Table of Contents
Five years in and over 24,000 samples later, the future of the cannabis industry is clearer to us at Digipath Inc. From our perspective as an independent testing facility for all sorts of products, the shape of the industry has taken form. We have gone from state mandated examination for THC potency, toxins and microbial contaminants to showing the importance of terpene chemoprofiles in distinguishing cannabis strains with otherwise identical cannabinoid content and becoming a cannatech company.
The cannabis plant is incredibly complex and researchers are still trying to understand it entirely. We do know though that amateur breeding techniques that began in the 1960’s virtually bred out all pure Sativa or Indica varieties leaving us almost exclusively with hybrids, and hybrids of hybrids with unstable genetics. We also know that terpenes play a much larger role in the overall entourage effect than we ever thought. The industry will need to adapt if it is ever to be legalized nationally. We also promote the creation of validated standardized protocols for adoption across all cannabis-complicit states as essential for the future of this industry.
This piece is intended to outline some of the findings from the cannabis samples Digipath Labs has collected over the years. Cultivars of cannabis are varieties produced in cultivation by breeders, what the consuming public often refers to as “strains.” Hopefully this will put together a clear story for interested parties to follow the work we have done in our laboratory. Our advanced technology has many applications including analyzing hemp and other products.
Cultivators, dispensaries or any sort of distributor are not very interested with lab results that confirm the cultivar type or strain they are producing or selling. Our company is focused on the safety and health of the consumers, as are state regulators. The purpose of analytics for cannabis is to ensure that the products do not have residual contaminants and to determine the cannabinoid potency. Like any other regulated product, consumers should know what they are putting in their bodies.
Having explained that, the opportunity to better understand the potential of the plant is at our fingertips. It is not lost on us the business opportunity before Digipath Inc. to help expand the cannabis industry with the new ideas and paths our data can inspire. To provide some idea of that potential, let’s first discuss the current naming convention of strains and what our data has made apparent to us.
When doctors diagnose their patients and prescribe drugs, they are looking for those drugs to achieve a certain effect. When wine consumers search for just the right vintage of zinfandel or tempranillo, they are looking for a specific taste. One of the most unique aspects of cannabis is that geneticists can use chemoprofiling techniques to not only tell what the plants may smell, look or taste like, but also pinpoint a certain effect consumers look for when choosing a cultivar.
The current naming system is non-standardized and frankly makes no sense at all. Ten different strain names could all be the same cannabis variety. It is unlikely that the USDA would accept the current naming system of cultivars or that the FDA would accept any claims about health effects without scientific data and clinical trials respectively to back it up. It’s easy to see this hurdle coming in the future and we can start planning on how to resolve it now.
From our analysis and collaborative efforts with companies like VSSL in British Columbia, we have determined that when analyzing cultivars we can identify common characteristics which can define cultivars. With the aid of chemoprofiling techniques we can categorize cultivars by their terpenoid profile in combination with the cannabinoid profile. Terpenes are one of the main compounds found in cultivars that determine the nuanced effects of how a consumer feels. Whether it is more energetic or more relaxed, terpenoid composition along with the medicinal and psychoactive effects of cannabinoids like THC will determine the effects.
It is important to note that within the cannabis scientific community some leaders believe that creating a naming convention based on terpenoid profiles is “dangerous.” Environmental conditions can significantly impact the terpenoid profile of any particular cultivar possibly altering the generation until it would no longer be assigned the same name as the previous generation. We see these same environmental impacts affecting other markets like grapes which is one of the reasons why the same grape type can produce a very different tasting, looking and smelling wine each year. Natural stereoisomers found in grapes are always working to change a particular vintage. While distinctly different from wine, these different iterations of cultivars is one of the appeals for consumers.
Below is an image of a clustering diagram of terpenoid profiles from 2,237 of the over 24,000 cannabis samples we have taken over the years in Southern Nevada. These samples came from 27 different cultivators and represent 204 strains from the traditional naming system. As you can see the cultivars with an abundance of beta-myrcene are designated by the red clusters. Varieties with an abundance of limonene, beta-myrcene and beta-caryophyllene are designated by the blue clusters and the varieties with an abundance of gamma-terpinene and terpinolene are designated by the green clusters.
The top 5 terpenes found in abundance and representing the most easily differentiated commonality between cultivars are:
Cultivars represented by the red cluster points are dominated by the beta-myrcene terpene reported to have sedative effects. A more relaxed sedative feeling has traditionally been associated with Indica varieties. Varieties represented by the blue cluster points are dominated by the limonene terpene which has been reported to have uplifting euphoric effects. An energetic uplifting feeling has traditionally been associated with Sativa varieties. Varieties represented by the green cluster points are dominated by gamma-terpinene and terpinolene which are also purported to have sedative effects.
We believe through the data Digipath has collected over the years that we have identified some common factors useful in differentiating cultivars. The industry will need to agree to a standardized naming convention for cannabis cultivars in order for reproducibility to meet regulatory standards. Beyond our insights into a method to create a naming convention, we additionally realize the potential applications of specific cannabinoid and terpene extracts.
Pure isolates such as cannabidiol (CBD) also require analysis to ensure that they have a THC potency of less than 0.3%. Extracts from the cannabis plant in general have an entirely unique place in the business of medicinal health, supplements and nutraceuticals. Non-psychoactive cannabinoids such as CBD are currently being sold by the pharmaceutical industry. Terpenes can be used for flavoring in all sorts of drinks including beer and other beverages along with other products. We are even developing terpene based pesticide products.
While analysis is likely to evolve as more sophisticated, faster, smaller, more portable analysis equipment is developed overtime, we are currently at a pivotal juncture. The data we have collected and stored from the myriad of samples are pieces to a puzzle business people are scrambling to put together. We will continue to collect more data as we maintain the integrity of the industry by protecting the consumer. With this invaluable information Digipath Inc. is poised to remain an essential player in the market with the potential to become much more. We are already working to expand around the country and internationally.