Walk into a dispensary in LA, San Francisco, Denver, or Seattle and you’ll most likely see some of the most popular strains prominently displayed, with names such as Blue Dream, Durban Poison, Sour Diesel, Girl Scout Cookies, and OG Kush.
However, an OG Kush is not an OG Kush is not an OG Kush. I can walk into the same LA dispensary a few weeks apart, or two different LA dispensaries, or an LA and an SF dispensary, or an LA and Seattle dispensary and buy what’s branded as OG Kush, but what I buy can be completely different from a physiological standpoint from my last purchase – different levels and ratios of THC, CBD and terpenes. So the OG Kush is really not the same product even though the name is the same. Therein lies the problem, especially when we’re talking about medicine.
I can go to any grocery store in the country and buy a box of Cheerios and expect the same product consistency. What if next week I go to the grocery store to restock and the box says Cheerios but it’s really Coco Puffs inside…or Doritos, which isn’t even a cereal. The brand name becomes meaningless and does not guarantee consistency. In the case of Marijuana, if a specific ratio of terpenes, THC, CBD and other chemicals works well for my medical condition, I want that specific chemical composition (the same ratios of terpenes and cannabinoids every time I purchase Marijuana. That’s not happening. If you send a sample of all the OG Kush on dispensary shelves today to a testing lab, the results will be all over the map.
In the below presentation, Jeff Raber, who runs testing labs in California and Washington state, talks to the Women Grow LA chapter about Cannabis chemistry.
After the presentation, we talked about product inconsistency. The hope is that one day we can come up with an industry wide naming convention so that someone can walk into a dispensary and purchase product that has been tested and is consistent with what works for them.
In your presentation, you talk about inconsistency being a problem, meaning that even though someone may walk into a dispensary in LA and see, for example, a popular strain such as OG Kush, it may not be consistent with what they purchased last time at the same dispensary, at another dispensary in the same city, in another city in the same state, or across state lines. Can you explain?
Cultivation standardization is not to the level it needs to be in order to assure it is always the same. Environmental stressors can potentially impact the terpene profile.
Also, different cultivation efforts, say at two places like WA and CA may have very different needs to keeping the conditions identical (think HVAC and humidity) and if they aren’t controlled, you could get different plants.
You run lab testing facilities in California and Washington State. When you run profile tests on different OG Kush samples that come into the lab, what do you see within each lab and across the three labs?
When the same named sample comes into the lab, whether inside of the same state or in two different state labs, we can see varying amounts of THC and other minor cannabinoids to some extent. This could be different expression levels of the same phenotype if that was all we looked at. However where we see much greater variability is in the terpene profile. The absolute amounts of specific terpenes can be different, again an expression level difference, but also differing ratios of terpenes to each other and to the cannabinoids can happen which is then representing a different chemotype all together (not OG Kush, it should be a name or a code).
Either they all go up or down the same amounts to produce a different expression level of the same strain, which could slightly happen from harvest to harvest, but if the relative ratios to each other changes you have a completely different chemotype. This is most obvious when you see a terpene prominently in one ‘OG Kush’ and yet almost not at all in another ‘OG Kush’, yet it can happen across all of the chemical components and in subtle ways sometimes too.
What is a chemotype?
A chemotype is defined in this context as a specific botanical chemical composition that may be grouped or individualized to reflect a unique physiological response provided to humans upon its consumption.
There are potentially thousands of chemotypes with Marijuana. The analogy I like to make is a recording studio sound board.
Think of each channel as a chemical in the plant. How much (the sound level) of each chemical is present in the strain that works for me? The lead vocals, snare drum, bass, and horns may be turned way up, whereas the backing vocals, keyboard, and guitar may be turned down. This specific setting of all the channels would be the equivalent of, lets say, chemotype 1. But for the next song, maybe the backing vocals are turned up and the base is cranked up all the way. This setting would be chemotype 2. And so on and so forth.
If product is tested before it is put on the dispensary shelf, then the quantity of each chemical present in the plant is known. The specific ratio of all the chemicals present are associated with a specific chemotype. If I know the chemotype that works for my medical condition, I can walk into a dispensary and simply ask what is in stock that is chemotype 422, for example.
Instead of asking for a brand, which is not a reliable indicator of what I’m getting, I just state my chemotype and the budtender points me to the products – flower, concentrates, edibles – that meet those criteria. This week it might be an OG Kush, but next week it might be something with a different name because the OG Kush that comes in next week is not the same as it was this week (whether it be sourced from the same grower with inconsistent harvests, or a different grower / producer of final product).
So how do we go from where we are today to this future of reliable, consistent medicine? A working group probably needs to be formed, composed of doctors and labs that do the testing, to set definitions and get everyone to buy into the concept.
Growers and product makers can brand their product however they want. But the chemotype doesn’t lie.