Cannabis labelling The production, sale and export of medicinal marijuana are strictly regulated. Despite this, patients know less about the contents and origins of their medication than recreational users. Why is this and what could be improved?
Although the production, sales and export of medical marijuana from Canada and the Netherlands are fully and strictly regulated, patients in Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands generally only know the THC and CBD levels of their medication. While these are stated precisely, down to one tenth of one percent, for many varieties neither their ancestry nor their cannabinoid or terpene profiles are known.
Recreational users better off
In some US states, and the Netherlands and Canada, recreational users may often be better off because source locations (coffee shops and dispensaries) name their products logically and voluntarily submit them for testing for the most common terpenes and cannabinoids.
Among large producers of medicinal marijuana, the creation of any such full spectrum profiles has so far been rare. But cannabinoids such as CBD-V (cannabidivarin), THC-V (tetrahydrocannabivarin) and other substances found in cannabis plants, play an increasingly important role in its medicinal use.
In Germany, for example, epileptics do not currently know which of the 18 varieties on offer contain high CBD-V. Varieties that are rich in CBD-V have proven success in reducing epilepsy, with patients like Tara O‘Connell having already enjoyed the benefits for many years.
Inventive names instead of information
As the Dutch and Canadian cannabis agencies did not want to move forward with the old varietal names when they were introducing their medicinal marijuana programmes, the manufacturers were forced to come up with names for their products as part of the licensing process.
These invented names tell us nothing about the effects or the taste of a variety. As few of the licensed manufacturers publish full-spectrum profiles, patients in state cannabis programmes only know about the THC and CBD levels.
What is in the strains?
If, on the other hand, the strain is known, then you know the proportions of sativa and indica in its genetic make-up, as well as other criteria, and have at least some reference points about what is in a strain.
Computer literate German patients can look up on the Internet that Tweed’s “Princeton” is in fact “Ghost Train Haze” and “Hindu Kush” is sold in pharmacies as “Bakerstreet”. For these pharmacy varieties, that are also available in the US and Canada for recreational use, there are English language sites and forums that can usually provide the profiles you are looking for.
For the six Pedanios varieties that are imported by Pedanios and sold in Germany, neither the ancestry of the strains nor the cannabinoid or terpene contents are known. Pedanios varieties are only named for their THC/CBD ratio (e.g. Pedanios 22/1), the original varieties and other substances they contain are unknown or are not published.
Whether and how the takeover of Pedanios by the Canadian producer Aurora has affected the properties of the varieties formerly produced by Peace Naturals is not known to either doctors or patients.
The only thing that is clear is that the flavour and smell of the varieties have changed with the new producer, while the THC and CBD contents have remained the same. It is tempting to suspect that what is being sold here is not so much a specific, medicinal cannabis variety, but rather a brand.
The confusion is increased by the fact that Peace Naturals, who previously produced Pedanios, will soon have their own products showing up on the shelves of German pharmacies.
The situation is rather better in the Netherlands. Bedrocan is a producer that publishes the origins and profiles of the older varieties. Although the OMC (Office of Medicinal Cannabis) does not approve any varieties that have become popular on the black market, patients in Europe know that the “Bedrocan” variety is based on a “Jack Herer” and “Bedrobinol“ on a “Jack Herer x Afghan”.
But not even the sole producer so far in the Netherlands provides the origins of all varieties, and justifies this with commercial secrecy. On the other hand, Bedrocan is a leader when it comes to research into terpenes and cannabinoids, and publicly shares its results.
Which terpenes and cannabinoids are contained in Bedrocan strains is something you can find out by spending a bit of time on the Dutch company’s website. Unfortunately this information has not yet found its way onto the packaging of the Bedrocan tins.
Patients need to know more than just sativa and indica
The current subdivision of medicinal marijuana into sativa and indica strains does not match any scientific standards, even though patients are relying on this in the absence of any alternatives.
A new study at Dalhousie University analysed 149 Dutch cannabis samples, in collaboration with Bedrocan.
The researchers were unable to find any genetic differences between indica and sativa samples, which would be needed in order to support classification. On the other hand, by using the terpene profiles built up during the study, it was possible to draw conclusions about the origins of individual varieties. A press release from the study stated that: “It is likely that varieties will be classified by their different flavours, and not on the basis of their genetic origins”.
Sativa, hybrid and indica have for decades been useful reference points for recreational users when selecting a variety of cannabis, at least until a better, unambiguous and traceable classification system is developed that will provide everyone involved with the desired and necessary clarity about the combination of substances that are present.
Minor players leading the way
A few passionate dispensary and coffee shop operators have understood that cannabis patients need more than the classic and outdated classification into sativa, indica and hybrids. They provide full-spectrum profiles for their varieties.
Producers should, working with the relevant cannabis agencies, develop a modern classification system, based on terpenes and cannabinoids. Currently producers are still benefitting from the genetics taken over from a previously illegal market, while having to deny the roots of many of their strains. Instead of using names or numbers for varieties that have been well-known for a long time, they could now show that they can do better under legal conditions than the pioneers who were acting illegally.
Licensed producers have the necessary resources to be able to rapidly introduce new standards, for the benefit of doctors and patients initially, but in the longer term also for recreational users.