis plant and how Buddy Boy came to hit a home run!
We knew we had a star when, in early June, we planted over 400 clones of our Buddy Boy cut of the God’s Gift strain. We’d grown this sweet strain before in our trials and we knew it to be a high THC producer, with giant, rock-solid buds, tons of trichomes, as well as throwing off prodigious quantites of kief. By fall, these ladies had grown into beautiful specimens, with most trained 6 to 7 feet wide and only 4 to 5 feet tall, yet sporting dozens of upright branches, each carrying thick colas as long as your forearm! One interesting difference with this strain is that while it produces lots of trichomes, it is not sticky and does not generate a very pungent odor. The buds, however, are extremely solid, and by the time of harvest, they are very firm, yielding little when squeezed.
We harvested some of this early maturing strain in September and the early test results were very good with most 5# lots running THCA results in the high 20s and one early test showing over 30% THCA! On October 10th, as we were in full fall harvest mode, we received our 41.7% test result, but we were just too overwhelmed with the huge job of harvesting what would prove to be well over a thousand pounds of high quality buds, so we put off our quest to discover the truth until later. We knew we had something really special, but finding out just how special would have to wait for the finish of a great harvest.
My first step was to visit Anatek Laboratories where I met lab director Kathy Sattler. She had pulled our lab results for our test and we proceeded to examine them. I had met Kathy previously when we first started using them for testing. I had noticed that Anatek used a different format for reporting than the other labs we also used. Every other lab reported in a format that showed a total of cannabinoids that was typically quite a bit greater than the amount of THCA shown, while the Anatek reports often came in with THCA being the largest component and Total THC showing a lower value than THCA alone. This was perplexing and at that earlier meeting I’d asked Kathy how THCA could possibly be greater than total THC? She patiently explained that THC was actually the decarboxylated form of THCA and that one needed to apply a factor .877 to the total THCA figure to calculate Total THC. She subsequently gave me the following explanation for this phenomenon:
“THC and the rest of the cannabinoids exist in the plant in their carboxylated (COOH) or acidic forms, ie. thc-a cbd-a, cbn-a. These are non psyco-active. They become psycho-active when heated (such as through smoking), which means they are decarboxylated… essentially CO2 is cooked off. A large fraction (but not all) of the THCA is converted to THC (or CBDA to CBD). The amount depends at least partially on the heating conditions.
Because the CO2 is cooked off, the decarboxylated cannibinoids now have a lower molecular weight. So when they try to add them together they need to account for the weight loss of the CO2. This is where the 0.877 conversion factor comes into play… to compensate for the differences in their molar masses.
So for example:
23.5% THCA x 0.877 = 20.6095% THC
If you start with 1 gram of THCA you will end up with 0.877 grams of THC”
I told her this was very confusing to the final customer and asked if Anatek could report in the same manner as other labs to limit confusion. This is when I came to understand that Ms. Sattler was a woman of principle! She refused to budge on her reporting, as she maintained that her method was the scientifically correct one and all the other labs should conform to this correct methodology and change the way they reported! I subsequently raised this issue with another lab that BBF uses and the owner readily agreed that Kathy’s method was the technically correct one, but that everyone else reported the total in a manner that obscured this fact but that did not raise questions in the minds of the customers that were difficult to answer. But I digress, so to return to our THC sleuthing, I was just getting ready to question Kathy on this 41.7% result!
I asked Ms. Sattler to walk me through the process and to explain how they could be sure of such a high result. Kathy told me that when the result was first reported, she was also skeptical and had assumed that there was an error. Even though the Anatek lab is the only cannabis testing lab in the state to also be NELAC certified for a broad range of environmental testing, there is always a possibility of an error being made and an anomalous result being returned. Anatek labs uses the latest High Performance Liquid Chromatography equipment to perform the THC testing. HPLC is considered by most scientists to consistently return more accurate results than the more commonly used Gas Chromatographs. Anatek uses an Agilent Technologies Model 1260 Infinity HPLC and immediately upon seeing these extremely high results, Kathy ordered new standardized calibration fluid to recalibrate the machine. This was done and another sample was run, only to give results consistent with the first run. Kathy had her staff re-extract another sample from our original material and had this run twice more by different technicians without telling them anything about the earlier results. You’ve already guessed it but I’ll say it anyway! All four runs using two extractions returned consistent results of 41.7 THCA!
My final question for Kathy was “What is your level of confidence in these results?” When she answered “100%,” I wasn’t sure what to think. I was still skeptical, and while I respected Kathy’s integrity and training, I figured there had to be some error creeping in somewhere as I kept hearing from many others that anything over 27% to 28% was just not possible, and that either the grower was “juicing” the sample or the lab was inflating the result to garner more business. I knew for an absolute FACT that we at Buddy Boy were not doing anything but taking a random sample from each 5 pounds of dried flower, as prescribed by the Washington State protocols. We certainly weren’t doing anything special to affect the result, and when the rush of fall harvest hit, my partner and I both lost track of even pulling samples, so the task fell to our warehouse manager, Stan, who knew almost nothing about cannabis and wouldn’t know how to “spike” a sample if his life depended upon it. He confirmed that to generate a sample, he merely picked a nice bud from the large bag holding the approximately 5 pounds of dried flower to be sampled and placed the bud in a labeled plastic sandwich bag, which was aggregated with other such samples and randomly sent in to one of the three labs we used on a regular basis. I also knew for a FACT that we had never been approached by any lab with promises of better results if we used their lab over others. As we are one of the largest growers in the state, and since we pay for hundreds of samples each year, I presumed if anyone was offering such a “deal,” we would have heard of it and the truth was we had not. Heck, I couldn’t even get Kathy to change her method of reporting a smidge to make it easier to explain, so I was quite sure she wasn’t going to outright cheat for no reason! No, the results were what they were and had been arrived at honestly, but that did not mean they were correct. My partner DJ and I just weren’t sure we wanted to stake the reputation of Buddy Boy Farms on a result we couldn’t be rock solid on reporting, as we knew we would be subject to swift and pointed attack. This caution led us on in our quest to understand these results.
