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How Science is Changing the Way the Industry Categorizes Cannabis Products

April 26, 2021 10:30 am ET
How Science is Changing the Way the Industry Categorizes Cannabis Products

“Do you want an indica or a sativa?” is a common first question being asked by those who are dispensing cannabis along with the question “Is this an indica or a sativa?” from cannabis consumers. However, these questions have largely been rendered obsolete thanks to further research. Because cannabis strains have been crossbred so much, pure indica and sativa strains don’t exist. Nowadays, one can purchase an ‘indica’ with sativa-style effects and vice versa- which is why science has taken to reclassifying types of cannabis. They are no longer able to categorize cannabis by indica, sativa, afghanica nor ruderalis, but rather as type 1, 2, and 3. 

The New Way to Sort Cannabis 

The fact that cannabis plants are interbred to the point where indica and sativa categorizations are void, the need for finding new ways to categorize cannabis becomes especially important in order to separate them from each other in terms of their intended taxonomy, the likely therapeutic effects as well as the other potential effects which could be expected. The current means, though outdated for some time, does little to provide an estimate or describe an individual’s cannabis experience which leaves the industry without a way to properly consult with customers and consumers about certain products.  

It is the final ingredients, or compounds, in the cannabis plant which will indicate which effects can be expected, not whether it is indica, sativa, or a hybrid. The final compounds in a plant are influenced by the genetics of the seeds as well as being influenced by environmental factors including the light, temperature, soil microbiome, pests, chemicals being used as well as the nutrients and feed amongst others. All these factors impact the phytochemical output, cannabinoid, and terpene output, which then also allows for a synergetic process to take place- which is known as the ‘entourage effect’

So the question then becomes, how can the industry classify cannabis in a manner which is both accurate and approachable? Perhaps the answer to this question could be the first step towards being able to better regulate cannabis for legalization and medical prescription purposes. Fortunately, science is on the task and has even tried to simplify the categorization so that it would not be a lot of fine print- as it would be if we classified cannabis based on their content lab reports.

The following means of categorizing cannabis was first proposed by Ernest Small in his 1973 paper, which is published in Nature and is called “Cannabinoid phenotypes in Cannabis Sativa”. Now, this system is being used to assist in distinguishing between the many cannabis compound profiles. Mr. Small create three primary categories, which are as follows:

Type I

  • These strains are THC-dominant with a concentration of more than 0.03% and have a CBD content of less than 0.5%.
  • This type of flower can be found on the market with up to 30% THC content and can be expected to produce intoxicating effects. 
  • This type of bud, or flower, or strain, will likely be used for recreational purposes as well as for conditions that would benefit most from the THC cannabinoid compound. 
  • These are also less likely to find their way onto the shelves of medical dispensaries. 

Type II

  • These strains have a mixed ratio of THC and CBD which varies moderately in dominant concentrations. 
  • This type of bud is expected to allow one to benefit from full-spectrum cannabis, with reduced risks of intoxication from the THC. 
  • This kind of mixed ratio flower is more likely to encourage the entourage effect, which is a boosted and synergetic effect from cannabis products that contain full-or-broad-spectrum compounds, including terpenes and cannabinoids
  • This type of cannabis can be used for recreation and medicinal purposes and is just a little more likely to find itself on the shelves of dispensaries as type I, due to the fact that THC remains illegal in many parts of the world. 

Type III

  • These strains are CBD-dominant with such low THC that there is very little risk of intoxication. 
  • These strains often come from plants referred to as ‘hemp’ on the basis that the THC quantity is at most 1%. 
  • The low THC quantity makes these strains, or this type of cannabis, desirable for medicinal purposes and drug production as the risks of intoxication are not present. 
  • This type of cannabis is seen as ‘non-intoxicating which means it will almost certainly end up on the shelves of dispensaries. 

This means of classifying cannabis may seem overly simplified due to the fact that it does not account for the cannabinoid content of other beneficial cannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) as well as not accounting for the terpene profiles. However, assuming that Type I, II, and III all contain terpenes, this means of classification provides an easy-to-use and understand model for consumers to understand what to expect from the strains that have just been bought. 

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