Many cannabis growers and sellers tout their products as being better than others. Sometimes they do this by elevated THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). They give their products names that imply these levels are optimized in their products.
THC is the mood-altering component of the cannabis plant. CBD does not have mind-altering effects. Those who believe in using cannabis for health reasons choose CBD products.
It’s true that there are different strains of cannabis. There are hundreds, if not thousands, from all over the world. Their genetics may differ depending on the hybrid process followed when two or more strains were combined.
It’s hard to establish how many strains there are because, for many years, cannabis was not grown legally. It’s not a plant like maize, where there are records of all the different types and strains.
There was no central registry for cannabis growers to submit the information about the strain of cannabis they were growing. People were trying to stay under the law enforcement radar because they could be arrested for growing cannabis.
It was a murky world where no one was going to go on the record like other farmers.
To develop such a database of all the strains of cannabis is going to be a challenge after so many years of secrecy. This type of natural breeding has led to unclear lineage and origin of cannabis plants across the world.
Growers are also reluctant to share the secret genetic codes of their cannabis plants for fear of competition. So many strains have been created that they will be difficult to track.
Professor Susan Murch teaches chemistry at UBC Okanagan. She decided to see what a chemical analysis of different strains of cannabis would reveal. She did her work with Paula Brown.
Brown is the Canada Research Chair in Phytoanalytics at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Elizabeth Mudge, a doctoral student, also helped with the research.
Their analysis was of 33 strains of cannabis supplied to them by five licensed producers. They wanted to test the cannabinoids in the cannabis by breaking them down chemically. Then they would check the levels of THC and CBD and see if they varied that much.
In findings that will disappoint a lot of growers, they found that the amount of THC and CBD didn’t change regardless of the product. Even those products bred to be of a high potency didn’t have different levels of THC and CBD.
What about the Genetics of the Plant?
The genetics of the plant may have been altered through the hybrid process. Despite the genetic alteration, the levels of THC and CBD remained unchanged.
The pool of samples they tested is small compared to the number of different strains. However, the results are impressive. If none of the 33 examples showed a variance in THC and CBD levels, why would any other?
It’s a question the team would like to answer. Achieving it by creating a structured database of strains is all but an insurmountable task.
There is a desire by licensed growers and sellers to have their strains chemically analyzed. As the market formalizes, they want to impose the same structure that other sectors have. The legalization of cannabis means that licensed growers are no different from farmers.
Their products should be subject to the same scrutiny. Some would argue that since the industry is strictly regulated, the scrutiny should be more intense.
The potential risks of consuming cannabis can be mitigated if growers subject their products to checking and regulation.
Mudge says that the level of CBD and THC in cannabis doesn’t create the unique benefits different products offer. She feels that the medicinal cannabis industry can learn much from the results of the study.
Their understanding that low levels of THC and CBD don’t affect the efficacy of the cannabis products can provide unique insights.
Licensed producers are required to declare the levels of CBD and THC in their products. This new research has established that this might not be the deciding factor in the value or effectiveness of the cannabis plant.
Murch says it seems that THC and CBD might not be the essential components in the cannabis plant. An investigation into other compounds and chemicals is not being done as part of the growing process.
Such investigations could reveal the nature of other chemicals in the plants. Then research can be done to establish their effects. This is an intervention the scholars who did the research feels is necessary.
As it stands, most consumers of medical cannabis are shooting in the dark when they shop. They have little to go on when it comes to making a purchasing a product. This is now truer than ever given the fact that the THC and CBD levels of the plant stay the same regardless of the strain.
They are using different products for different reasons, but there’s nothing on the label to indicate why some products work better than others. The research suggests there’s more information that needs to be on the label.
Another key finding from the study is that researchers found many cannabinoids that they weren’t aware of. They believe it is possible that these cannabinoids are what separates one cannabis product’s effectiveness from another.
A lot more research into these compounds is necessary. All of them were present in low quantities in the cannabis sampled for the research. However, there is a distinct possibility that these compounds could be related to the pharmacological effects of cannabis products.
As the cannabis market grows, the need for this research intensifies. Establishing that these new cannabinoids are part of what makes a cannabis product useful could result in changing labeling laws and regulations. The medicinal value of these cannabinoids needs to be thoroughly investigated. This will indicate what benefits, if any, they may give users.
Murch’s research was published in Nature’s Scientific Reports and is something all cannabis growers and sellers should acquaint themselves with. The exciting findings have pointed to one major factor that cannot be ignored. The true properties and power of cannabis have not yet been fully explored.