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Following Years of Underground Nomenclature, Legal Weed Businesses Move Away From “Strain Name Game”

With growing techniques far from standardized, and genetic testing able to go deep beyond the surface, what’s really in a name?

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Cannabis cultivators and consumers alike have relied on strain names to differentiate between types of bud for decades. With no legal avenue to standardize classifications or stop Greg from your econ class telling you his bag of schwag was actually Grandaddy Purp, an entire underground industry was created around guesstimates of smell, sight, and frankly, blind trust. But with legalization has come increased research into the once-illicit plant, and a growing faction of the legal weed market is already starting to abandon inconsistent strain names in favor of more quantitative, lab test-based distinctions. 

According to Marijuana Business Daily, a number of cultivators, retailers and customers with access to the privileges of legal weed have already abandoned the traditional naming system all together, choosing to brand their products with by their THC and CBD content, terpene profiles and other, more scientifically informed descriptions.

“Plants – even within the same strain – don’t always come out the same. This is why the term ‘strain’ is a thorn in my side, because it means absolutely nothing,” Autumn Karcey, president of Cultivo, a Los Angeles cultivation consultancy business, said. “I can take Sour Diesel from four of my friends and I can take Mimosa or Clementine from multiple people, and if I genomically test it, it’s going to be drastically different from person to person unless they all have the same cut.”

On the other side of the Golden State, Julianna Carella, CEO of Auntie Dolores edibles in Oakland, is steering away from the old guard. 

“We tend to shy away from that (breed) approach because we don’t think it’s real solid,” Carella said. “The strain name game is on its way out.”

But while analytics are quickly becoming the name of the game, with strain names boasting Cannabis Cup awards and cult followings, the likes of Blue Dream, Sour Diesel and White Widow won’t just disappear in a plume of smoke, especially with new legal weed customers and tourists anxious to identify and try trees they’ve only seen online.

“I don’t think strain names are just going to go away,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the Denver-based National Cannabis Industry Association. “Consumers are definitely becoming more aware of the cannabinoid profile – the information that’s on packaging that’s pretty much anywhere now – and that informs more decisions. We’ll still see strain names, but with a move to consistency.”

What can’t be overlooked in the search for more appropriate ways to describe different types of cannabis, though, is the still unproven record of many of the nation’s top testing labs. A number of the country’s legal weed testing labs have been embroiled in pay-to-play numbers inflation scandals or simply produce inconsistent results.

Without federal legalization and an entire industry overhaul, it is unlikely that we will ever see a governing body dedicated to true standardization of marijuana naming and testing, leaving the industry to cobble together whatever signifiers they can to better inform patients and customers.

“The future of medicine is cannabinoid profiles.“ Karcey said. “That’s how you should treat a sick person – they shouldn’t be walking into a dispensary and just picking something off the shelf and hoping that it works.”