Move Aside Cultivars; It's the Age of the Chemovar
Sentences such as "I love a good Indica" and "Jack Herrer is my favourite strain" are often heard within the cannabis community. Everyone has a favourite strain, and most people have a preference for Sativa or Indica dominant strains. But how useful is this terminology in describing cannabis products?
Sativa Vs Indica Vs Ruderalis
These are all species of the cannabis genus from the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants. Like different species of mushrooms or tomatoes they can be identified by their varied characteristics. Sativas are often taller in stature, with narrow leaves and longer flowering cycles. On the other hand, Indicas are usually shorter plants with broader leaves.
Sativa species are commonly associated with heady, uplifting effects whilst India strains are associated with a more 'heavy' body high. However since most strains have been cross-bred at some point, the majority of strains are actually hybrids. Furthermore, other factors such as how early or late a plant is harvested can influence the type of high. For example, a Sativa plant that is left to mature for longer would allow the THC to degrade into Cannabinol (CBN) which may produce more of an Indica type, drowsy effect.
The Problem with Strains
Strains are a fun and diverse facet of the industry. From cheese to strawberry haze there's a strain for everyone. They may be useful in determining the taste of cannabis, however, they are not a useful indicator of the effects and strength.
There are currently thousands of strains available on the market, yet many new cultivars have not been sufficiently stabilized, causing batch-to-batch variations in seeds.
Furthermore, research from UBC in 2018 showed that most strains have virtually identical levels of THC and CBD. Are stains now an out of control marketing exercise? It's even been found that a wide variety of products sold under the same cultivar name, and products have been relabeled based on cultivar prices (Samuels 2008, Lee 2013).
If this hasn't already caused enough complexity, there are still a few more factors at play that can affect the chemical consistency of cannabis. For example, which part of the plant is being smoked? Was the plant exposed to stress throughout the growth cycle? What supplements were used? All of these things impact the final chemical profile of the plant and can vary greatly between grows, even when the same strain is used.
We are not suggesting that we do away with strains; just acknowledging their use is limited in describing the attributes of a plant. Perhaps there use is more suitable for describing the taste of a particular Cultivar. Thinking about the popular "Cheese" strain, for example, that consistently has a very distinctive taste even though the quality and chemical profile between plants can vary.
Chemical Profile of Cannabis
The term "Chemovar' has been coined by Dr. Ethan Russo as a more appropriate way of describing cannabis than referring to cultivars. This focuses on the chemical profile of a plant, rather than relying on cultivars. Qualitative characterizations could then be based on the ratio of THC to CBD.
Drug-type Chemotype I
- High THC/CBD ration (much more THC than CBD)
- THC usually 5-10%, up to 25% in dried flowering tops
Intermediate-type Chemotype II
- THC/CBD ratio close to 1:0 (a balance between THC and CBD)
- THC and CBD percentages are variable
Fiber-type Chemotype III
- Low THC/CBD ration (much less THC than CBD)
- THC percentage is less than 0.3% in dried flowering tops
The Future of Cannabis: A Hybrid Model?
We do still hope and believe strains have a place in the world of cannabis. But strain names and species categorizations (Indica vs Sativa) are, let's face it, not very useful when it comes to describing cannabis in a meaningful way. If you have an idea of the chemical profile (cannabinoids + terpenes present, and in what amounts) that works for you, you will always be able to find the right herb for you, regardless of the strain name touted by your budtender.