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Ph.D. on THC: Dank Weed And Good Deeds

Rawson of the Institute of Cannabis Science reviews and tests Valorem carts and flower

As a lover of Consumer Reports and cannabis, I get enthusiastic about trying products and analyzing them. For my first Talking Joints Memo review, I selected Valorem, a division of Northeast Alternatives that promotes a charitable mission. The company describes Valorem as a “budget” brand, and theirs are among the more affordable products in these categories at dispensaries I’ve checked out.

Since the Valorem website boasts its mission so prominently without specific information, I reached out to NE Alternatives via email about what actions had been funded, which yielded a quick response. A director wrote back that the first disbursement went to two Social Equity business winners of a pitch competition, with subsequent donations moving forward going to the state’s Social Equity Trust Fund.

I purchased eighths of flower at Herbwell Cannabis in Cambridge for $35 each, which I view as a good deal since eighths of B-sters typically went for $40 when I lived in Vermont 20 years ago. The vape carts are similarly cheap—$35 each for 1g carts, which is also a low price point for this outlet and good for someone on a budget. I also like that they are honestly labeled as “distillate cartridges.”

The packaging is black plastic, with carts in tubes that are surprisingly long (typical 1 g preroll snap-closure). The flower is packed in black plastic jars. It definitely presents as “budget” rather than “luxury.” Northeast Alternatives is listed as the producer of all the products, with Valorem being a product line that delivers lower-tier flower and vapes at value prices.

Pictured: Exterior packaging of eighths of flower from Valorem, along with selected values from compliance testing that were featured on both labels.

Flower: Lava Cake and Truffle Marmalade

Before we get to our testing of the flower, let’s discuss the advertising of the cannabinoids on the label and the retailer’s website. The website is especially important, because that is what the consumer will see before purchase in Mass. On the retailer’s website (a standard Dutchie), the THC of “Truffle Marmalade” was listed as 18.99%. This is an unmodified sum of the THCA and ∆9-THC, not a calculation of Total THC that corrects for decarboxylation, as per guidelines from the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the Cannabis Control Commission of MA, and others.

The big number on the face of the jar is not the total THC weight percentage; instead, that’s the TAC (Total Active Cannabinoids) weight percentage, a bigger number. The specific levels of selected compounds that were measured from the compliance sample are also listed.

The flower looks nice, it’s cured to a pretty good crispiness, and not compacted. The two strains actually don’t look or smell incredibly different—each had some citrus notes, and just a touch of the hay smell of older flower, which was not unpleasant. The “Lava Cake” smelled more earthy, and the Truffle Marmalade had notes of pine and a hint of tangie. Limonene and caryophyllene are top-listed terpenes for each, so I suppose that supports my informal odor analysis.

I tested each batch of flower using the LightLab 3 HS on generous loan from Orange Photonics. The numbers I reported here are the highest results I got for each package after testing a couple of nuggets. These results do not come from a statistical sampling of batches of cannabis. Neither do the numbers on the compliance test (and the label, and the website).

Photos of Lava Cake and Truffle Marmalade flower, with advertised test results (in box) and results from author’s personal testing using the LightLab 3HS in parentheses.

There are plenty of reasons why measuring the THC of flower from the package gives a result that’s different from the compliance test. For one thing, these batches had their compliance testing around nine months ago, so the flower was somewhat old and noticeably stale. That reasonably explains why I found more ∆9-THC than the compliance tests—some THCA probably decarboxylated in the interim. When cannabis ages, the cannabinoid compounds gradually degrade, and that might explain some additional loss. The compliance test also measured a selected bud before packaging, rather than random samples after packaging, shipping, and storage.

Neither of these had a flavor that was strong or remarkable, but each tasted fine, giving smooth smoke through my bubbler. I preferred the flavor of the smoke from the Truffle Marmalade, but I honestly didn’t feel much from it. The Lava Cake, on the other hand, smoked nicely and gave me a good buzz—I would definitely buy it again at that price.

Vape Carts: Wedding Cake and Rainbow Razz

I do use vape pens from time to time, although I am not a huge fan. They are just so dang convenient though! And they’re interesting too, because they range from completely amazing to untouchably horrible as profoundly as any product category (prerolls are good competition).

The carts from Valorem are labeled as distillate, which is the lowest grade of filling for a cartridge, and I appreciate that they didn’t claim to be anything better. I sampled the Wedding Cake and Rainbow Razz selections, and both carts tasted like distillate, which to me always has a slightly mothball-ish, chemical hint. Comparatively, the Wedding Cake had some sweetness, while the Rainbow Razz had a little berry zing. There is nothing great about these carts, except for maybe the price of $35 for a 1g. Consider this a fallback if you’re ever in an economic pinch. 


The Valorem products I sampled were definitely budget offerings, but I would buy some of them again. When evaluating cheap carts, I don’t ask much beyond, Is it better than a tolerance break? The Wedding Cake and Rainbow Razz carts passed that test, but barely.

The flower, however, had a reasonable appearance, smell, and flavor for the price. This is a weird time to review weed in the Bay State—so much of the product on the market now is competently grown, has professional genetics, and is readily available. Twenty years ago, I’d be overjoyed by this market—I walk four blocks for weed, without having to wait for a guy, seven days a week. Meanwhile, retailers are all competing on price, and there is a lot of aging product on shelves, with nine months old being typical for products I’ve recently bought.

For the most part, these days I can get a decent value item that’s reliable, but it doesn’t always make for a quality experience. As for these products, I would buy the Lava Cake again, but the Truffle Marmalade left me unsatisfied. Consider me bombed out in the endocannabinoid system if you want, but sometimes flower below around 15% Total (Max) THC can disappoint me.