This is a typical headline for blog posts in the cannabis industry. These articles are usually clickbait that promote the interests of the cannabis industry. “All you need is to buy our product and life will be fine” or worse “keep buying different strains from us until you find the one that’s magically perfect for you”. These stories promote the idea that you should focus on strains and that you should keep buying products endlessly in an attempt to feel better.
Perhaps it’s clickbait-y too, but I’m going to tell you why you should ignore all those other articles and their ideas. In fact, I’m going to give you the Top 5 reasons to ignore them.
1. Not Strains, Cultivars (or better yet, Chemovars)
Strain is a made-up word. It has no meaning in botany and speaks to the industry desire to confuse people. Cannabis is a plant which, in science, is described by Genus and species. In the case of cannabis the Genus is Cannabis, and confusingly the species include indica, sativa, and (no, not hybrid) but ruderalis. These three species describe the shape and size of the plant but nothing more. It does not tell us anything about the chemicals produced by the plant or the effects the plant might have on a person.
There are a number of more accurate ways to describe the plant including by molecular genetics (called genotype), simple crosses (breeding X with Y to get Z) (called Cultivars), or by the chemical profile of the plant (called Chemotype). As we’ll see later, the only method that is actually accurate is the Chemotype because it is directly measured.
2. Growers Lie
Sadly, I learned many years ago at a cannabis conference that growers simply lie. A famous grower told me that many cultivators will grow a perfectly fine but ordinary crop that, while very popular, every grower is growing that same kind. In that case, to develop some market differentiation, they simply give their product a new, jazzy-sounding name. Suddenly, voila, they are the only purveyor of something new and exciting. Cha-ching!
This makes it really hard for any consumer to rely on the names of any “strains”.
Further, the success of this strategy underscores the power of suggestion. If they just renamed Blue Dream and everyone could tell, then the strategy wouldn’t work. However, the strategy does work because people fundamentally can’t tell one cultivar from another, but are willing to accept and even feel the effects as described by the seller.
3. Plants Vary
The chemicals produced by the plant vary depending on many factors. It would be nice if the genes of the plant controlled the chemical output, but sadly it’s just not that simple. Clearly the genes do affect the outcome to some degree, but other factors like growing conditions (water, light, light spectrum, temperature, and nutrients) have even greater effects. How the flower is handled after harvest has a huge effect as well (drying time, humidity, light exposure, air exposure, etc).
By the time the plant material is ready for use, neither the type of “strains” (Cultivar) nor the genetics (Genotype) are truly predictive of the chemicals that are in it. Only measuring the chemicals (the Chemotype) is accurate.
4. Indica vs. Sativa is Not a Thing
With all the smoke and mirrors, as well as the chemical variability, it’s clear that names of strains are just unreliable. It is impossible to say that X will be good for some purpose, like pain, and Y will not be.
Worse, it’s impossible to expect that X will be the same the next time you buy it. In fact, it’s mostly likely not to be the same, right? If it’s even the same Genotype, the growing conditions are likely to be vastly different. Most grow companies use indoor growing facilities that control temperature, light, humidity, and even oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to try to produce a similar product on an ongoing basis.
The success of these complex growing environments is pretty variable too. Just look at the degree to which the THC measurement varies for the same “strain” in different batches at your local dispensary. Now remember that it’s not just the THC that matters, but possibly the amount of any number of other cannabinoid or terpenoid chemicals.
The industry has tried to address this variability by categorizing these plants into groups called Indica versus Sativa. These terms are a bastardization of the species names, but are not actually related to the species, nor are the species indicative of the chemical nature of the plant material.
Most importantly, when we measure the chemicals in these plants (Chemotype) we find that Indica or Sativa is not at all predictive of which chemicals there are or in what amounts. So, Indica vs. Sativa is just not a thing. Forget about it.
5. No Evidence in Humans
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with all of these classification systems is that we don’t know what any of the chemical variations mean. We understand the role of THC and, to a much, much lesser extent, CBD. And that’s it.
When it comes to the letter-salad of cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, CBN, and others, as well as terpenoids like Limonene, Caryophyllene, and Myrcene, we really have no idea what effect they have on humans, let’s alone their safety and therapeutic value.
So if a “strain” (Chemovar) has high CBG or CBC or Myrcene, does that make it good for pain (or any other purpose)? Ask me again in 10 years when, hopefully, we’ll have some real information. In the meantime, don’t get fooled by the smoke and mirrors, ask your cannabinoid specialist physician about how to best use cannabis for pain.
Consult with a Qualified Boston Medical Marijuana Expert Today
Those considering using THC, CBD, or any type of medicine found in cannabis to help manage their condition should consider speaking to a trained medical expert who is knowledgeable about using cannabis therapeutically. Massachusetts medical marijuana doctor Jordan Tishler, M.D. sits on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and has years of experience helping patients treat pain and other ailments using cannabis. He and the team at InhaleMD stand ready to assist patients in determining whether medical marijuana is right for them.
For more information, or to set up a virtual consultation with the team at InhaleMD, call us at (617) 477-8886 today.