If you’re anything like us, you’ve always assumed that the psychedelic and/or pain-relieving effects of a weed-smoking sesh will largely depend on the particular strain that you’re consuming. For instance, if you get a nice loud batch of Green Crack, you might expect to become hyper sociable, energetic, and imbued with an overwhelming sense of cerebral acuity and creativity.
On the other hand if you rip into some quality Northern Lights, you might expect to get knocked out pretty hard and not want to do much other than lie on the couch and eat Doritos and strawberry sherbet all night.
However, what if we told you that marijuana strain names – even iconic ones like OG Kush, Deathstar, and Durban Poison – could not actually be used to anticipate psychedelic or therapeutic effects? In other words, what if we told you that strain names do not provide “any reliable means of predicting or reproducing a cannabis experience?” Would you say that we’re nuts?
Well, as it turns out we don’t have to tell you that, because cannabis science guru Dr. Adie Poe already has.
Indeed, in a recent article published by Civilized (the title of which is quoted in bold and outlined above), Dr. Poe makes the claim that it may be genetically inaccurate (and even inappropriate) to label cannabis strains according to any one particular name. Rather, she suggests, we might be better off trying to develop a more accurate “classification” system that actually identifies weed varieties by their chemical makeup and the genes that they express.
In this article, we take a deeper look at Dr. Adie’s work, as well as some of the key points that she is trying to get across to us “weed amateurs.” Because as it turns out, we’ve apparently all got a lot to learn.
First Things First: A Quick Word About Genetics
Before we get started talking about Dr. Adie’s recent work, let’s try and get one thing inherently clear: there is a BIG difference between the genes that you have (i.e. the genes that you carry in your DNA), and the genes that you actually express.
To clarify, let’s use some “human” examples.
Say you’ve got a “purebred” Scottish man and a “purebred” Japanese man. While you might accurately enough use genetics to describe their physical/outward appearance (i.e. their phenotype), it would not be wise or at all accurate to use these same genetics to describe their behavior. Case in point: are some Scottish people angry and belligerent? Yes. Are all Scottish people angry and belligerent? Certainly not.
With this in mind, while we could more or less “categorize” Scottish people as having fair skin and light eyes, it wouldn’t make any sense to categorize them according to any one specific behavior. For example you could easily have two Scottish brothers that share the same exact genes, yet one of them could turn out shy and introverted while the other one turns out sociable, talkative, and outgoing. Same exact genes, two totally different outcomes.
The same thing goes for cannabis strains. While we might be able to accurately describe or categorize all genetic Purple Haze strains by their lavender coloring (i.e. by their outward appearance), it would be totally inaccurate to say something like “all Purple Haze strains stimulate creativity, relieve migraines, and produce euphoria.”
This is more or less the general idea that Dr. Adie has tried to get across in her recent work. It may be a strange concept to try and grasp, but it really does make sense, and it is a super interesting concept.
Dr. Poe’s Research May Have You Thinking Twice Next Time You Go to the Dispensary…
In a nutshell, here is the key idea that Dr. Poe has presented, as published in her original interview on Civilized:
“Branded cultivar names don’t provide patients with any reliable means of predicting or reproducing their experiences,” she says. “The feeling you get when you consume cannabis is all a result of a set of ingredients interacting with one’s unique endocannabinoid system. In science, we refer to this as pharmacology: drugs, their effects, and how they interact with with the human body. Plant genetics, as well as growing and curing conditions play a huge role in the final chemistry on the shelf of the dispensary.”
In other words, like we described above with the examples of the Scottish man and the Japanese man, Dr. Poe is stressing the point that it’s a marijuana strain’s chemistry, rather than its genetics, that account for the cerebral and therapeutic differences we experience from strain to strain.
“Genes don’t necessarily predict your experience with cannabis,” she proclaims, “the chemistry does.”
Again, this makes perfect sense if we consider it from the perspective of two brothers that share identical genes, given the fact that they could each end up with wildly different personalities as a result of their unique chemical makeups. So if there’s one key concept to take away from all of this, it’s that genetic makeup and chemical makeup are not at all the same thing.
Growing Conditions Can Also Account for Strain-to-Strain Differences
What’s perhaps even more interesting to consider is the fact that two genetically identical cannabis strains can end up with significantly different chemistries, depending on the environment and the growing conditions that they are cultivated in. According to Dr. Poe:
“[While] genes can determine which chemicals get into the “blueprints” for the plant, growing conditions are even more important. You could very easily take two genetically identical “indica” clones, give them to two different cultivators, and get wildly different chemical compositions by the time the flower ends up [at the] dispensary.”
Of course, things like soil content, light exposure (and intensity), and light spectrum all factor into the growing conditions for any particular cannabis strain, as do things like water content, humidity, and ambient air temperature.
But what does all this stuff about inaccurate strain names mean for those people who actually try and use marijuana to treat a medical condition?
Well, according to Dr. Adie it’s imperative that they understand what chemicals are actually in the cannabis that they’re consuming, rather than just going off the cultivar names – however popular or iconic they may be.
In other words, she would much prefer that patients go into a dispensary asking for a strain with a specific CBD to THC ratio and a combination of myrcene and linalool terpenes, rather than just asking for a “Northern Lights” or “Sour Diesel” strain.
“It is critically important to know which chemicals you are consuming,” she says, “[as] this is the basis for your experience.”
But without a defined pharmacology or a reliable database to go off of, how are patients supposed to be able to know what cannabis chemicals work best for them – or better yet, what chemicals are present in the particular strain that they’re consuming?
Well, this is unfortunately the age old question, and is something that will largely remain unanswered until the federal government reschedules marijuana to at least a Schedule III substance. This would allow scientists like her to provide the answers that so many patients are desperately searching for.
“The number one thing patients could do to improve their experience and bring their doctors on board,” Dr. Poe says, “is to become a fully-fledged advocate for federal cannabis legalization … cannabis’ status as a Schedule I substance is the number one obstacle in the way of dropping barriers to medical research in this country. Everyone wants to know what is safe and effective, and I want nothing more than to land more grant funding to figure it out for them. It simply won’t happen until cannabis is downgraded to Schedule III, at best.”
Final Thoughts on the Inaccuracy of Marijuana Strain Names
Dr. Poe is currently working with her company Habu Health and a brand called Goldleaf to try and develop a patient log, or “database” of sorts, wherein medical marijuana patients from all over the world could search for strains that may be effective for a particular ailment that they’re trying to treat.
She believes that a database of this nature would be far more effective than, say, walking into a dispensary and asking for a Sour Diesel strain just because a friend told them that they took it and it relieved their migraines.
“The cannabis plant is incredibly complex… and so are the humans that consume it,” Dr. Poe suggests. “Each one of us has a unique endogenous cannabinoid system that is different than all the others around us … our genes, and the expression of our cannabinoid receptors, can change dramatically as we ebb and flow in our cannabis use.”