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.
Wizard Stones: The Magic of Making Cannabis Diamonds
Aaron Palmer and Graham Jennings, founders of Oleum Extracts in Washington State, talk about Wizard Stones, their THCA isolate product.
Heat, pressure, and time. The three components required to form a diamond from carbon. But what about diamonds made from cannabis? The founders of Oleum Extracts, Aaron Palmer and Graham Jennings both agree that a good diamond product ultimately comes down to the flavor provided by its terpene fraction.
Diamonds is a slang term for the crystal formations of the cannabinoid THCA. The molecule’s lattice structure builds upon itself naturally as individual molecules clump together creating the faceted formations that resemble diamond or quartz.
When most people talk about cannabis diamonds, they’re talking about THCA structures that form in their own terpene sauce. So, it’s a little different technique than other isolation methods.
Oleum —While their chemical composition is the same, the process to make them is slightly different than the traditional diamonds mined from a raw extract. Instead, they use a specially formulated solvent mix to create a solution with a composition that encourages crystallization.
Due to Washington state’s regulations, Oleum is limited in the chemical solvents they can use. So that blend is the crucial variable to isolating THCA into their Wizard Stones product.
Growing cannabis diamonds within their original terpene fraction comes down to creating an environment with the right amounts of pressure and heat to encourage crystal growth.
Within the raw extract, the terpene and cannabinoid compounds are homogenized together, but as they settle and separate the mixture “crashes” — which is the start of crystallization.
Palmer explains that it “helps to create a seed because if there’s nothing for the THCA molecules to grab onto then they have a harder time starting the diamond formation.”
There are a few ways extractors seed a solution to start diamond growth, but Oleum prefers to use freezing temperatures to solidify and then thaw their extract, helping to create small groupings of THCA for other molecules to stack off.
Another common seeding technique is to drop a previously grown crystal into the extracted mixture of cannabis compounds, giving the THCA something to grow off of.
This technique is especially useful when filming a time-lapse of the crystal growth because it gives the camera a focal point knowing where the formation will grow from.
Creating Wizard Stones
The above timelapse video wasphotographed over a four day period by Dankshire. We can see diamonds begin to form almost immediately. However, the crystallization process can take a month if not longer to complete once a raw extract is jarred and waiting to crash.
Oleum utilizes custom-built isolation vessels for their production diamond runs but admits that the jar tech allows more visibility into the process.
Jennings points out, “You see the jars, we even do the jar stuff a lot. It’s more popular… and people know what it is compared to a large isolation vessel that no one can see into it but you know it’s growing 2,000 grams of crystals.”
Each batch can present a different ratio of diamonds to sauce and it seems like everyone wants a little different combination. “We just give ‘em what it makes,” Jennings said.
That’s the beauty of isolated products like cannabis diamonds and sauce; you can mix your own cocktail of cannabis compounds and really dial in the flavors and feelings that you’re after.
Cannabis diamonds grown in their own sauce create a potent, refined, and pronounce expression of the strain they are extracted from.
Terpinolene: The Powerful Medicinal Terpene with Anti-Cancer Promise
Terpinolene (sometimes denoted as “TPO”) is considered a minor, or secondary, terpene and features an aroma resembling sweet pine.
Few cannabis consumers are fully aware of the complex molecular chemistry of the herb they vaporize, smoke, or eat. Terpenes like terpinolene are the aromatic molecules responsible for the sometimes revealingly pungent aroma of many strains of cannabis. Although the chief purpose of this family of chemicals is an evolutionary defense mechanism against pests and predators, terpenes have been found to deliver medicinal efficacy that equals that of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC.
More than 20,000 terpenes exist throughout nature, about 200 of which have been identified in various strains of cannabis. Terpinolene (sometimes denoted as “TPO”) is considered a minor, or secondary, terpene and features an aroma resembling sweet pine. It delivers a taste reminiscent of citrus and is produced in many plants in nature other than cannabis, including allspice, cumin, junipers, parsnip, rosemary, sage, and tea tree.
