Based in British Columbia, Canada, award-winning seeds producer BC Bud Depot has been collecting elite cannabis strains for over 25 years. They have received over 21 Cannabis Cup awards, including seven first-place awards, nine top strain awards, six top three strain awards and an induction to the Seed Bank Hall of Fame in 2009.
Their genetics vault contains over two hundred unique strains, including the cultivar that put Canada on the map: the feminized version of the BC God Bud, whose dense and heavy crystal-coated nuggets make for an out-of-body experience.
Master grower Matt Harvey is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of BC Bud Depot. We spoke exclusively to Harvey about genetics, Canada’s path to legalization, and why human connection is an integral part of the cannabis plant’s vitality.
Cannabis Aficionado: How did you get interested in breeding as opposed to growing flower?
Matt Harvey: Back in the late 1990s in BC, not many people were breeding in a serious way, or at least not with the intention of sharing their work outside of their tight-knit grow communities. Breeding in those days was mostly directed at increasing potency and yield, and shortening flowering times for an early harvest. Some really nice flower was hitting the market, but BC breeders were generally more interested in keeping their strains proprietary rather than distributing their genetics worldwide. The reputation and demand for BC-bred genetics was growing, so we stepped up to the plate and the rest became history in the making.
Growing top quality flower is part of the breeding process, and you can’t breed properly without also growing flower. How the flower is received by connoisseurs, in both taste and effects, is a key data set that informs our breeding processes. It’s also necessary to grow seedless flower to test peak cannabinoid production potential.
What makes a great seed better than a good seed?
For home gardeners and professionals alike, a great seed will pop a vigorous sprout, and a strong start to life is an important factor in achieving maximum growth potential, yield, and flavor. With a great seed, you know what to expect in the mature plant, since its genetics will be fully expressed and stable.
Every once in a while though, a great seed will grow a bit differently than what you’d expect and expresses a natural mutation that can open up a new trajectory into a breeding program, such as exhibiting ultra-high levels of a newly discovered cannabinoid or terpene. This recently happened with a Sweet God plant mutating to produce a staggeringly high CBG content.
Great seeds are always the most vigorous, and generally the most predictable, but occasionally the greatest seeds can be the most unpredictable of all.
How do you qualify genetics?
Genetics need to exhibit certain qualities in order to enter and to exit a breeding program. When elite cuts [clones] are used to start a breeding program, in cases where seeds are not available, it’s important to pollinate them with a well-known and stable male plant and to grow out a variety trial to see how stable the female genetics are.
There are so many poly-hybrids being grown these days — some of which produce amazing flower — but if their progeny is all over the map, it’s going to be harder to breed a stable strain; you’re more likely to achieve better results breeding with more stable parents. Sometimes it is absolutely worth it and sometimes it is not. It all depends on your goals and what you are setting out to achieve.
Cold storage tissue culture and genome sequencing are giving us new tools to pinpoint the qualifying factors that we breed for, and with more information and accurate data we can learn which genes express what, and apply this new knowledge to achieve our breeding goals.
Is there an interest in landrace strains?
Yes, and there always should be. I’m actually doing this interview from Colombia where there are some famous landrace strains, one of them being the Santa Marta Gold, which we are very excited to breed with.
Crossing a landrace with a known cultivar can produce amazing results. Since we’re discovering new cannabinoids all the time, and landraces can have exceptionally high levels of certain cannabinoids and terpenes, it’s important that we preserve them and their habitat. It’s like preserving the rainforest because it’s full of biological treasure that we haven’t even discovered yet. Too much inbreeding with cultivars can lead to an amalgamated gene pool, which is not very desirable.
Just like blue-blood families need to outbreed with barbarian genetics every so often to maintain their biological viability and vigor, so does cannabis. Mother Nature should always play a role in the breeding process, which we sometimes forget in our scientific age.
What are the current strain trends that you are seeing?
