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Current cannabis labels in the U.S. don’t let consumers know what’s in their weed

May 25, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

“Findings suggest prevailing system is not a safe way to provide information about these products.”

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U.S. investigators suggest that nutrition-like labels for cannabis would do a more accurate job of informing customers about what’s in weed products.

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Researchers say their analysis indicates that labels such as indica, sativa and hybrid, which have traditionally been used to distinguish categories of cannabis and their common effects from one another, are a bit of a bust.

Indica strains are generally thought to have sedative physical effects, sativa strains are considered to be more energizing and mentally stimulating, and hybrid strains “fall somewhere in the middle,” per Spectrum Therapeutics.

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    Indica and sativa labels are largely meaningless when it comes to cannabis complexities

  2. FILE: Warning labels on cannabis products sold at the Société québécoise du cannabis outlet on St-Hubert St. in Montreal. /

    Canadian researchers say cannabis labelling would benefit from a more scientific approach

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    Indica versus sativa: as a cannabis user, it’s important to know the difference

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Beyond current labels not being particularly informative, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) suggest that the lack of information could “be confusing or misleading.”

Nearly 90,000 samples analyzed

Published last week in the journal PLOS One, the authors analyzed the cannabinoid and terpene content of almost 90,000 commercial cannabis samples across six U.S. states. Researchers used a large database of chemical analyses that Leafly, an e-commerce cannabis marketplace, compiled from cannabis testing centres.

Looking at distinct chemical phenotypes (chemotypes) that are reliably present, investigators “show that commercial labels do not consistently align with the observed chemical diversity,” the study reads. Indeed, some product labels show a biased association with specific chemotypes.

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“These results have implications for the classification of commercial cannabis, design of animal and human research and regulation of consumer marketing.”

Terpene content does not ‘correspond’ to labels being used

Beyond THC and CBD, investigators did look at a few other factors, including terpene content. “In most cases, individual terpenes were rarely present at more than 0.5 per cent weight and most were present at low levels (less than 0.2 per cent) in a majority of samples,” the study reads.

Investigators discovered that terpene content tends to fall into three distinct categories: those high in caryophyllene and limonene; those high in myrcene and pinene; and those high in terpinolene and myrcene.

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Since “those categories do not neatly correspond to the indica, sativa and hybrid labelling scheme,” authors point out, “it is likely that a sample with the label indica will have an indistinguishable terpene composition as samples labelled sativa or hybrid.”

“Our findings suggest that the prevailing labelling system is not an effective or safe way to provide information about these products,” says study co-author Brian Keegan, an assistant professor of information science at CU Boulder.

Relying on THC and CBD counts led to relying on the indica/sativa/hybrid classifications, Keegan tells the Press Herald. “But that’s not the most important thing about the cannabis that is consumed. There’s a whole set of chemicals, beyond THC, that explain why different strains are different and why people might experience different effects.”

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What’s the solution?

The fix may be to ditch current labelling and adopt a system akin to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “nutrition facts panel” for food. As it stands, no standardized cannabis labelling system exists despite the first two U.S. states to legalize recreational weed — Colorado and Washington — being up and running for a decade.

Product marketers generally must disclose labels dosage of THC and CBD, but not “other compounds, including terpenes, which can influence not only the smell but also the way a product makes you feel,” the statement reports.

Marketers in the U.S. can also name a product whatever they like, something that, for example, apple growers and beer makers cannot do.

“A farmer can’t just pick up an apple and decide to call it a Red Delicious. A beer manufacturer can’t just arbitrarily label their product a Double IPA. There are standards,” says study co-author Nick Jikomes, director of science and innovation for Leafly.

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As for strains with the same names, results were also a mixed bag. While some strains “were surprisingly consistent from product to product,” Jikomes adds that others were “consistently inconsistent.”

In the study, the authors write: “Legal THC-dominant cannabis products are marketed to consumers as if there are clear-cut associations between a product’s label and its psychoactive effects. This is deceptive, as there is currently no clear scientific evidence for these claims and our results show that these labels have a tenuous relationship to the underlying chemistry.”

The results show the indica, sativa and hybrid classifications are “mostly a poor guide to what you’re actually going to get,” Jikomes tells Marijuana Moment. By taking a random indica, sativa and hybrid, “odds are very good that they’re actually not going to be that different from each other.”

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‘We are only scratching the surface’

One thing that was quite homogenous was the existing recreational cannabis available in the U.S. The room to innovate breeds with different chemical profiles should be seen as positive for medicinal and recreational consumers, authors suggest, with Keegan adding, “We are only scratching the surface.”

That said, with consumers using weed for more and more specific purposes, “including health purposes, precision in labelling will become even more critical,” Keegan contends, citing the importance of not just CBD and THC, but also a product’s terpenes, flavonoids and other compounds.

“It’s like if your cereal box only showed calories and fat and nothing else.”

A Canadian study published last year also questioned using indica or sativa classifications on cannabis labels, characterizing them as “poor predictors of a sample’s genetics and chemistry.”

“Because it is a widely used drug that is increasingly being legalized for medicinal and recreational use, it is critical that cannabis’s genetic and chemical variation be accurately quantified and communicated,” the scientific paper published in Nature Plants reads.

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