Researchers Finally Pinpoint Cannabis Chemotypes
In order to distinguish between the genetic markers that separate cannabis varieties, researchers coined the term chemotype.
Every dedicated cannabis consumer knows intuitively that different strains produce different effects. It is only recently, however, have researchers really begun to understand why. In the 1970s, dedicated herb enthusiasts caught on to the fact that a single molecule is responsible for the famous cannabis “high”, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It wasn’t long before growers began to cultivate plants that produced the highest levels of this psychoactive compound, which were also plants that produced the most profound highs. Aficionados of the hippie era even began harvesting seedless flowers to ensure a top-notch euphoria and truly potent experience.
Yet, while consumers have known about psychoactive THC and its euphoric effects for several decades, some perplexing questions remain. For one, why do some cannabis plants make you sleepy while others do not? Further, why do some strains seem more likely to cause a so-called “couch-lock” while others seem more lighthearted?
Scientists have known since the mid-1960s that THC has different effects on different people, yet the molecule alone didn’t seem to be responsible for the varying effects of different cannabis plants. At least, not responsible on its own. For one, isolated THC doesn’t cause the heavy sedation or the heavy-bodied experience offered by small to moderate amounts of certain strains, particularly of the Hindu Kush variety.
THC may be the star of the show, but the molecule itself certainly doesn’t explain the experiential subtleties that distinguish one strain from another. In 2004, theorists proposed an answer: the psychoactive experience is refined by synergistic molecules produced by different cannabis varieties. THC provides the overall melody, but the symphony wouldn’t be as appealing without the harmony, tone, and mood provided by other molecules.
Today, the theory of chemical synergy has a name: the entourage effect.
A New Paradigm for Cannabis Cultivars
For decades, cannabis strain names have been passed down from generation to generation. Like horses or show dogs, most cannabis plants are named after their family heritage — OG Kush and Chemdawg Sour Diesel being two prime examples. In recent years, however, researchers have uncovered that there’s more to strains than the name. Scientists and industry gurus alike are moving to classify cannabis strains not by their names or their indica or sativa status but by the chemical compounds they produce.
In total, the cannabis plant is capable of producing over 500 distinct chemical compounds. Not all plants, however, produce all of these chemical compounds in the same concentrations or at the same time. In fact, both genetic and environmental triggers seem to influence what types of compounds a plant is able to produce, and when. The most famous chemical compounds in cannabis are cannabinoids. THC, the primary psychoactive in the cannabis plant, is a cannabinoid. So is non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD), which is abundant in certain cannabis varieties but not others.
In 2016, scientists began to identify the genetic markers that separate cannabis varieties that produce THC from those that produce CBD. In order to distinguish between the two, researchers coined the term chemotype. Chemotype is the word used to classify different cannabis varieties based on their chemical constituents. Since the isolation of THC, scientists have discovered that the cannabis plant can produce over 100 different cannabinoids, although only a few are present in high concentrations.
Cannabis strains will produce different effects depending on the mixtures and concentrations of cannabinoids present in a given plant. Simply stated, it is the entourage of these molecules together that creates a unique experience. Thus far, researchers articulated that three primary chemotypes currently exist: THC-dominant chemotypes, CBD-dominant chemotypes, and mixed THC-CBD chemotypes.
The Three Most Common Cannabis Chemotypes
While the plants that produce these chemical compounds may all look the same, these three chemotypes exert profoundly different psychological effects when inhaled. A THC-dominant chemotype, for example, famously produces a euphoric experience that distorts memory and time. Anyone who has ever sampled a high-quality batch of Original Glue, for example, has surely felt the pleasant yet sometimes overwhelming potency of a strong psychoactive strain.
In contrast, a flower like Charlotte’s Web, which frequently produces high levels of CBD, may not be notably intoxicating at all. Instead, these high-CBD plants are more likely to promote feelings of calm alertness, without an inconveniencing intoxication. For this reason, many consumers tend to rely on these chemovars for daytime consumption.
