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Testing & Processing Cannabinoid analysis, Terpene & residual solvent analysis

Are Strain Names Meaningless?

“Strain” names failed to correlate with cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles in a study of 2,662 cannabis flower samples from Nevada's medical use program (1) – adding weight to calls for an alternative way of classifying chemovars. 

The authors were surprised by the lack of chemical diversity in the samples, with all containing high levels of THC and low levels of other cannabinoids. Terpenes were more variable, forming three clusters. But the (nearly 400) names assigned by breeders were essentially meaningless, giving no indication of chemical composition. 

The samples were collected in 2016/17, when cannabis was only available for medical use in Nevada. An earlier study from Washington State, which analyzed a much bigger sample set, found greater diversity and some correlation between name and cannabinoid content (2), concluding: “These results suggest that strain names can provide meaningful, though variable, signals of the composition of flower samples.”

Do strain names provide valuable information to consumers? Joseph Smith, CEO at Florida testing laboratory Canaveral Labs, is skeptical: “My personal experience is that strain names do not have much correlation to terpene profiles. Without DNA sequencing, who knows what attributes a plant really has? Also, flower curing and remediation (e.g, HPI or Ozone) are additional variables and we don’t yet know what effects that has on the terpenes. Strain names are mostly a marketing tool until all markets can obtain and cultivate standardized genetics that will perform in the growers environment." 

Pat Reynolds, Operations Director at Confidence Analytics, agrees: “Consumers need more to go on than the THC number. The question is - what? I've seen (and been involved in) many different attempts to characterize cannabis beyond the THC content, but I haven't seen any of them take off. They are still too complex and require too much expert knowledge to grasp easily.”

We’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment below or email [email protected] to join the conversation.

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  1. U Reimann-Philipp et al., “Cannabis chemovar nomenclature misrepresents chemical and genetic diversity; survey of variations in chemical profiles and genetic markers in nevada medical cannabis samples,” Cannabis Cannabinoid Res, 5, 215–230. DOI: 10.1089/can.2018.0063
  2. N Jikomes, M Zoorob, “The cannabinoid content of legal cannabis in Washington State varies systematically across testing facilities and popular consumer products,” Sci Rep, 8, 4519 (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-22755-2

About the Author

Charlotte Barker

Associate Content Director

After studying biology at Imperial College London, I got my start in biomedical publishing as a commissioning editor for healthcare journals, and I’ve spent my career covering everything from early-stage research to clinical medicine. Attracted by the creativity, talent and passion of the team, I joined Texere Publishing in 2014, where I’m now Associate Content Director and Editor of The Cannabis Scientist.

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