Is cannabis a science or an art? If you ask the teams at Compound Genetics and Node Labs, it’s both. Node CEO Lauren Avenius readily compares cannabis to music, explaining that distinct terpene and flavor profiles make individual strains function like new tracks, each eliciting a different high from consumers.
“If breeders are the artists, Node is the recording studio,” she says, “so we bring them onto the platform and help push them [to the public].”
Compound Genetics and Node Labs Cannabis Collaboration
Compound was incorporated in 2017 by Chris Lynch, a breeding prodigy who has grown cannabis for nearly 20 years. Originally based in Oregon, Lynch brought his genetics library to Node, co-founded in the Bay Area by his longtime colleague Felipe Recalde, so that Compound’s genetic banking would have a full laboratory base to develop new strains. Compound’s reputation for innovating potent, flavor-rich strains has quickly become legendary: Its star products include Apples and Bananas, created exclusively for Berner’s globally-renowned brand Cookies; Jet Fuel Gelato, one of the most popular Gelato crosses on the market; and Pavé, a recent hit made for rapper Quavo from Migos.
Honeysuckle Chats with Compound and Node Labs Co-founder Felipe Recalde and CEO Lauren Avenius
Avenius and Recalde gave Honeysuckle a peek behind the scenes at the wild world of genetics, collaborating with Wiz Khalifa’s brand Khalifa Kush, and more. Let’s just say that in the future, everyone will choose favorite strains as easily as favorite songs – and the day is closer than you think.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: How do Node and Compound work together?
FELIPE RECALDE: Chris had a library of genetics and didn't have any licenses or infrastructure. It was literally in garages. So we went from the garage into a PC lab where we started banking the DNA and freezing the genetics so they don't get sick… We've been building a team around Chris and Node supports the agronomic studies and genetic banking that we use.
LAUREN AVENIUS: Chris wanted to be able to operate in the licensed space and get access to the full market. Node, being a tissue culture and cannabis biotech company, has a unique proprietary technology that allows us to store cannabis and other plant genetics in a young cellular form indefinitely. For a breeder like Chris, who would normally be keeping decades worth of seeds that he has collected from the years that he lived in Amsterdam or traveling the world, in a garage - this gave him a way to be able to bring to life all of those strains and have a full research facility to build it out. It gave [Node] a library to start sifting through, to better understand the plant, to do deeper research and to expand the Node platform, to highlight and bring a breeder to market.
FELIPE: When we create seeds, what we're selling in December, we started last September. It's a long process to create, validate, test the seeds. We pop all [feminized] seeds, but they're genetically different… Some have different bud structure or smell or color or whatever property happened to vary. If we were to say, “I want to keep this exact one forever,” you [used to] keep it in a room with a light on and constantly cut it. Eventually all those cuts introduce places for the plant to get different viruses. The difference between us and our competitors is we take the little cells and put them in gels in a clean room. Node can then bank it and keep it pathogen free. If I come back three years later for that exact plant I wanted, I have it without what’s called somaclonal variation. That’s where over time [a plant] diverts from its initial morphology and expression. That's why we work well together.
LAUREN: We just did a pheno hunt with 37 strains coming out of one harvest… You can't launch 37 strains all at once. Some of those, we might wait a couple years. Some of them have a unique flavor profile, so we want to do more breeding projects with them. We're able to preserve those [plants] for years until Chris is ready to do something with that particular pheno.
HONEYSUCKLE: What happens during a pheno hunt?
LAUREN: Where science and art come together is in this pheno hunt. Chris Leavitt, our [Chief Scientific Officer], will have the agronomic studies. He'll [see that] this is how the plant grew. This is how much it yielded. This is how it tested. This is how we think that it would be in terms of a commercially viable plant… Then [Chris Lynch], who I call our Chief Executive Wizard, will look at the structure, see the flavor; he'll be able to identify based on how it smokes and tastes and looks, if it is right for the market and for what type of consumer. He'll also take that flower and go back to our library of 300 plants and say which ones we should cross it with to create something new. We have a 173 point grading criteria that goes through all of the elements of how that plant works. It's very data driven, quantitative and a scientific approach.
FELIPE: Then [Lynch] does a qualitative approach.
LAUREN: It's so funny because we'll have some that our scientist is like, “This is a fire strain” and Chris will be like, “Nah.” And I will tell you every time, regardless [of how it tests for THC potency] and the wizard was like, “No,” we shopped it around and no one liked it. He was absolutely right. I call it the Oomph. There's a quality to a plant that he intuitively understands. He'll look at all of these plants on the vine, all the flower out of jars, and he'll be able to within seconds identify which ones have that special quality even without knowing the test results.