Mixed chemotypes produce far more varied effects depending on the amount of THC present in a given cannabis flower. In a 2018 study published in Planta Medica, survey data suggest that mixed THC and CBD chemotypes were less likely to be sedating, and more likely to be energizing, functional, and focused. Flowers that fall under the mixed category include Harlequin, Pennywise, and Sour Tsunami.
Terpene Chemotypes Recently Identified
The discovery and classification of cannabinoid phenotypes is nothing short of revolutionary for the cannabis industry. Now, more than ever before, budtenders, medical professionals, and consumers alike are able to more or less select their desired cannabis experience by simply looking at lab results reported on the package picked up from the local pot shop. Recent breakthroughs, however, have taken cannabis chemotypes one step further.
In late 2018, researchers found that you can classify cannabis strains into three distinct categories, based not solely on cannabinoid content, but aroma. Like wine, the cannabis plant produces a host of molecules that create complex and unique flavors and aromas. In fact, scientists have discovered over 200 distinct aromatic molecules in the plant thus far, all of which add depth and character to individual cannabis varieties.
The aromatic molecules in question are called terpenes, and these natural chemicals are abundant throughout the plant kingdom. Terpenes are responsible for the soothing pine-aroma which resonates from forest trees, as well as the sharp scent of black pepper and the musky fragrance of hop fields. When it comes to cannabis, terpenes may also have an effect on your high.
Two separate studies published in the past year found that there are also at least three mayor aromatic varieties of cannabis plants. Some of the most common are myrcene-dominant varieties, which tend to be sleepy and hypnotic in nature. Myrcene is a musk-scented aroma molecule often found in lemongrass, hops, and some varieties of mango.
These myrcene-dominant varieties also tend to feature higher concentrations of pinene, which is the terpene aroma molecule responsible for the unique aroma of pine trees. In a 2016 analysis, researchers found that these two terpenes were most abundant in “Kush” plants, although, admittedly, the Kush family is very large and not all flowers that bear the Kush name will follow this pattern.
Limonene and Beta-Caryophyllene-Dominant Chemotypes
Plants that produce high levels of limonene and beta-caryophyllene fall into a chemotype of their own. Limonene is the molecule that provides a citrus scent to orange rinds and similar fruits. Beta-caryophyllene is a spicy compound that is abundant in black pepper. Classic Cookies is one such strain that falls under this chemotype. Additional research suggests that OG varieties may be more likely to produce these citrus-spice aroma compounds. These flowers tend to be more alert in nature.
The least common chemotype contains the terpene terpinolene. Terpinolene is an aromatic constituent of allspice, offering a woody yet floral quality to cannabis strains like Trainwreck. This terpene is most common in cannabis varieties classified as sativa, but, despite popular belief, may have a slight sedative effect.
Researchers have yet to determine whether or not certain cannabinoid chemotypes are more likely to express certain terpenes than others, but the odds are that they likely do. Using this information, aficionados now have a glimpse into the cannabis experience that was not possible in earlier generations.
Not only do we now know what causes the famous cannabis high, but we also now know how to fine-tune the experience. Just as sommeliers develop a pallet that allows them to distinguish the bouquet of tastes and aromas in different wines, cannabis aficionados now have a language that helps distinguish different cognitive and physiological experience s— a true entourage effect in action.
Cannabis Classification System Announced for 2022 Emerald Cup Awards
One of the factors that make the Emerald Cup so important to California’s cannabis market is its continued strive for excellence and innovation. For the 2022 awards, the judging process is undergoing a transformation and with it comes a new cannabis classification system that will classify entries based on terpenes, flavour, and effects for anybody — from customers to budtenders, dispensaries, judges, and cultivators.
Cannabis Is More Than Just THC
The days of just searching out the highest THC totals are rapidly receding as research has now proven that terpenes are at the base of the entourage effect that customers desire are rapidly fading.
Terpenes, on the other hand, have mostly added to the consumer confusion already caused by overly broad Indica/Sativa/Hybrid terminology, whimsical strain names, irrelevant THC/CBD percentages, and other ambiguous factors that make selecting the best or correct strain a less-than-satisfying ordeal for even the most experienced cannabis connoisseurs.