We’re pleased to see that the kush craze seems to have passed. While there will always be a place for kush, it’s great to see things trending towards more interest in exotic fruit flavors, with more of an emphasis on terpene profile. Watermelon, cherry, peach, sours, and ice creams are all exotic terpene profiles with more rewarding qualities to breed for than just yield and THC potency. It is actually where the greater part of our interest has been since we started breeding. We are not surprised to see this trend, as cannabis connoisseurs worldwide develop more discerning palates.
While we still breed for cannabinoid ratios, and are inspired by all the new discoveries of the benefits of obscure cannabinoids like CBG, achieving these breeding goals relies more on lab data and strict variety trials, whereas the artistry of breeding is in teasing out new exotic terpene profiles; this is what makes our job fun.
Who is your favorite breeder/seed company other than yourself?
We are very impressed with the work of our homie Kasper at Kre8 Genetics, and are ecstatic to be working and collaborating with him after meeting at the San Bernardino Cup many years ago. Scott from Rare Dankness is also coming out with some great work these days. Of course, so much of our gratitude goes to all of the old school pioneers, breeders like our friend Soma, who have played such a key role in sending us on this journey.
What do you see as the most exciting thing happening in seed production and breeding?
We are all learning so much about the healing potential of cannabis these days. As we discover new cannabinoids and their medical applications, it’s very exciting to consider the positive potential that they can have for the world and our collective health.
It’s exciting to see new strains coming out with high levels of all these other little-known cannabinoids. When we see these random genetic mutations that yield astonishingly high levels of newly discovered cannabinoids, it confirms our long-held belief that cannabis has a collective consciousness that is in communication with us as people and wants to provide us with medicine.
Another great new development is high-tech genetic sequencing and cataloging, which promises to clarify our understanding of the cannabis gene pool, and provides us with useful data to inform our breeding programs.
Are there any seeds you wish you had?
We’re always open to cataloging new seeds in our vault but at this point in time we have so much in the way of new genetics to work with, and with our breeding facilities at full capacity, we’re not in a place to be wishing for any new genetic stock.
I suppose, though, there’s always some unique old strains that would be great to work with, though unfortunately, we don’t expect to see them again. I’ll give a shout-out to the Legends Ultimate Indica circa 2002 — that would be a fun surprise.
Do you have a favorite cultivar to grow?
The BC God Bud will always be my personal favorite. Her pink pistils and fragrance are so familiar and dear to me. I’m sure a lot of veteran growers out there can relate to the way a favorite strain, cultivated lovingly for years upon years, becomes like an inseparable lifelong companion.
How many different seeds are in your inventory?
We offer over 120 elite strains bred by ourselves and other breeders. Our extensive vault of genetic breeding stock, collected over 25 years, houses thousands of different seeds in hundreds of different varieties.
What’s something you are often asked that is a misconception about growing cannabis?
The largest, glaring misconception that I see in the cannabis world today is the assumption that high-quality flowers can be grown on an industrial scale, using industrial farming methods. I mean, it can be grown on a massive scale, but not well. Cannabis thrives with a gardener’s touch and loving attention, and the element of human connection is, in my experience, an integral part of the plant’s vitality.
If you could give one tip to beginners, what would it be? What about other professionals?
For beginners, I would suggest growing organic in the best soil you can make, and to avoid the use of fertilizer salts. Connect with and talk to your plants; grow with them and meditate on their health and vitality. Know that your plants are aware of your presence and resonate with them on a vibrational level.
For professionals, never cut corners, and stay connected with your plants even if it means longer work hours. Keep your fundamentals sound and keep experimenting while logging all of your data.
How has demand changed over the years?
The demand for new genetics is constant, and every year there are more and more people wanting to grow BC Bud Depot genetics in their gardens, for the joy of it more than for any other reason. People start growing, fall in love with the process and become interested in growing new and exotic cultivars. Seasoned and veteran growers find their elite strains and comfort levels. Legalization has accelerated this trend, and even more people are experiencing the joy of cultivating their own cannabis.