FELIPE: We'll put the same jars in front of all the clients and they zoom into the same ones every time. There's a difference between what science says and what consumers really want.
HONEYSUCKLE: You’ve collaborated with Wiz Khalifa and Khalifa Kush (KK), helping with their California rollout, and will be working on launches in other states. What’s it like working with them?
FELIPE: It's really cool. Wiz knows weed. Wiz smokes more weed than most rappers I've ever seen in my life. He's very particular about what he likes.
LAUREN: He has a very defined palate.
FELIPE: But what's interesting is his palate is also defined to a feeling. When you recognize the terpene profiles that he's into, they're energetic, creative highs. I see why an artist who wants to produce new songs is going to want to do that. The guy wants to smoke all day long and be as creative as he can.
LAUREN: It's really fun working with the KK team, because they're so involved and directive. Wiz treats this the same way as his music. He is so involved in the pheno-hunting process, the breeding process, the collaborations. He wants to see the flower at every stage. He wants to understand the plant, where it comes from, what goes into it. He's very intelligent on what is going to work for the Khalifa Kush line. For how he wants to grow it, what he wants to introduce in terms of flavors. What he wants to continue to build out in the same way that an artist builds out their album. Thinking about each song and note, and putting it together.
HONEYSUCKLE: Compound also has a history with Cookies. Berner was the first to bring Compound to Wiz, right?
FELIPE: Yes. [One day] Berner picked up Chris and took Chris to Wiz’s house. It’s a great relationship. Berner has done so much to promote Compound. I can’t be thankful enough for all the support we’ve received from Berner and Cookies.
LAUREN: There is no one in the industry who's hustling harder and is more involved in setting the tone, the flavor and the overall trends than Berner. We love our partnership with him, he's family. It's been incredible to see how the industry's rallied around him right now. But also how already we're seeing the ripple effects of what Berner is doing with Cookies globally.
FELIPE: When we have brand-new phenos, we call him immediately.
LAUREN: He gets all the first jars.
HONEYSUCKLE: Do you see the future for Compound and Node as developing strains for individual consumers?
LAUREN: We’re looking at doing exactly that… We helped Compound launch its first NFT in December. With that, they built an entire online community leveraging Discord, the NFT, and then Dime, a new NFT marketplace that just launched. What we want to do is to allow people to create their consumer, cultivator, breeder [and] retailer profiles, everyone to be able to say what they’re buying and consuming, whether it’s through an NFT or a verified purchase. Then they can start to list out their preferences and have a way for that data on the blockchain to be aggregated and completely transparent and available to the market… So when we talk about that Node-Compound relationship? We're not only innovating on the plants, we want to be innovating on the platform and the products and that whole consumer experience. Felipe was hacking and building websites as a young teenager, so his entire life has been tech and weed. Chris Lynch actually got connected to the people he met in Amsterdam who introduced him to the art of breeding and pheno-hunting because he was in an IRC, talking about being able to create “best of” music tracks by downloading music from the internet, creating and sending them out as box sets. He thinks about flower as these “best of” box sets and he is scraping them from everywhere. This combination of tech and innovation and that hacker mindset is deep in the Compound DNA.
HONEYSUCKLE: No wonder Node and Compound work with all the rappers!
LAUREN: Cannabis is like music, and this goes into terpenes. The reason why people like the new, new with cannabis, they always want to smoke something different, is biochemical. As you're smoking that same flower, that specific terpenoid profile cannabinoid profile, your body builds a resistance to it. So you don't get that same high every time. You naturally want to try something different. It's just like with music where you might love a song on Tuesday, but will change the station when it comes on Friday. We approach cannabis like those music tracks. There's genres, there's classics that you bring back or sample from and put them together to create something new. In that way, we talk about Node as the recording label.
FELIPE: Yeah. Hopefully [Compound] can be like Dr. Dre producing and bringing other artists onto the Node platform.
HONEYSUCKLE: What’s next for your teams?
LAUREN: The team [was just] at [the Spannabis conference], launching Compound Europe. We have a partnership with Paradise Seeds there. We [did] a launch party at the Cookies Barcelona Social Club. [We’re] really excited to let Compound come back to its roots in Amsterdam and in the [European Union]. We're also looking forward to the rest of the markets and doing more breeding projects. Your readers and audiences in New York, Florida, Michigan, and Arizona should expect to see us there this year.
Featured image: Compound Genetics founder and Chief Executive Wizard Chris Lynch at the Khalifa Kush California rollout at Cookies Maywood in January 2022 (C) Compound Genetics
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A version of this article first appeared in Honeysuckle's 420 print edition, featuring Lil Wayne and Young Money. Get your copy now.