One of the most reported issues we hear from cannabis consumers is that it’s incredibly hard to find the perfect strain, whether it’s indica or sativa, for their body chemistry that provides a predictable, consistent effect each time they use it.
The current dispensary experience has us buying cannabis based on the strain name and maybe a description of the genetics, which has little to do with the compounds of the plant or intended effect when you analyze the chemistry data. Consumers see products with all sorts of branded names, and then the word indica, sativa, or hybrid, but this doesn’t explain how the plant will perform within your particular body chemistry.
Consumers are left to figure out on their own how they react to different cannabis strains (once they have already purchased it), or they must rely on the opinions of others describing how that strain affected them.
This unreliable system causes distrust among consumers that a strain which worked well the first time will do so the next. Things are not made easier by growers who give less marketable genetics a more popular strain name to move product. Someone might grow an “Alien OG” strain but call it “Blue Dream” because they know it will fly off the shelves.
However, even when we look at a plant from the same base genetic material, each batch is still going to come out differently based on the way it was cultivated—climate, length of cure, transportation, and storage all play a role in the makeup of a final product.
So, what are we trying to say? It is nearly impossible to predict the outcome of using a particular cannabis strain, even with reliable genetics, which is why we need to get away from the productization of genetics based on strain name and indica/sativa. Instead, we need to build an understanding of the individual chemical output of these plants.
The good news is that lab testing has done this work for us; we just need to make that information available to the consumer so they can make purchasing decisions based on the unique chemical makeup of each plant.
Cannabis: A Spectrum of Highly Personal Effects
Any given cultivar (commonly called a strain) can produce a variety of effects that happen within the body. The same cannabis plant might make one person feel enlightened, while another is meditative. One could feel energetic, while someone else interprets the feelings as anxiety. One person could feel sedated while another gets silly. This spectrum of effects is due to the varying proportions of cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant’s chemistry, and the differences in the way our bodies process those chemicals. We know this delicate balancing act as the Entourage Effect.
Cannabis works to help us find balance within the chemistry of our brains, called homeostasis; however, we all have different states of brain chemistry, which means that people will always have altering responses to consumption as we each need a different proportion of cannabinoids and terpenes to find that sweet spot. This is why it’s nearly impossible to tell anyone how they will feel from the current information provided by growers about a cultivar.
Look at the Chemistry, Not the Genetics
When a person consumes a cannabis strain, they should expect the same effects the next time they encounter that same plant name; but genetics don’t provide consistent results. Why? For starters, there is still so much work to do in human trials before we can fully understand the effects of various cannabinoids and terpenes on different body types.
Even after we have thoroughly studied the human experience, you can still give the same plant genetics to two different farmers and they will use two different processes for growing that plant—so it’s ill-advised to expect the exact same chemical output every time from a process as intricate as farming a plant.
Genetics are not reliable to the consumer, so we need to adopt a new way of thinking about chemistry other than by strain name. We believe the only accurate way to know what’s in a strain is to look at the final chemistry at the last point of testing.
The Buying Experience Contributes to the Problem
The cannabis buying experience is fraught with problems; for instance, we’re told that we can understand a strain’s effects based on whether the plant is listed as an indica or sativa; but, as mentioned above, one person’s elation could be another’s panic attack. All of this information is thrown out of the window when trying to find a consistent experience from edibles, which are reduced most of the time down to straight THC during processing (void of complementary compounds), limiting the spectrum of effects down to hyper-drive for most consumers.
All legal cannabis goes through testing to uncover what cannabinoids, terpenes, and other flavonoids are found in the plant and in what ratios depending on that state’s regulations or the test the grower or distributor opted for.
This is the information that consumers need to evaluate when deciding if a strain is good for them. Right now, the potency of cannabinoids is most often shown as the % of THC or CBD found in the plant, these being the most active compounds in cannabis that make you feel something—but what if you respond well to the terpene Limonene, while Terpinolene sends you into a fear-fueled spasm?
These would be good things to know about the strain you are about to buy. Unfortunately, not all states require terpene tests, and not all cultivators opt for these tests. This is becoming more frequent as more people expect it and demand it, and as more retailers decide to differentiate themselves and lead in their vertical.
How to Find the Right Cannabis for You
While testing results are the most accurate info you can use, we still can’t tell you how it will make you feel in particular. As a cannabis user, you need to know the chemistry of the strains you enjoy most. This happens not by talking to the local budtender, or the guy behind you in line at the dispensary, but by experimenting with cannabis and journaling the effects that you experience.
Start with low-potency (low THC) cannabis to ease your way into recognizing the effects for you. Jot down what you purchased and from where. Also note, when applicable, which farm or company produced that product. The potency of the effects comes from the cannabinoids, so make sure you record the level of THC, CBD, and any other testing stats you can access.
You can learn more about the strains and how they differ by grow method in our Connect app.
Smell is also an incredibly important factor that can give you information on the specific set of terpenes and cannabinoids working together within the plant. We believe the nose knows.
This will help you base product purchases in the future on smell and taste to deduce that a strain has the same chemistry as something you previously enjoyed. If you find a Grape Soda strain in Oregon that you like, then the same smell and taste of another strain should also be pleasant for you—in addition to plants with similar cannabinoid ratios.
We’d love to hear from you. How do you buy cannabis?
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