Which BC Bud Depot strains are most popular?
BC God Bud still remains our most popular strain, 15 years after it was released for the world to enjoy. Other classics like Original Blueberry, The Purps, and Girl Scout Cookies are still very popular. The Tangie Cookies and Animal Cookies are growing in popularity. We expect that the soon to be released Wedding Cake will be a hit!
Which BC Bud Depot strains are your favorites?
Every strain in the catalog is a favorite. There are dozens upon dozens more that haven’t quite achieved favorite status, so they’re not in the catalog and stay in the vault, or are works in progress for now. We are always working on developing new elite strains.
How has cannabis legalization in Canada affected your business?
It’s created an environment in which we can make new partnerships out in the open, and have access to resources that were previously unavailable to us, such as genome sequencing. There are a lot of very bright people entering the industry now; that the stigma and legal liability are things of the past. It allows us to operate how we have always wanted to throughout those dark years of prohibition. It has been an overall positive transition, with many new opportunities and relationships among professionals and the general public, now that we can all work out in the open. Legalization has shone a bright spotlight upon us and the industry, which allows us to share the benefits of our unparalleled cannabis genetics with even more people.
THC: This Cannabinoid Is the Reason You Get High From Weed
THC may be best known as a euphoriant that delivers a psychoactive effect, it also offers a multitude of medicinal benefits.
Of the 113 cannabinoids that have been discovered in the cannabis herb, none is more infamous than tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Responsible for most of the psychoactivity and euphoria of cannabis, this cannabinoid does more than merely give suburban soccer moms a modicum of stress relief and college students ravenous munchies.
With all due respect to the molecules caffeine and ethanol, probably no other molecule in the history of humanity has been as misunderstood, stigmatized, or politicized as THC. From the reefer madness era of the late 1930s to the stereotype-laden films of Cheech and Chong in the 1970s to more recent movies like Pineapple Express (based on the name of a popular strain of cannabis), the truth about THC and its efficacy for humans often evades laypeople who consume content from only national media outlets.
The medicinal benefits of the molecule are numerous, ranging from relaxation and pain relief to appetite stimulation and sedation (great for insomniacs). Negative effects of this molecule include intense appetite stimulation (with predictable gastrointestinal consequences the following day), dry mouth, potential short-term memory impairment, paranoia and panic attacks (especially with sativa strains), and lethargy (typically in indica varieties).
The Details of THC
While THC may be best known as a euphoriant that delivers a psychoactive effect, it offers a multitude of medicinal benefits that far exceed the fabled “stoner” mannerisms of lethargy and forgetfulness. Despite its delivery of what is sometimes a potent euphoric effect (especially for new consumers), it is impossible to overdose on THC.
Assuming moderate and reasonable consumption levels, cannabis can serve as a positive lifestyle enhancement that delivers stress relief, mental wellness, improved energy levels, and even performance enhancement. Strains featuring relatively potent levels of THC include Blueberry, Ghost Train Haze, Master Kush, Trainwreck, and White Rhino.
Predicting the exact potency and efficacy of a particular strain of cannabis is difficult for a variety of reasons. For example, a theory called the Entourage Effect identifies how other cannabinoids and their aromatic cousins called terpenes can modify the effects of other cannabinoids and terpenes, including buffering or amplifying the effect or potency of THC.
One distinct characteristic of the molecule is tolerance building. While a subjective area of cannabis efficacy, tolerance building for daily consumers can be significant. To combat this problem, some indulge in a decades-long practice dubbed a tolerance break, during which they significantly decrease or cease consumption for between a few days and a week.
The Research on THC
A 2011 study conducted by cannabis research pioneer Dr. Ethan Russo entitled “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-terpenoid Entourage Effects” and published in the British Journal of Pharmacology provides a critical overview of THC’s medical benefits.