The Emerald Cup competition will serve as a testbed for a new classification system for cannabis flowers. The event organisers and their testing partners at SC Labs decided to further break down the flower categories based on the chemometrics of each cultivar (better known as “chemovar” — the evolution of the term “dominant terpene”) evolving beyond last year’s flower category sorting by primary terpene content, in order to level the playing field and eliminate as much bias as possible in the blind/anonymous sampling done by Emerald Cup judges each year.
This paradigm-shifting insight sparked months of additional research and discussion, culminating in the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification System based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs.
The all-new classification system builds on last year’s approach of sorting flower entries by primary terpene content, leveraging a decade of Cannabis phytochemistry research between PhytoFacts®, developed by Napro Research in 2013, and a powerful database of over 250,000 terpene tests aggregated by SC Labs, dating back to their launch of terpene testing on Cannabis in 2013. The key class names were chosen to represent current terminology, are widely used in the business and are familiar to dispensaries and consumers. Each class is further explained using taste notes, effects, and popular strains or cultivars to promote understanding and acceptance.
The New Cannabis Classification System
The classes of the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification Based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs include:
“Jacks + Haze” Class
- Mostly ‘Sativa’-leaning varietals
- Tasting notes – Fruity, Pinesol, Haze
- Effects – Energizing, Cerebral, Artistically Inspiring
- Common Cultivars – Classic Trainwreck, Jack Herer, Durban Poison, Super Lemon Haze
- Terpenes Profile: Terpinolene, Caryophyllene, Myrcene
“Tropical + Floral” Class
- Mostly ‘Indica’-leaning varietals
- Tasting notes – Sweet, Floral, Tropical Fruit
- Effects – Calming, Soothing, Relaxing
- Common Cultivars – Super Skunk, Hawaiian, In the Pines, Dream Queen
- Terpenes Profile: Ocimene, Myrcene
“Sweets + Dreams” Class
- Mostly ‘Indica’-leaning varietals
- Tasting Notes – Fruity, Sweet, Woody, Hoppy, Herbaceous
- Effects – Relaxation, Couch Lock, Analgesic
- Common Cultivars – Blue Dream, Tangie, Forbidden fruit, Grandaddy Purple, Purple Urkel, Grape Ape, Cherry AK, God’s Gift, Purple Punch
- Terpenes Profile: Myrcene, Pinene, Caryophyllene
“OGs + Gas” Class
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting Notes – Gas, Fuel, Sweet, Citrus, and Pepper
- Effect – Uplifting, Stimulating, Analgesic, Relaxation
- Common Cultivars – Classic OG Kush, ChemDawg, Sour Diesel, Gorilla Glue
- Terpenes Profile: Any combination or shifting codominance of Caryophyllene, Limonene, Myrcene
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting Notes – Deserts, Doughs, Citrusy & Spicy
- Effects – Stimulating, Racy, Uplifting, Comforting
- Common Cultivars – Classic Bubba Kush, GSC, Gelatos, Cakes
- Any shift in codominance of Caryophyllene & Limonene
“Exotics” (Rare Terpene Combinations) Class
- True ‘Hybrid’ varietals
- Tasting notes – varied based on chemistry of entry
- Effect – varied based on chemistry of entry
- Common Cultivars – rarest terpene profiles entered into the Emerald Cup Competition
This game-changing development in cannabis classification levels the playing ground for the 2022 Cup as well as market competitiveness amongst brands. The system seeks to become an open-source, globally recognised grading solution for Cannabis, with six simple classes/names/descriptions. In the same way that a Chardonnay would not be tested against a Merlot in the wine business, this new system permits strains with comparable profiles to be judged against each other. This new classification system will also be used at the California State Fair Cannabis Awards in July 2022.
The 2022 Emerald Cup Awards will be presented live on stage on May 14th at the Green Street Festival in Downtown Los Angeles, California.
The Sativa Preservation Society Project Will Protect Rare Haze Genetics
Space Coyote, the totally cosmic cannabis company, has launched the Sativa Preservation Society Project — a movement that protects Haze genetics while paying homage to the custodians and cultivators who kept the seeds alive.
Celebrators of the cannabis culture’s stoner heritage, Space Coyote’s aesthetic and ethos embraces the vibes and psychedelic Seventies scene, where the creativity and community of cannabis intersect.