I had been participating in a Google group called I-502Cannabis, and during a discussion about high test results, a lady named Michelle Sexton weighed in with the opinion that anything over about 29% was likely impossible. She averred that she had written the protocols for the testing regime adopted by the State of Washington, so I thought “Here is my expert! She will know the explanation.” I contacted her through email and explained my dilemma. Michelle reiterated her belief that 28% to 29% or so was probably tops and suggested I contact Dr. Jonathan Page, a professor of botany at the University of British Columbia and a world renowned expert in cannabis testing. Dr. Page, as I found out, co-led the team that sequenced the cannabis genome and has published extensively on cannabinoid chemistry, biochemistry and genetics.
Here at last was the real deal and I thought “Surely he will help me find an explanation for our results.” After Ms. Sexton cleared it with Dr. Page, she was kind enough to provide me with his email address and I contacted him with a short synopsis of the process so far. As you can imagine, he’s a busy guy and much in demand, but he graciously agreed to take my call the next week to discuss. When the day came, I was anxious but ready, and upon making contact I explained to Dr. Page my dilemma. I explained a bit about my extensive organic farming background, a little about our cultural methods, the strain, how we dried and prepared the sample, what kind of equipment the lab used and how, after getting the first result, Kathy had sent for a new standard fluid sample, re-calibrated her machinery, re-tested the sample, re-extracted additional material and re-tested again, all with the same, apparently, world record results. I explained that nearly everyone else I spoke with thought the results too high to be true and that while I wanted to think we had managed to grow such stellar herb, I still had my doubts because I’d never heard of such a result before. And finally I asked, so what did he think happened?
Doctor Page then told me that up until 3 or 4 years ago, he would have had the same skepticism about these results that I and many others expressed because he had never seen such high THCA levels and had assumed that they were beyond the capability of the plant to produce. That was 3 or 4 years ago, and since then, his opinion had been replaced by fact when a study, funded by the Australian Government and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal called “Plos One,” came out. This study, done by a number of PhD scientists, had tested 218 samples of cannabis grown in Australia and found a wide range of results, with the high end reaching over 39% THCA! He now knew that results like ours are not only possible, they have been documented using rigorous scientific methods and subject to vigorous peer review for error. Dr. Page told me he had met the lead scientist at a conference and knew him to be a competent and well-regarded professional. He expressed not surprise at the Buddy Boy Farms test but rather was congratulatory that we had produced such potent weed! He pointed out that 2014 had nearly perfect outdoor growing conditions with lots of hot sunny days and little rain. He informed me that, in his opinion, we didn’t know the complete potential for cannabis production of THC but that well documented results showed they were clearly very high with our 41.7% THCA certainly within the realm of possibility and, based upon the methods I’d described Kathy using to retest, were likely correct!
Dr. page went on to say that the re-test protocol used by Anatek was the correct one and he had no reason to doubt her results based on what I told him about her equipment and methods. He did agree that THCA testing was the most well documented of the tests and probably the most accurate measure of the potential potency of the cannabinoids tested.
So there you have it! This is the story of how we at Buddy Boy Farm became believers in our own product and decided to go forward and, over two months after first seeing them, release these world record results, and the story of how we found them to be correct. Quite a story but likely not finished. For while Buddy Boy Farms now has what is likely the world record for most potent cannabis, there will always be new growers eager to eclipse our record and someday they will. Just not yet!
PS. There is one final part of this story that I should share before I go, as it illustrates how robust our test results truly are. That peer reviewed paper published in “Plos One” I mentioned had a very interesting chart that showed the distribution of test results for all 218 samples. I reproduce it below. To put our results in perspective I can say that this year, Buddy Boy produced over 15 lots that have tested over 30% THCA, with several over 35% and, of course one champion sample of 41.7% THCA. I’ve thought a lot about why we are seeing so many high THC results and I’ve concluded this: Washington State mandates testing of every lot of no greater than 5# in size. No other state or organization mandates such extensive testing. Not Colorado, not California MMJ. Nobody! Washington is the King of Cannabis testing and this has resulted in more tests being performed in Washington this year alone than has likely been performed ever before. This gives a much greater level of granularity to the results and thus a wider distribution of the data points than ever seen before. Given that with legalization, our farm, and many others, can now grow out of the shadows with all that is implied for improved cultural techniques, greater diversity and more out in the open large outdoor fields, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that higher quality is being produced. Buddy Boy brought together a truly great coalition of long-time cannabis growers and a very productive organic farming venture with long term experience in creating the correct conditions for all kinds of plants to thrive naturally. The result is truly a world record crop!
Another interesting factoid is that the average result for THCA in Washington State came in just about 2 percentage points higher than the average of the NSW samples, while our record 41.7% result was also almost exactly 2 percentage point higher than the high recorded in NSW Australia. Apparently Washington State is a better place to grow than previous THC record holder, Australia!