Concluded Russo and his team, “THC is the most common phytocannabinoid in cannabis and…is a partial agonist at CB1 and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2),” pointing out the herb’s myriad medical applications, including “activities as a psychoactive agent, analgesic, muscle relaxant, and antispasmodic.”
Russo’s team concluded that THC also functions as a bronchodilator and neuroprotective antioxidant while featuring 20 times the anti-inflammatory power of aspirin and twice that of hydrocortisone.
Everything You Need to Know About Microdosing Weed
There are great reasons for microdosing weed including medical conditions that benefit from it, and a few different ways to achieving the perfect dose.
Microdosing is the latest craze in cannabis. It has been utilized for some time, both with cannabis and LSD, but only now is the mainstream getting hip to the low dose strategy. There are great reasons for microdosing weed including medical conditions that benefit from and improve because of it, and a few different ways to achieving that perfectly sensible dose.
Wait, First… What Is It?
Microdosing weed is when a person consumes very small amounts of cannabis in order to receive the benefits of whole plant medicine (THC, CBD, terpenes, etc) while experiencing very little to none of the “high.” It isn’t for those times when you want to get ripped and watch an entire season of Westworld and chow down, it is not going to produce that kind of experience. It is more or less a medical use technique that can be utilized day to day without affecting one’s overall state of mind. It is basically the opposite of a dab or trying to find the biggest pre-roll with the highest THC strain you can.
So Why Microdose?
As cannabis becomes more popular, and more people want to harness its power, the demand for less psychoactive pot rises. Not everyone likes to get the giggles, or the munchies, or the long trains of thought that tend to present themselves when a person gets stoned. Others do enjoy the laughing, eating and philosophizing but need something more manageable during their work day and family time.
Microdosing to the rescue. Now you can get just a little high, without any of the headiness or outward signs that you have been consuming anything at all.
Family reunion? Microdose.
Big meeting at work? Microdose.
Irritatingly long wait at the DMV? You guessed it – microdose.
More seriously, if you work a 9-5 and suffer from back pain from sitting at your desk all day long – you could be microdosing to alleviate those aches and pains without making it obvious that you are medicating with cannabis throughout the day.
Potential Medical Benefits
Unfortunately, because cannabis is a Schedule I drug, the federal government claims that it has no medical value and therefore has not been studied as much as it should be. Most scientific studies on that have been completed on cannabis consumption are animal based. While many of those animal studies can absolutely translate to apply to human beings, it is certainly not the same as results garnered from actual human studies.
There have been studies on the benefits of administering low doses of synthetic cannabis pharmaceuticals in humans. Those results are typically positive in regards to microdosing. However, like the animal studies, results from synthetic cannabis studies do not fully represent the results that could be gathered from studying real, naturally sourced marijuana.
With that said, there are incredible amounts data supplied by cannabis users, and a bevy of recorded favorable results, that go toward proving that marijuana is an effective way to treat a variety of medical conditions. Microdosing can help almost anything that using cannabis will – just in a much smaller and more controlled way. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), insomnia, glaucoma, nausea, wasting syndrome, and moderate pain are just a few of the conditions that can benefit from microdosing weed. However, medical issues like cancer and epilepsy, that are treated with large amounts or very concentrated forms of cannabis, are not necessarily best suited for treatment with microdosing.
Think of it like this… if you have achy muscles you can take an over the counter pain reliever twice a day for relief but if you have severe pain in your joints and muscles that requires a prescription painkiller, the over the counter medicine isn’t really going to make a dent. The same can apply for microdosing. If your condition can be treated throughout the day in small doses, microdosing could be a beneficial, natural way to treat the problem. If you only experience relief from consuming an entire joint or 100 mg edible, microdosing is likely not going to be the best way to alleviate the issue.
Start low and find your sweet spot.
Consumption Options for Microdosing Weed
Microdosing weed can be achieved a few ways.
