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Research: consistency within cannabis products

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2022-05-21-Research: consistency within cannabis products

Labels like indica, sativa and hybrid — often used to differentiate one category of cannabis from another — tell consumers little about what's in their product and can be confusing or misleading, a new study of nearly 90.000 samples in six suggests. states.

The study, published May 19 in the journal PLOS One, constitutes the largest analysis to date of the chemical makeup of marijuana products. It notes that commercial labels “do not consistently match the perceived chemical diversity” of the product. The authors are now arguing for a cannabis labeling system.

10 years of cannabis legalization

“Our findings suggest that the prevailing labeling system is not an effective or safe way to provide information about these products,” said study co-author Brian Keegan, an assistant professor of information science at CU Boulder. “This is a real challenge for an industry that is trying to professionalize itself.”

The year 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the legalization of recreational marihuana in Colorado and Washington, the first two US states to allow adult use. In that time, the industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, with sativa strains generally associated with an energizing high, while indica strains are associated with a relaxing effect. However, there is no standardized labeling system.

Few demands on cannabis products

Commercial strain names such as Girl Scout Cookies, Gorilla Glue, and Blue Dream abound, giving consumers the impression that if you buy it in one place, you'll get the same product, or at least the same effect, if you buy it elsewhere.

While marketers are generally required to list the dosage of the psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) on the label, they are not required to include information about other compounds, including terpenes, which can affect not only odor but also – via a supposed synergistic effect called the entourage effect – the effect of the product.

Furthermore, there are no requirements for the product name. “A farmer can't just pick up an apple and decide to call it a Red Delicious. A beer manufacturer cannot just arbitrarily label its product as Double IPA. There are standards. But that's not the case for the cannabis industry," said co-author Nick Jikomes, director of science and innovation for the e-commerce cannabis marketplace Leafly.com.

Chemical Analysis

To get a sense of just how similar products of the same name across the country really are, Keegan teamed up with Jikomes and two other cannabis scientists to apply advanced data science tools to a massive database of chemical analysis that Leafly has assembled from cannabis testing centers.

After sorting about 90.000 samples from six states based on their cannabinoid and terpene composition, the researchers found that the vast majority of cannabinoids in recreational cannabis are the psychoactive THC. That is of course not so surprising.

When they looked more closely at the samples, including the terpene content, they found that products fall into three different categories: those with a high content of terpenes caryophyllene and limonene; those high in myrcene and pinene; and those with high terpinolene and myrcene. These categories don't quite match the indica, sativa, and hybrid labeling scheme. “In other words,” the authors wrote, “it is likely that a sample labeled indica will have an indistinguishable terpene composition from samples labeled sativa or hybrid.”

Inconsistency within species

How biochemically similar are products with the same trade name? That depends on the species, the study shows.
Some varieties, like White Tahoe Cookies called, were surprisingly consistent from product to product, while others, like Durbin Poison, were "consistently inconsistent," Jikomes said. "There was actually more consistency between the species than I expected," he said.

The study also found that the existing recreational cannabis available in the United States is quite homogeneous, with enough room to innovate new varieties with different chemical profiles. That could be useful for both recreational and medicinal use, Keegan said.

As consumers increasingly use cannabis for specific purposes, precision in labeling will become even more important. It is important that products are categorized by their chemical makeup and labeled with details about not only their THC and CBD, but also their terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds.
"It's like your cereal box contains only calories and fat and nothing else," Keegan said. “We as consumers have to push for more information. If we do, the industry will respond.”

Source: phys.org (EN)

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