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Why Calling Different Marijuana Types ‘Strains’ Is Technically Wrong



Marijuana is an incredibly complex plant, with hundreds of compounds, that’s evolved substantially over thousands of years. And as the plant has evolved, so too has the terminology people use to describe it.

Ethan Russo of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute recently published a paper in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science that described one interesting misnomer that’s ubiquitous in the marijuana market: “strain.”

People seek out different “strains” of marijuana—a term meant to refer to chemically distinct plant types—but technically that’s an inaccurate way to describe them, the new paper argues. Strain might be an appropriate descriptor for bacteria and viruses, but not plants.

“Given that such factors as plant height and leaflet width do not distinguish one Cannabis plant from another and similar difficulties in defining terms in Cannabis, the only reasonable solution is to characterize them by their biochemical and pharmacological characteristics,” Russo wrote.

“Thus, it is best to refer to Cannabis types as chemical varieties, or chemovars.”

That’s right, next time you visit the dispensary, remember it’s a high-CBD chemovar, not strain.

Of course, the point of the study wasn’t to convince the cannabis industry to adopt scientifically accurate jargon. (After all, there’s already enough debate as to whether the terms “sativa” and “indica” are still meaningful given widespread cross-breeding). Rather, Russo talked about the cannabis terminology as part of a broader argument in defense of conventional marijuana breeding.

The chemovars produced through conventional breeding techniques, as opposed those that are laboratory-raised or genetically modified, are superior because the latter techniques tend to yield chemovars with higher concentrations of individual compounds like THC. Natural breeding enables all of the plant’s active and inactive compounds to thrive and interact synergistically to enhance the overall effects of cannabis, a result known as the “entourage effect,” according to the paper.

“The data supporting the existence of Cannabis synergy and the astounding plasticity of the Cannabis genome suggests a reality that obviates the need for alternative hosts, or even genetic engineering of Cannabis sativa, thus proving that, ‘the plant does it better,'” Russo wrote.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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