What’s in a name? Inconsistencies in the weed industry could mean inaccurate strain classification and bad bud



By Assistant Campus Editor

OG Kush, PurpleHaze, Grand-daddy Purp, Sour Diesel—these are the unconventional names of some of your local dispensary’s most popular weed strains, each promising its own unique experience. But according to recent studies conducted by The Werc Shop, an independent cannabis testing laboratory in California, it is all a bunch of baloney.

Jeffrey Raber, the founder of The Werc Shop, who also holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Southern California, said the lab has discovered mass inconsistencies in marijuana strain classifications.

The scientific basis for dispensaries’ claims about the effects of their products is questionable, Raber said. To his knowledge, they may be making unsubstantiated claims without any scientific evidence to back them.

Raber disputes the popular notion that weed is separated into three types: indica, which is said to have a sedative effect, sativa, which supposedly creates a more uplifting and energetic high and hybrid, a mix of the two.

“What we understand from what is being labeled and what we looked at in a chemical sense is that there is next to no chemical sensibility or rationalization across the indica and sativa classification,” Raber said. “You can’t say, in a general sense, all of them will cause this effect and all of the other ones will cause another effect.”

Raber said one of the distinctive qualities among varying weed strains is the level of terpene, or terpenoids, the compounds that give the plant its unique smell, according to Raber.

THC and the other cannabinoids have no odor, so the strain’s aroma depends on which terpenes are predominant. It is a combination of terpenoids and THC that gives each strain its specific psychoactive property, according to Raber.

Using terpene and cannabinoid profiling to determine the genetic and chemical makeup of popular strains, The Werc Shop is screening more than 1,000 varieties of cannabis for 37 different types of terpenes and comparing the results to samples with the same broad classification.

“We looked at one of the top strains, Jack Herer, and 30 percent of what was being labeled as that was actually not that name when you look at the chemicals and compare them,” Raber said.

By using this profiling technique, Raber has covered that companies are misleading consumers by mislabeling their products. He suspects this may be an effort to inflate charges of their “exclusive” strains for profit.

“It’s more of a marketing moniker,” Raber said. “We don’t have formal regulations and we don’t understand exactly what we’re dealing with because we haven’t been able to study it for so long.”

Lifting the ban on marijuana will likely increase the number of strains.

Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Allen St. Pierre, said although marijuana has been under prohibition for the last 40 years, the industry increased the number of strains to hundreds.

He thinks that there may be many more coming once the prohibition ends, and the increasing number and varieties of strains indicate that the cannabis industry is moving in a positive direction.

“It will be highly varied, location to location and … [some strains] will be best of breed,” St. Pierre said. “Consumers want choice, and choice is a good thing. As a consumer of cannabis myself, I am very happy to see as many strains as possible to maximize my choice.”

Harborside Health Center the nation’s largest nonprofit medical cannabis dispensary, labels its products with the strain names given to them by their cultivator, according to an email from Gaynell Rogers,spokeswoman for the Oakland, Calif., firm.

“For the most part, the names of varieties are left unaltered so that the patients, who are quite familiar with the names and effects of the many types of cannabis available at market, can be certain they are obtaining the medicine that works for them,” Rogers said in the email.

She said the center would only change the name of the strain to avoid unrelated connotations.

For example, she said they renamed “Green Crack” to “Dream Queen” to avoid implying a connection to cocaine.

These names and hundreds of others can be found on Leafly, an online marijuana strain database that aggregates reviews and provides information on thousands of strains.

Bailey Rahn, community manager for Leafly, said it is difficult  to come up with accurate descriptions of specific strains because of their complexity.

“There is great variety even between strains,” Rahn said. “People have very different experiences with the same strain and it helps them with different things, so we are forced to make some generalizations.”

Rahn said she talks to cultivators and scientists to ensure Leafly conveys the most accurate depictions of the strains.

Although cannabis regulation is still in its infancy, St. Pierre said growing operations need to be more transparent to be successful.

“It looks like the industry is going to have to patrol itself pretty well, [otherwise] those businesses will have to prove to their clients that what they’re consuming is what they say it is,” St. Pierre said.

Aside from unexpected physiological effects, there are other dangers associated with the lack of data on the chemical makeup of strains.

Scientists are currently investigating whether cannabis triggers symptoms of psychosis in people who are predisposed to it or if it exacerbates the condition. However, Raber said physiological complications would not be fatal.

Another red flag Raber encounters at The Werc Shop is multiple contaminants with “unacceptable” levels of mold and illegal pesticides present in the cannabis they receive.

Raber said about 25 percent of the samples he received had various microbiological contaminants with another 15 percent containing pesticides

“The percentage may actually be bigger,” Raber said. “We don’t get many requests to do [contamination testing], so when we went out and grabbed the pesticides ourselves, it was as high as 35 percent. I think that problem is pretty prevalent.”

Raber said he has also seen contamination from the plant growth regulator Paclobutrazol—which is currently outlawed in California—being used to cause early fruit production and a higher seed count in plants.

His suggestion for avoiding these dangers is to have products tested before ingestion.

“Have the trust to verify,” Raber said. “If someone told you that this is what they’re providing for you, you should check it with a lab.”