The Details of Terpinolene
In terms of medicinal efficacy, terpinolene kills cancer cells and acts as a sedative. In addition, it displays antibacterial properties and is both an anti-fungal and an anti-oxidant. It is employed as a flavoring agent by various segments of the food industry. It is also used to manufacture plastics and resins and is an effective repellent against pests such as mosquitoes and weevils.
A 2013 study found this special molecule to be a powerful anti-cancer agent. Concluded the study’s researchers, “Our findings clearly demonstrate that terpinolene is a potent antiproliferative agent for brain tumour cells and may have potential as an anticancer agent, which needs to be further studied.”
A 2013 study entitled “Anticancer and Antioxidant Properties of Terpinolene” that was published in the journal Arh Hig Rada Toksikol found terpinolene to be a “potent antiproliferative agent for brain tumour cells” and surmised that this powerfully medicinal terpene “may have potential as an anticancer agent,” an issue in obvious need of further research due to the 91 million people worldwide who suffer more than 100 types of cancers.
The researchers concluded, “Our findings clearly demonstrate that terpinolene is a potent antiproliferative agent for brain tumor cells and may have potential as an anticancer agent, which needs to be further studied.”
A 2012 study entitled “Terpinolene, a Component of Herbal Sage, Downregulates AKT1 Expression in K562 Cells” and published in the journal Oncology Letters found the terpene terpinolene to be an effective agent in the battle against a variety of cancers.
Concluded the study’s researchers, “Increased expression and/or activation of AKT is involved in a variety of human cancers. In cells treated with sage or rosemary extract, mRNA and protein expression levels of AKT1 were reduced compared with those of the control cells 48 hours after the herbal treatments. We found that terpinolene, a common component of sage and rosemary, markedly reduced the protein expression of AKT1 in K562 cells and inhibited cell proliferation.”
Cannabis DNA Tests Can Tell You How Your Body Responds to Weed
Cannabis DNA tests provide an access point for preventative precision cannabis medicine, customized as a function of the consumer’s genetic predispositions.
There is a high probability that the following scene has played out at least once in your life: after passing a joint around a smoke circle, one person can’t stop laughing at the painting they insist is moving, another is proclaiming the profundities of Kenrick Lamar’s lyricism, and yet another is “resting their eyes”. While humorous to observe the panoply of personalities, this setting provides an important observation. The cannabinoids and terpenes found in different cannabis products interact with everyone’s internal biochemistry differently.
Naturally, aspects of your lifestyle like how much exercise you’ve been getting, your sleep patterns, and diet all play a role in how you’ll respond to a cannabis product on any given day. However, the most critical factor is the makeup of your endocannabinoid system — the chemicals and neurons in your brain and body that respond to cannabinoids. Your DNA holds the specific instructions for how your endocannabinoid system gets “wired up” compared to other people, permitting for individual differences in reactions to cannabis.
A Quick Introduction to DNA
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a long molecule that contains the instructions for building every single part of an organism. DNA is made up of four compounds that pair up: (A) Adenine, (T) Thymine, (C) Cytosine, and (G) Guanine. 99.5% of the base pair combinations that make up humans are identical from person to person. The .5% difference is what makes you unique. Variants are the genetic differences that make up that .5%.
You may be familiar with the term “gene”, which is simply a section of DNA that carries the codes for making and organizing specific molecules that eventually serve as the building blocks for different parts and functions of an organism. Variants at specific genes have been identified as the determinants for thousands of different traits, from whether you’ll have blue or green eyes to whether or not you’ll have muscular dystrophy. As new research is conducted on cannabis and the body, more genetic links that can predict your response to cannabis are beginning to surface.
How Your DNA Affects Your Cannabis Consumption
With genes holding the instructions for the creation of enzymes and proteins that go on to make up all the constituents of your brain and body, it is a small leap of understanding to see how variants at specific genes can affect your endocannabinoid system and, subsequently, your experience with cannabis.
