In No. 18 of the Cannabis Commerce + Chemistry Podcast, host Curt Robbins from Higher Learning LV and co-hosts John Bailey from the Mindset Genesis in Las Vegas and Dena Putnam from Leafwize Naturals in Orange County, California are joined by guest John Carver from Rather Neat Stuff in North Carolina. The group discusses an October 2022 study about the relationship between cannabis genetics and the perceived aroma of particular cultivars (strains) of marijuana.
Carver, Bailey, Putnam, and Robbins discuss the the role of aroma and flavor in the marketing, sales, and consumption experience of cannabis. Do strain names make sense? Do they properly represent real samples of commercial cannabis? How accurately can marijuana consumers predict their response to a particular cultivar? Is the Durban Poison grown in California the same as that grown in Oregon and what comes from Florida or New York?
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Deep Dive: Cannabis Genetics and Perceived Aroma
An October 2022 peer-reviewed research study entitled "Human Olfactory Discrimination of Genetic Variation within Cannabis Strains" published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology explores the issue of the cross influences between cannabis genetics and cultivars ("strains") and whether genetic inconsistencies in commercial samples "also display inconsistent aroma profiles."
The study's authors stated their goal as helping "the cannabis industry achieve better control of product consistency." "We sought to determine whether within-strain genetic variation in cannabis manifests as discrepant aroma production," reported the researchers.
The study reported that the number of "named cultivars is enormous: At least 600 have been described in the scientific literature" and that popular online databases list several thousand cannabis cultivars. This is critical for the burgeoning cannabis industry because "strain names are the basis of retail product identification in jurisdictions where cannabis is legal," reported the researchers.
Strain Names & Trademarking
The study noted that strain names are associated with "user-relevant attributes such as scent, flavor, appearance, and psychoactive effect" but that, ironically, they cannot be trademarked under U.S. law. It also reported another problem: Strain names "can be assigned capriciously [impulsively and unpredictably] by breeders, growers, and retailers." It explained that consumers hold expectations of particular strains and that this encompasses a desire for "consistent attributes," including aroma profile.
Consumers hold expectations of particular strains that encompasses a desire for "consistent attributes," including aroma profile.
"Ensuring consistency and quality in a psychoactive product is in the interests of consumers and the industry," reported the study's authors. They proposed that more knowledge of the "genetic and sensory variation between and within marketed strains" might allow patients and consumers to make "more informed purchasing decisions" while simultaneously permitting commercial cannabis cultivators to "achieve more consistent crops."
Genetic Differences in Cannabis Strains
The researchers reported that recent studies identified significant genetic differences within individual cultivars, something that it called an "unexpected result given that commercial growers predominantly use clonal propagation [plant clones] to produce more uniform product." They noted that these genetic differences raise the possibility "that corresponding phenotypic variation—perhaps including measurable alterations in aroma—may be present as well."
The study reported that a more robust understanding of this genetic variation, both within and between popular commercial cultivars, is important if the emerging industry wishes to establish "quality attributes for commercial cannabis." The scientific investigation noted that it was designed to address the "physical basis of consistency" and that it focused on a single element of cannabis product quality: Aroma.
Aroma Profile Clusters in Cannabis
The study reported that "scent has a long history of use as a taxonomic marker in plants." It noted that Charles Darwin in 1876 "drew attention to correlations between floral scent and color" and how they might affect the "sensory abilities of insect pollinators."
The researchers noted that the cannabis industry is attempting to "broaden the quality focus to attributes other than THC content" and that this change in focus includes aroma. It reported that the link between scent and strain in cannabis "has become more salient" as the industry matures.
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