As Canada celebrates a year of legal cannabis, you’ll be surprised to learn that few buyers, sellers, and government regulators know about the cannabis plant’s chemistry or its effects.
Take for instance the local cannabis store. All stores, whether regulated or not, have a typical setup of many jars labeled as indica, sativa or hybrid. Sellers describe sativa as energizing, while indicas are said to be good for relaxation. They tell the buyers that hybrids deliver effects that are in between those of indicas and sativas as hybrids are a mix of these two. But few buyers know that high levels of either THC or CBD can greatly alter these effects. Government retailers also have this kind of information on their websites. And licensed cultivators haven’t been left behind. The beauty of this is that buyers have a lot of freedom to choose the cultivators, dispensaries or even the strains.
Nick Jikomes, a lead researcher at Leafly, says that you’re likely to hear people say that they consume indicas to fall asleep and sativas for excitement. He says that it’s not always the case for everyone, as some experience taking indicas and staying awake all night. With cannabis, it’s not easy to categorize the cultivars as each strain affects different people differently.
With research, people are starting to learn more about different cannabinoids other than CBD and THC. For instance, CBN is an emerging cannabinoid that’s getting more and more popular by the day. More people have also started to learn about terpenes, the components of the cannabis plant that gives cannabis its distinct flavors and aromas. There’s more to terpenes than the ordinary person knows. In fact, more research on how terpenes affect us needs to be conducted.
Before legalization, most cannabis breeders produced cannabis illicitly and underground, so no one could really verify its content and profile. For instance, when a person sells you a strain named ”Blue Dream”, how do you distinguish it from any other Blue Dream strain? The big question is whether cultivators have some level of integrity when coming up with strains as this can guarantee users a uniform strain.
This explains why Leafly is attempting to help cannabis consumers to make the best choices from a complex marketplace. Its attempt has been received with great excitement across Canada. Leafly hopes that their informative pieces of information are simple enough for ordinary cannabis consumers to understand. Likewise, other startups are reviewing different strains to track their effects. These include Lift&Co and Strainprint.
Jikomes and his team are stratifying their data. They have collected samples and testing them in the lab, before cross-referencing the lab results with Leafly’s massive database of consumer reviews. They have come up with visual guideposts that show the chemical composition of various strains as well as the effects that each strain has on the consumer.
Their guideposts are made up of similes that represent the complex plant. CBD is represented by circles, while THC is shown by a diamond representation. There’s a color band that represents the five main terpenoid profiles. Blue is for myrcene, green for pinene, pink for caryophyllene, yellow for limonene and orange for terpinolene.
Leafly’s latest research shows that strains with pinene and myrcene deliver more relaxing effects, while those with a high level of terpinolene and limonene tend to be more energizing. Cannabis users reported that strains high on caryophyllene deliver effects that are in between relaxation and high energy.
Leafly intends to create partnerships with retailers so that they will offer the guideposts alongside strains, giving the buyer more information before they decide to buy the product. They also have an inbuilt tool on their website that helps consumers to track the cannabinoid and terpene profile of every strain.
So, where does this leave the indica/sativa/hybrid breakdown?
Well, it turns out that some cannabis labels do not deliver what they promise. In recent days, cannabis users have reported finding terpinolene and limonene in strains labeled as “sativa” Interestingly, Canadian cultivators do not seem to have strains with terpinolene, which remains the rarest strain in Canada.
With guideposts, consumers will have a chance to order a strain they like, not just by describing its aroma or name, but by checking its chemical composition from a label. This means that when you try a strain that doesn’t work well for you, you can easily mark its chemical composition and avoid it the next time you’re shopping for a strain. The only challenge could be the vocabulary used and how fast consumers are able to grasp that.
Nikki Laoutaris, the communications manager at Lift&Co, says that their recent joint report with EY Canada has revealed that consumers rarely look at the terpene profile of a strain when they are buying cannabis.
He said that while most cannabis consumers know about THC and CBD, their knowledge of these popular cannabinoids tends to reduce once we move away from the connoisseur group. Non-cannabis consumers reported that the barrier to consuming cannabis was the primary lack of basic information on cannabis.
This leaves retailers with a choice to make; to either keep the information simple and flawed or educate consumers on the chemical composition of different strains, a deep learning curve.
If this catches on, will strain names become a thing of the past?
Jikomes isn’t sure and says that consumers might start associating effects of strains to colors. He adds that it’s unlikely that consumers could start looking at terpene profiles before buying.
In the meantime, he said he’s adding more layers of information to the website tool on Leafly. The data, he said, was multi-dimensional, showing things like freshness and moisture content. According to him, these small details of the cannabis plant matter a lot. He plans to incorporate these into the tool.