How can we best classify cannabis varieties for consumers? How can you, the consumer, make sure you purchase cannabis that will work for you?
These are the questions on the minds of conscious cannabis industry players. It is necessary to move beyond the antiquated Indica vs Sativa dichotomy; most varieties on the market are genetic hybrids and their chemical makeup is very much subject to environmental factors. Strain names are ever changing and often don’t provide consistency in regards to the effects they will produce. A Cherry Pie from one grower may produce a different experience than a Cherry Pie from another grower. Plus, the selection of varieties at dispensaries is always in flux. This makes for quite an overwhelming landscape of shifting options. How can we, on the industry side, make it so that you, the consumer, can leave the dispensary with what you really want?
Looking to the chemotype, or chemical makeup of each batch of a variety, is the first step in providing an accurate prediction of experience for a consumer. We’re talking cannabinoids and terpenes. Identifying the cannabinoid and terpene concentrations that align with your intended experience becomes necessary when selecting a cannabis variety or infused product that will work for you.
Cannabis varieties can be categorized into three cannabinoid types: Type I, II, and III. Each type represents a group of cannabis genetics that produce consistent cannabinoid dominance as follows:
Type I: THC-dominant
Type II: Mixed ratio of THC and CBD
Type III: CBD-dominant
No matter the environmental factors, the types will consistently produce their respective cannabinoid ratios. For example, Blue Dream is a Type I variety because it will always produce a dominant concentration of THC despite how it is grown. Choosing a Type is the first step in finding a variety that will work best for you. Spend some time with yourself reflecting on what kind of cannabis experience you’d like to have. Something very euphoric? Look at the Type I varieties. Something very chill without much cognitive change? Go for a Type III. A good balance of both? Check out the Type II’s.
Type classification presents an enticing strategy for consumer-facing categorization because it has consistency in an otherwise unpredictable arena with high variability. However, Type classification does not tell us alllll that much about the end experience for a consumer. A Type I can contain 30% THC or 10% THC, as long as THC is the dominant cannabinoid (by a large margin) then it falls in this category. A variety with 30% THC will produce a different experience than a variety with 10% THC. Therefore, after deciding on a Type category, it is time to decide on the intensity of your desired experience.
If you are in search of a lighter experience, choose a variety with lower cannabinoid potency. If you want a variety that will pack a punch, choose something with greater cannabinoid potency. Even at lower concentrations, the cannabinoids have high therapeutic value. So really, this decision comes down to how much you want to be consumed by the experience. And still, this will not tell you much about the mood. To determine whether an experience will be sleepy, sexy or stimulating we have to look to the terpenes.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in almost all plants and in great abundance in cannabis. Terpenes not only give cannabis varieties their unique aromas but also seem to help determine the overall mood of the experience. For example, limonene is a terpene that exists abundantly in cannabis. Limonene is also found in the rinds of citrus fruits and is known for its effects on mood elevation due to its ability to influence serotonin and dopamine. Cannabis varieties that contain large concentrations of limonene typically smell like citrus and produce experiences that are elevating, euphoric and full of giggles.
Because terpenes have pungent aromas, consumers can sniff varieties to take an educated guess at the effects. However, the ‘smell test’ is unreliable as many different terpenes are often present in a variety and those undetectable by human olfactory glands may produce a dramatic effect on the experience. Despite the popular saying, the nose may in fact not know.
The only way to truly know what terpenes are present in a variety is to look at a certificate of analysis (COA) from a testing laboratory. The COA can provide a detailed list of the types of terpenes and their respective concentrations in the variety. This data coupled with the cannabinoid ratio and concentrations will allow you to make the most educated guess around the experience it will produce.
However, not all states require terpene testing. This makes the likelihood of having access to terpene data unreliable as growers must elect to pay the extra cost for the test. Luckily, the cannabis market is very much consumer driven. If you are shopping and the dispensary of your choice does not have terpene information available ask them why. Insist that you want to purchase cannabis varieties that have been tested for terpenes. Talk to dispensary agents about the importance of knowing the terpenes in a variety in order to achieve an experience in line with what you want. If a dispensary’s customer base makes it known that they want terpene results, then dispensaries will encourage their vendors to spring for the extra test as it will lead to higher sales of their product.
While the THC/CBD ratio coupled with terpene data will give you a good idea as to the experience of a cannabis variety, it is also important to consider how that variety was produced.
If you are sourcing cannabis flower, choose varieties that have been cultivated organically. Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can act as allergens and negatively impact the experience. Adverse side effects such as increased grogginess, headache, brain fog and lung injury can occur from harmful inputs used during cultivation. Because cannabis cannot be certified organic by the USDA due to its classification as a Schedule 1 drug there are third-party certification agencies. Dispensaries should make sure to note on their product display if a variety has been certified “organic” by a third party.
If you are choosing a cannabis-infused product make sure to investigate the company’s formulation practices. What solvent did they use for extraction? From where did they source their plant material? Did they extract to preserve a greater range of secondary compounds? If you want the most therapeutic value out of your cannabis product you should choose full spectrum products that have been specifically formulated to contain a wide range of compounds.
Finally, ask about the ethics of the company. Everything tastes and feels better when it has been formulated by people who are paid fairly and treated well in their workplace.