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.
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.
Pink Lemonade: This Sparkling Strain Is Both Pretty & Potent
The frosted pink buds of Pink Lemonade might dazzle the beholder with glittering layer of golden trichomes, but this gorgeous flower isn’t all looks.
Dusted with a glittering layer of golden trichomes, the Pink Lemonade strain is endowed with a mystical appearance that embodies everything curious, attractive, and intriguing about cannabis flowers. Tightly bound calyxes dazzle with a bouquet of pink, violet, and sage coloration.
Cracking open one of these flowers emits a comfortable herbal aroma. A burst of crispness teases the nose, somewhat akin to the tart fizz in a carbonated cherry drink. This dessert-like aroma nicely compliments a definite happy hour high. Calm, relaxed, and downright chill, Pink Lemonade is a true afternoon delight.
The Pink Lemonade High
Put on some chill beats and pour yourself a nice drink. This plant is smooth, easy, and well-rounded. If inhaling Pink Lemonade feels like the first meaningful breath you’ve taken all day, you might be pleasantly surprised as a subtle relaxation works its way along the limbs and through the muscles.
There’s no doubt about it–this plant is a go-to strain for mellowing out. While often described as thoughtful and creative, the herb is better suited to leisure activities than it is serious concentration.
While solo consumers may enjoy putting on some Netflix after a little of this plant, it’s peaceful and contented nature is ideal for social gatherings. Spending time with friends may always be fun, but it’s easy to sit back enjoy a pleasant conversation after a few tastes of Pink Lemonade.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that cannabis affects everyone differently. The herb tends to be a mood enhancer rather than an instant remedy for happiness. If you are in an easygoing and relaxed environment, expect even more mellow after enjoying a little bud. If you’ve been having a bad day, strains like Pink Lemonade may provide relief by softening negative emotions and making them more tolerable.
Pink Lemonade Strain Background
Today’s cannabis market is truly a craft one. To say that the lack of federal recognition of the herb is problematic is an understatement. However, one benefit of state-by-state legalization is the development of truly local, expertly crafted products.
Pink Lemonade is a superb example of such a flower. There are many renditions of Pink Lemonade out there, yet the particular version pictured is a cross between two contemporary hybrids, Lemon Cheesecake and Huckleberry Soda.
Each parent strain is exceptional in its own right. Lemon Cheesecake is a sativa-dominant flower with a sour cream aroma and substantial THC production. Huckleberry Soda is a craft hybrid from Annunkanki Genetics, an intriguing cross between two hybrids, Black Cherry Soda and Huckleberry Hound.
Pink Lemonade Strain Benefits
As a craft flower, Pink Lemonade was arguably bred more for enjoyment than serious medical potential. It’s frosted pink buds dazzle the beholder, showcasing the fact that this plant is truly a treat. However, this gorgeous flower isn’t all looks.
The flower produces upwards of 25 percent THC. This means that the plant may be useful to those who benefit from high-THC therapies. Those interested in making a full-extract oil, hash, or other forms of concentrates may also enjoy experimenting with this sugary herb.
This plant is not too energizing nor is it overly sedative. However, those hoping for a little extra help falling asleep at night may find the flower helpful. The relaxed flower may also be beneficial for anxious individuals in search of a social lubricant.
However, the high-THC content in Pink Lemonade can inspire the opposite effect in some people. Bottom line: if you are prone to social anxiety or often respond poorly to THC, this potent flower is likely not the best choice.
Everything You Need to Know If You’re New to Dabbing
Dabbing is an ideal ingestion method best for those that have a high tolerance to cannabis or patients that need a quick, controlled dose of cannabis.
Dabbing is an ideal ingestion method best for those that have a high tolerance to cannabis or for medical users that need a quick, concentrated and controlled dose of cannabis. However, it can be confusing, even for long-time pot smokers. In fact, unless you’ve done it, seen it, or read up on it, dabbing can be a total mystery.
Dabbing is a relatively new way to consume cannabis and it is has become very popular in recent years despite rumors that it is dangerous. It is a highly concentrated experience, with THC at levels much more elevated than most regular flower you would encounter in a joint. For patients, dabbing can be a very effective way to dose because the effects hit the user very quickly and can typically be measured more easily. For those with a high tolerance for cannabis, dabbing can be a way of feeling the effects of pot with more potency.
Before you can get into dabbing, you need to know a little about cannabis concentrates and extracts. Shatter, budder, wax, crumble, pull and snap, and hash oil are a few of the most popular types of cannabis concentrates and extracts. Extracts and concentrates are named so because they are products of a process where THC and other cannabinoids are extracted from the flower. Sometimes, during the extraction process, a solvent (like alcohol or butane) can be used and other times a solvent is not used. Either way, the final product is a smaller, stickier package that packs a powerful punch.
The Dabbing Process
Keep in mind that nails and domes can get incredibly hot. Like, RED hot, literally. Do not underestimate the heat that can occur — be cautious to prevent any burns.
First, you will need something to dab. We have heard the recommendation more than once to keep away from alcohol-based extracts when dabbing. Consult your budtender about this one, or just skip alcohol based-extracts — your call. There are a lot of concentrates and extracts to choose from, enjoy the hunt for your perfect pick.
Next you need something to dab out of. You can purchase a dab rig or just convert an existing glass water pipe with glass dab attachments. You are also going to need a titanium, ceramic, quartz or electronic nail that fits the glass dab attachment you are using. A typical nail is going to require the use of a dome in order to trap the vapor before it dissipates into the air. A dome can be as simple as a glass piece that fits over the reservoir where the extract or concentrate is vaporizing.
Get your dabber ready. A dabber is a tool that is ceramic, metal, glass, that is used to place the dab, or concentrate/extract, on the super-hot nail.
Lastly, unless you are using an electronic nail or e-mail, you will need a mini torch. Some less patient dabbers will use a full-on, propane-fueled torch in order to more quickly heat their nails — experiment at your own risk. In case the dab is a little overwhelming for you and your body, the safest place for you to be is sitting down to avoid any falls.
Turn on your e-nail OR use your torch to heat your nail until it is red-hot. Allow it cool for at least 10 seconds (for titanium) and up to 45 seconds if you are using ceramic or quartz nail.
Once cooled, use your dabber to place your concentrated dab on the nail. Place the dome over the nail as you inhale. Then, exhale. Victory!
If you weren’t already sitting down, you probably will be now!
Take these words of advice to heart — start small. If you haven’t tried dabbing at all before, don’t make your very first dab a large one. You won’t regret taking a small dab, but you might regret taking one that is too big. Always ask your budtender any questions you have about your purchase and if the product you are buying is the best thing you can buy for dabbing, vaporizing, smoking, etc.
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