An extreme example of this is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) — a genetic condition where the carrier’s body produces significantly less endogenous cannabinoids and receptors as compared to a healthy person. CECD presents an obvious linkage between DNA and cannabis use: if you carry a gene for CECD, you will require substantially more cannabis in order to achieve the same effects as someone without that gene. Other genetic links that predict your response to cannabis can be a bit more insidious.
Take the genes CYP2C9 and CYP2C19 for example; they code for an enzyme that breaks down THC and CDD respectively. Variants on these genes can make the enzymes they create up to 30% less effective. This means that consumers with those variants would be less effective in breaking down THC and CBD.
This breakdown process is a critical variable to consider when ingesting chemicals. In fact, some pharmaceuticals specifically take this breakdown system into account by creating drugs that inhibit the breakdown of endogenous chemicals so that they can remain effective longer and produce “more” of their intended outcome. For example, SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors; the leading anti-depressant) delay the breakdown of serotonin (a positive mood-regulating neurotransmitter) in the synapse (the small space that allows transmission of neurotransmitters across neurons) so that an individual’s serotonin (which is usually not as present in depressed populations) can continue to operate, yielding a “happier” person. Similarly, the sluggish breakdown of THC will result in a user feeling “higher” for longer. Unfortunately, this also creates drowsiness in users with the variant for up to three days after initial consumption.
Naturally, insights into which variants on the CYPC9 and CYP2C19 an individual has can help guide dosage and titration models as well identify which product categories to choose. For example, a consumer that is pre-disposed to sub-optimal breakdown would be wise to choose vape products over edible since inhalation bypasses what is known as first-pass metabolism, which occurs in the liver after during digestion of edible. Such information into drug metabolism has fueled the burgeoning field of pharmacogenetics, where medical doctors take a personalized approach to pharmaceutical medication based on the patient’s DNA.
DNA Insights for Personalized Cannabis Use
The effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment option for a wide variety of disorders and diseases, coupled with the reliability of DNA in determining an individual’s likelihood of developing a particular condition, provides an access point for preventative precision cannabis medicine, customized as a function of the consumer’s genetic predispositions.
Taking into account the tens of thousands of cannabis products and strains available on the legal market, there exist a plethora of options with varying cannabinoid and terpene ratios — the most critical variables that determine the different effects and medical benefits of cannabis.
Such a range of products, coupled with an understanding of one’s DNA, allows for a personalized product selection by connecting the dots across different research findings. These biomarkers can create even more precise recommendations that go much further than just warning an individual that they should shy away from edibles.
For example, a host of genes can predispose someone to developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. On the other side of the equation, studies have shown that pinene (a terpene found in cannabis and other plants like pine trees) has a neuroprotective effect that specifically enhances memory. Cannabis users with such predispositions wanting to take preventative health measures could do so by routinely choosing cannabis products high in pinene.
Similar associations exist for users with a tendency to develop schizophrenia or have psychotic episodes, where low-THC, high-CBD products can provide anti-psychotic effects. Similar reasoning applies to individuals at a high-risk for cancer being able to take advantage of high-THC, anti-cancer products.
Cannabis DNA tests like Strain Genie look at over 150 such biomarkers to generate personalized cannabis consumption suggestions.
As regulation allows for scientists to gain access to cannabis for research studies, more insights that can help predetermine the effectiveness of cannabis use at the level of an individual is certainly on the horizon. Other avenues could also provide insights as to other aspects of cannabis use as well. For example, new research from 2018 has even unveiled 35 genes that make you 11% more likely to be a cannabis consumer and revealed an interesting overlap in cannabis use with a gene (CADM2) that has been traditionally associated with risk-taking. Information such as this, combined with genes that predispose individuals for abuse could be used to guide scheduled tolerance breaks.
Regardless of the application, additional research into DNA, cannabinoids, and terpenes promises to refine the personalized approach to cannabis that all consumers should consider taking.
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