Consideration of the issues of cannabis regulation requires understanding this fundamental fact: not all marijuana is created equal – not even close.
“Owing to variations in their chemistry, different cultivated varieties of cannabis produce different psychological effects, and sometimes widely different experiences….” is how best-selling wellness guru, Dr. Andrew Weil puts it.
According to the leading cannabis analytical laboratory, The Werc Shop (Washington, California & Oregon), they document 60+ unique, active ingredients in cannabis. Plants have various combinations of these components – and, thus, when consumed, affect people differently.
Some varieties of cannabis make users relaxed and mellow; while other varieties make users intense and hyper-focused. Most provide varying psychoactive effects – yet there are cannabis types which are therapeutic but have no noticeable mind-altering result. An additional challenge is that the strength of the same quantity of different types of cannabis varies tremendously.
Marijuana has a reputation as an appetite stimulate (the “munchies”) – but not all of it is. In fact, some types, that outwardly look no different from other cannabis plants, have been shown to be appetite suppressants.
When I hear statements like “marijuana causes people to . . .” or “marijuana made me feel . . .” -- I respond “Which marijuana? It’s not all the same.” I often get blank stares as a reply. Some will offer the name of a particular “strain” – but numerous studies have documented that cannabis sold as “Sweet Diesel” or “Blue Dream” in one dispensary is frequently a significantly different plant from one sold with that label at another dispensary. Strain names are often mere marketing ploys. Catchy names have become a branding tool to help new medical marijuana varietals stand out.
Even the widely-embraced cannabis credo: “indicas cause sedating effects and sativas make users feel more energetic” is overly-simplified and not scientifically accurate.
Treating all cannabis as the same causes particular problems when the plant is used for medicinal purposes. Patients find it difficult to identify the correct type of cannabis for the outcome they need. Then, when they do find a variety of marijuana that delivers the relief they are looking for, it is often impossible to locate that same type again relying on strain names. There is no consistency of dosage with medical marijuana, as it exists in the U.S. today.
Just think of the consequences if a patient needs to relax - but obtains a type of cannabis that makes them hyperactive; or if a patient is advised to try medical marijuana to stimulate his or her appetite – but is sold a variety that is an appetite suppressant.
This lack of defined chemotype categories causes a fundamental flaw in all research done with cannabis. Without the ability to define which cannabis was used in a study, or the ability to document that all patients in the study used cannabis of the same chemotype, the results of the research cannot be scientifically valid.
When the chemical properties of cannabis have been studied, the focus has been on THC. However, THC isn’t the only significant factor in cannabis’ medicinal qualities – and neither are CBD, CBN or CBG. Cannabis is far more complex than only one or two cannabinoids delivering the therapeutic effect. Scientific evidence indicates it is the “entourage effect” – the interaction and ratios of the cannabinoids, metabolites, plus dozens of other unique chemicals in cannabis known as terpenoids (or terpenes), that is responsible for it providing effective treatment of pain, anxiety, seizures, inflammation, nausea, depression, etc.
The good news is that a credible cannabis categorization project is feasible – and underway. We believe real steps forward can be achieved in a remarkably short period of time. Cannabis Science Centers (CSC) is well into the planning phase for launching such a project to chemically classify cannabis varieties based on their active ingredients.
Connecticut’s regulations are a positive step forward, requiring all medical cannabis be labeled with independent test results showing the amount of THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA and “any other active ingredient that constitutes at least 1%.” Nevada followed that lead and put in place regulations that say all marijuana and marijuana-infused products must be labeled with independent test results including both a cannabinoid and terpenoid profile.
With comprehensive lab testing, combined with CSC’s proprietary Comparative Effectiveness Research Project, it will be possible to link specific cannabis chemotypes with specific effects and conditions. This post-market, therapeutic efficacy research will result in the only database with lab-linked qualitative evidence on the effects of various cannabis chemotypes.
Use of this plant effects-based classification system, in tandem with Patient-Reported Outcomes (PRO) research, will deliver the tangible benefit of being able to differentiate between a variety’s potential effect on the mind and body. It will allow a patient and his or her care-team to select from many different chemotypes of cannabis and use the one that provides the relief the patient needs. Cannabis varieties will be standardized and be available using the appropriate medical approach which is the one that provides the most precise dose (smallest possible dose required to meet the medicinal need), for the desired duration, delivered in the appropriate form, with the fewest side effects.
Additionally, in those places where it is legal for all adults to use, this will open a new world of choice where a consumer can have a “spice rack” of a half-dozen different chemotypes of cannabis and use the one that creates the effect she or he is looking for at that time. Whether a person wants to unwind on the sofa watching Nick TV; hyper-focus on cleaning bathroom tile; enjoy intense sexual pleasure, or appreciate a dazzling sunset – they will be able to select the chemotype of cannabis that enhances that experience for them.