An oil cartridge and vape pen is one of the easiest ways to consume small, controlled doses of cannabis. A vape pen is discreet, clean, and odorless. Many vape pens have an auto-shutoff after a few seconds, so doses can be regulated with ease.
Edibles are another great way to microdose. Infused food or candy manufacturers have caught on and started producing products in smaller doses in order to service the microdosing market. Edibles of yesteryear could only be found in 50 mg, 100 mg or higher dosages. Now, you can purchase a bag of candies infused with 2.5 mg, 5 mg or 10 mg.
You can also microdose with smoked cannabis, but it is more difficult to do so covertly. If keeping your use under wraps is important, smoking cannabis should be your last choice due to the lingering smell alone. However, a loaded one-hitter or chillum is an adequate way to limit the dose you consume while still benefiting from the plant’s medical properties.
Whether you vape, eat, or smoke cannabis to microdose is up to you. In many circumstances and for many medical conditions, microdosing can be a better option than an all-out cannabis consumption free for all — less fun, sure, but not everyone is after the same experience with weed. As cannabis becomes more widely accepted, so does the trend of microdosing. Give it a shot, see if the shoe fits!
Why Independent Third-Party Cannabis Testing Is Important
During cultivation, the cannabis plant acts like a sponge. It absorbs everything it is exposed to, from pesticides, nutrients, and heavy metals present in the soil. For these reasons, it is essential that reputable and reliable third-party labs carry out cannabis testing to assure safety and efficacy of the product.
Lab testing of cannabis products is an essential part of the regulated market’s supply chain. It detects offensive chemicals or contaminants that can lead to adverse health effects when consumed, while additionally providing cultivators and retailers with efficacious cannabinoid and terpene profiles of legal cannabis products.
In Canada’s regulated market, batch release quality control testing is required for potency and product safety, so it is necessary to measure substances like pesticides, mycotoxins, bacteria, and molds. Unfortunately, reports on potency and contaminants can vary from lab to lab, while recalls of contaminated products threaten consumer trust of legal products.
Sigma Analytical Services is a full-service pesticide, elemental, molecular, genetic, and pathogen analysis laboratory for cannabis, hemp, and cannabis-derived products. It delivers reliable science for cannabis products to the cannabis industry and cannabis consumers.
Cannabis Aficionado spoke with Ashton Abrahams, co-founder and COO of Sigma Analytical Services, to learn more about the importance of cannabis testing and Sigma’s strict processes.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell me about your entrepreneurial journey to cannabis.
I’m a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in starting and growing several successful ventures. In 2017, when Canada was in the process of legalizing cannabis, my partner and I saw an opportunity to focus on a different side of the new cannabis industry — ancillary testing and quality reassurance requirements. We knew there would be new products in the market, and they would all require testing. So, we started a testing lab that focused on cannabis and cannabis products, and this is how Sigma started.
What sets Sigma apart from other testing labs?
We want to ensure products available in this new market are efficacious and safe, and ensure the levels of both remain consistent. Sigma is the only GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified, cannabis-focused lab in Canada and the only cannabis-focused lab with cross-continental operations. We developed and validated our methods back in 2018 and 2019, so we are the frontrunner in Cannabis 2.0 product testing and are set up to test a comprehensive list of cannabis products — including flower, edibles, beverages, and topicals.
Sigma also has validated methods for quantifying and testing 16 cannabinoids and 43 terpenes — one of the highest in the market — and our analytical and microbiology tests are compliant with Health Canada, EU, and US Pharmacopeia.
Additionally, Sigma was awarded the Best Cannabis Lab/Testing Facility in Canada at the Grow Up 2019 awards.
What need does Sigma fill in the global cannabis industry?
Sigma brings reliable science that is already available in food and pharma to the cannabis industry, its products, and consumers.
Cannabis, food, and pharma share certain quality requirements. However, there is a big difference: in terms of quality assurance, food and pharma have decades of testing experience, while cannabis is a new industry, and the science is still being developed.
