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The Gap Between Cannabis' Cultural and Chemical Language: Moving Beyond Sativa and Indica Classifications

The Gap Between Cannabis' Cultural and Chemical Language: Moving Beyond Sativa and Indica Classifications

The fight for the legalization of marijuana has been raging since the first set of limitations were placed in 1937.

Cannabis Legalization and the MORE Act

In 2020, the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, indicating significant progress. The act calls for decriminalizing marijuana and removes it from the scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. It also eliminates criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. 

After the November 2020 elections, the bill got a floor vote in December. The bill passed with a 228-164 majority. Only six Democrats voted against it, and five Republicans voted in favor. 

Democrats hope that the bill will enable them to use the profits from an excise tax on marijuana sales to go towards communities affected by the ‘war on the drugs’. The MORE Act is currently still awaiting review in the Senate. President Joe Biden is in support of decriminalization, so the future is looking bright. Although it will be a slow and long road to legalization, America is still on it. 

Cannabis Classification Study

A study conducted by researchers Arno Hazekamp, Katerina Tejalova, and Stellios Papadimitriou overcame this setback using chemovar mapping. They used gas chromatography to analyze 44 major terpenes and cannabinoids present in 460 cannabis samples from all around the Netherlands. Their results will be the start of developing a more chemically accurate cannabis language. 

Findings of the Cannabis Classification Study

The study successfully used a PCA methodology to separate what is culturally considered Sativa and Indica. The study showed that Sativa and Indica didn’t differ in their levels of THC and CBD but rather CBC and CBG, which was much higher in the Sativa group. There was also a difference in the composition of terpenes between the two groups. These results will be the groundwork for future chemical profiling for cannabis.

The Building Blocks of Cannabis

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are the chemicals found in many plants that determine what they smell and taste

like.  

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are any chemical substance that locks onto the cannabinoid receptors of the brain and body. There are six major cannabinoids currently being studied; THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, THCV, and CBC. They each have their effects and benefits, but the two most commonly known ones are THC and CBD. THC has been said to create the feeling of being ‘high,’ and CBD moderates that high. 

Additional Components of Cannabis

However, as more studies come along, it is becoming clear that there are additional components that give cannabis therapeutic effects . There are many different types of weed, containing various numbers of these active ingredients in them. As the medical use of marijuana continues to grow, there is a growing need for an official chemical classification system to help differentiate the 700 different strains of cannabis.  

The Gap Between Cannabis’ Cultural and Chemical Language: Moving Beyond Indica and Sativa Classifications

White Widow, Northern Lights, AK-47, Amnesia Haze are all cultural names that growers have given to different types of weed based on their appearance. Growers categorize cannabis into two strains: Indica and Sativa. Indica strains are said to be a “body-high,” which is calming and grounding. Sativa strains are said to be “head-high,” which tend to feel more uplifting and energetic. 

Whether it is for recreational or medicinal purposes, consumers tend to relate these labels and names to buy their product. The problem with this is that these classifications may not accurately represent a given strain’s chemical composition because it is based on their phenotype.

Cultivators distinguish Indica and Sativa by examining the physical properties of the plant. Sativa can grow up to 10 feet tall and has sparse foliage, light-green, thin-fingered, and delicate leaves. Indica is smaller in height and has broad dark green leaves. These two different cannabis plants also have contrasting growth cycles which helps distinguish the difference in Indica and Sativa to growers. 

By relying purely on the physical attributes of cannabis, it deters the utilization of the therapeutic effects weed can provide to medical users suffering from chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and anxiety. A more accurate classification system has the potential to promote cannabis-based products in (pre)clinical trials and modern medicine.

The Importance of Moving Beyond Vernacular Classifications of Cannabis

 There is great potential for the medicinal use of marijuana, a universal chemical classification system will help tailor the process of selecting a strain. Consumers searching for a strain of marijuana to alleviate their medical condition need a guide on what to try. 

For example, if someone with anxiety is looking to try a strain of cannabis for relief, they will know which strains have the correct combination of terpenes and cannabinoids that will create a relaxing and calming sensation. 

Without this classification, consumers are forced to go through the trial and error route, which can end up making someone’s anxiety worse if they unknowingly take the wrong strain.

Cannabis Classification: From Cultivar to Chemovar

There is a stark difference between cultivar and chemovar. A cultivar is just what a grower cultivates. A chemovar is a cannabis distinguished by the scientifically observed chemical qualities like terpenes, cannabinoids, and other biomolecules. Rather than referring to different cultivar names to purchase a product, there is a need to create, implement, and promote chemovars. 

In the study, “From Cultivar to Chemovar II- A Metabolomics Approach to Cannabis Classification,” researchers remedied this issue by creating “a practical manner to more directly visualize the chemical diversity present with the many cannabis products offered, and to make sure that full range of diversity is accessible through legally available, high-quality products under national programs safeguarding quality and consistency.” 

By encouraging well-researched marijuana into a safe and controlled market, all consumers can reap the benefits while also being informed on the substance they are putting in their bodies.

The Findings of the Study and Cannabis Legalization

If the fight to legalize marijuana is won, there will be a need system to regulate the type of cannabis being consumed. To approve the use of such a widely controversial drug will require science and facts. This study’s findings will help create the key for chemically evaluating cannabis to use it for medical purposes efficiently. 

Even if it is for recreational use, consumers will know exactly which chemicals they are putting into their bodies and the effects it will have on them. Although it will require a lot of research, money, and legal framework, chemovar mapping is vital for creating a reliable Marijuana registration system.