Co-founder and self-confessed ‘Sativa Diva’ Libby Cooper calls it the “ultimate passion project”.
“We’re truly passionate about saving these genetics that are the actual grandmothers of every modern-day sativa strains that people love — all of these desert strains, all of the fruity strains,” Cooper tells me from the Space Coyote van en route to Hall of Flowers.
Founding the Sativa Preservation Society Project
The concept of the Sativa Preservation Society Project was years in incubation as the Space Coyote team deliberated over how to bring it to life. It was important for them to give back to the community while helping to educate about the history of cannabis culture.
The stars aligned earlier this year when the team met Bam Vachher-Gnanathurai, nursery and plant breeding manager from the Posibl Project in Salina. A mutual love of the unique effects of Haze genetics made for a truly cosmic outcome.
“Bam is super passionate about sativa,” said Cooper. “When we went and met up with Bam for the very first time, he rolled a blunt from Cuban Black. It was such an amazing experience to smoke that flower.”
“The initial conversation of the Sativa Preservation Society coming to life happened during that smoke session. It was like, ‘holy shit, we could actually do this.’”
The Haze Experience
The Sativa Preservation Society Project is launching with three incredibly rare cultivars — Cuban Black Haze, Uptown Haze (also known as A5 Haze), and C5 Haze — all of which were originally cultivated in the 1980s by legendary grower Neville Schoenmaker. The flower will be available as bagged eighths and as infused prerolls.
Cooper likens the Haze experience to being “a bit like mushrooms” — colors are brighter, your smell is enhanced and your hearing is sharper.
“It’s really like a cup of coffee without any jitteriness or anxiety usually associated with sativas. This is pure energy without any sort of adverse effects,” explains Cooper. “You really feel as if your eyelids are getting peeled back — you’re awake, you’re uplifted. Basically, I smoke it and I immediately start stretching.”
“Many sativa genetics are dying out due to a number of reasons,” says Cooper. “Typically, they are more difficult to grow, have a longer curing time, and the fluffy buds are easily crushed in transit.” All of which makes sativas less cost-effective in California’s highly competitive legal market.
“This truly is the first time these original sativa strains are going to be commercially grown,” says Cooper. “It really wouldn’t have been possible, funnily enough, without this group named Posibl.”
Learn more about the Sativa Preservation Society Project in the video above. While you’re at it, find your nearest Space Coyote here.
Peach Oz: This Sweet And Juicy Cultivar Will Stimulate Your Creativity
If you’re looking for a premium cultivar with legendary genetics and a euphoric high, look no further than Peach Oz, the latest addition to Wonderbrett’s stellar strain menu.
A cross of Peach Rings with OZ Kush and a descendent of Zkittlez, the sweet, stimulating citrus taste profile of Peach Oz will get your creative juices flowing.
While the cultivar may be new to the public, according to Wonderbrett Co-Founder and famed Breeder Brett Feldman, it’s five-years-old in the world of genetics.
“There’s only a small handful of heady smokers who follow these things,” says Feldman. “I wanted to bring it to the masses to share the experience with everybody. That’s where my passion comes from with this strain. Similar to an amazing dish at a restaurant, you want to share it with your friends.”
Grown in small-batches at scale from the company’s state-of-the-art Long Beach cultivation facility, the strain was first created by Dying Breed Seeds, then perfected by Cannabis By Corey, before making its way to Feldman.
Bursting with flavors and aromas that bring to mind the sweet ocean breeze and fragrant fruit orchards of the California sunshine state, Peach OZ’s four dominant terpenes: Caryophyllene, Linalool, Limonene and Humulene, create a distinct sweet taste of ripe peaches, citrus candy and cream.
“When any strain has that unique, recognizable consistency in its flavor, whether that be peach, lemon or orange, that’s what myself and other breeders appreciate most and look for when bringing a genetic like this to market. It’s mind-blowing what Peach OZ can do that, translating a fruit flavor to a smoking experience,” explained Feldman.
Peach OZ is available at select dispensary and at Wonderbrett’s flagship dispensary in L.A.