What kind of samples do you test?
We have developed and validated testing methods for many different types of cannabis products, from traditional dried flower and oils to Cannabis 2.0 products , such as concentrates, beverages, edibles, and topicals. From a testing standpoint, each and every one of these products is different and can have a different matrix. In turn, we develop a testing method for each one.
What should customers be looking for to see reassurance that a product’s been tested?
Make sure their products are purchased through legal channels. It’s the regulatory bodies’ responsibility to make sure the products launched in the market are not just tested, but tested specifically by qualified labs.
Moldy cannabis is a problem in legal markets and there are numerous reports of Health Canada product recalls after customers discovered moldy flower. Can you talk to us about how you test for these pathogens?
From day one, instead of using the traditional culture-based method, Sigma has tested for mould and all microbial contamination using a newer technology called qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction). When we first started it in late 2018, nobody was familiar with it in the cannabis industry, so we had to take time to explain to our clients that it was a better, more reliable, and faster process. In the last six months, however, we have seen a huge shift in attitude. Not only have the cannabis producers accepted qPCR, but more cannabis labs are starting to use the technology to test for microbial contaminations.
What are some of the most exciting developments in cannabis testing?
Using qPCR for microbial contamination is very new for the cannabis industry. We’re happy and excited about it because we see the benefits and we hope the whole cannabis industry embraces it.
Secondly, the challenges of formulating, developing, and testing new products. The developments in the past six months have been really promising.
Thirdly, discovering more about the cannabis plant and what ends up in cannabis products is really an exciting development. As we progress, we are sure to learn more about the effects of cannabinoids and terpenes.
What’s your pinnacle vision of cannabis testing?
There are two sides to it. There is a regulatory side, and there is the testing side. On the regulatory side, it’s about what needs to be tested, and how it needs to be tested.
A very important part of the quality assurance initiative for cannabis is ensuring the testing sample is representative of that batch. There are different factors in place. Is that batch homogeneous or not? Are the characteristics consistent or not? Cannabis is a plant. It’s an agricultural product. It’s not something that’s coming out of a machine, so we cannot expect all of the plants to have exactly the same characteristics. I believe one key is to limit the size of the batch. Other jurisdictions have clearly defined regulations. For example, in California, it clearly states that each batch cannot be larger than fifty pounds. In the Canadian regulations, there is no definition at all.
Secondly, labs need to get more serious. Some labs are testing cannabis products with outdated instruments or unvalidated methods, meaning their results cannot be truly accurate or reliable. Cannabis labs cannot use a 15-year-old second-hand instrument and expect to get the same results as pharmaceutical labs that use the best, most advanced instruments. Some people might think that testing cannabis products is not as important as pharmaceutical products, but it is just as important.
Cannabis has a very complex matrix which requires complex testing methods. Not all labs have good enough or validated methods. However, I’m optimistic that it’s a matter of years, maybe between five to ten, for cannabis testing to get there.
How is Sigma helping to foster the growth of a responsible and safe legal cannabis industry?
I think everyone active in the cannabis industry has a responsibility to make sure they are doing a good job and providing safe and efficacious products to the consumer. That’s because, if the consumer is not happy with what they’re getting from us, it will translate into unhappiness with the whole legalized framework.
Finally, what’s next for Sigma?
We are going through some expansion at our headquarters in Toronto and we’re about to acquire a lab in British Columbia, which will be our second lab in Canada. Additionally, we have a joint venture in Colombia and are setting up the first GMP certified cannabis lab in South America.
We are also becoming more involved with helping develop formulations for new products, and testing them, especially for the producers that follow GMP requirements either in pursuit of higher quality or for international cannabis markets.
We also recently received our GMP clearance from the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (“TGA”). The approval designates Sigma as an approved testing laboratory for Canadian companies to introduce their products into the Australian cannabis market.