Why You Should Use Cannabinoids and Terpenes to Choose Strains

Why You Should Use Cannabinoids and Terpenes to Choose Strains

With hundreds of compounds present in cannabis, there’s no reason why you should make purchases based on the presence or potency level of a single cannabinoid. In the case of CBD, previous research has shown that full spectrum, or products that contain other cannabinoids in the mixture, is more effective for treatment, compared to isolated variants that eliminate other supporting cannabinoids from the solution.

Yet, this is how some people at dispensaries select which strains to take home. During the shortlisting process, most individuals focus on the amount of THC in the flower or concentrate and determine its value based on that criterion alone. Mike Pizzo from Reef Dispensaries compares this overrated practice to pairing food with wine based on alcohol content.

In a recent post on Medium, Pizzo recommends focusing on other cannabinoids and terpenes that are responsible for inducing the “entourage effect” during consumption. For example, the Jack Herer strain contains a variety of active compounds, such as CBN, CBG, D-limonene and linalool. Based on the plant’s profile, it would be possible to conclude that the strain is ideal for addressing inflammation (due to the presence of a-pinene, which also contributes to its piney smell, and myrcene), while helping promote energy and creativity.

If you repeatedly ask your local budtender for flowers with the highest THC content, you might be missing out on other options that could be more suitable for your medical condition or personal preferences. This gap in understanding can be traced back to the prohibition era. Before legalization, cannabis was mostly consumed for recreational purposes. Growers catered to this lifestyle by pushing out strains with extremely potent THC levels.

The cannabis landscape has changed over the years to serve the medical needs of patients suffering from different illnesses. Because of this, the practice of cultivating while focusing on maxing out a single compound in the plant is no longer effective. Most commercial dispensaries now offer a diverse selection of buds with robust combinations of compounds.

Cannabis research labs, like Steep Hill, have also made it easier to understand the complex nature of the plant. Through rigorous laboratory testing, the group has successfully mapped out and profiled numerous popular strains available in the market today.

The important thing to remember is that what works for your friends or a specific group of people simply may not work for you. That’s why it’s highly recommended to carve your own path in your journey with cannabis.

For instance, you might be naturally energetic but also sensitive to the effects of THC (this is a common combination). So a high THC or a full-blown energetic strain might not be appropriate. Instead, a flower with medium-to-low THC levels and a mixture of linalool, myrcene and limonene (terpenes that promote relaxation, stress relief and alertness) would likely be more effective.

“It’s synergy; multiple elements that work together to amplify an effect. When the cannabinoids are paired with terpenes and certain concentrations of them, that’s what generally provides the particular effect,” said Darin Carpenter, Director of Cultivation at Tryke, during an interview with Medium.

Landrace Strains: The Beginning of Cannabis

Landrace Strains: The Beginning of Cannabis

Participants in the cannabis culture may be familiar with a few of the rare varieties of the plant that are categorized as landrace strains, including Colombian Gold, Durban Poison, Northern Lights, and Afghan Kush. “Landrace” simply refers to the small number of surviving strains of cannabis that evolved naturally in the geographic region in which they were initially discovered (by 20th century humans, that is). Some experts believe that about 100 of these rare strains exist today.

Landrace strains hail from global regions such as Jamaica, Afghanistan, India, Africa, Mexico, Pakistan, and Central America. They are believed to have originated in the Hindu Kush region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is one reason that so many strain names incorporate the term “Kush,” such as the always-popular OG Kush (the “OG” means “Ocean Grown,” denoting West Coast breeding and cultivation).

Many cultivators believe that the best examples of cannabis sativa are grown in a region as close to the equator as possible and at a relatively high elevation. Thus, mountainous areas in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and Indonesia are almost perfectly suited to the cultivation of high-quality cannabis. This is no coincidence; landrace strains hail from most of these regions. Technically, landrace strains are those that have stabilized over time as a result of natural inbreeding.

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Other definitions of landrace cannabis include any that hasn’t purposefully been bred or otherwise manipulated by humans. Such indigenous varieties of marijuana, because they have evolved within a particular region, are very precisely acclimated to their local climates — and may offer unique medicinal qualities that are specifically tuned to the native humans of that region. Wrote Rick Pfrommer, Director of Education at Harborside Health Center, one of the nation’s largest dispensaries:

“It’s not that [landrace strains are] necessarily better, [they’re] just different, and perhaps more effective for some patients’ specific conditions or needs.”

Source of All Modern Strains

Many readers aren’t interested in a history lesson, however. How are landrace strains related to modern varieties and hybrids? Put simply, landraces are the origin of all modern cannabis strains. They are the genesis of cannabis in society and reflect its state of development, or evolution, before modern humans began breeding and cultivating the herb for medicine, lifestyle enhancement, and profit.

Cannabis breeders long ago took original landrace strains and bred, or crossed, them in an effort to create new strains possessing the best characteristics of both parents (and, just as with dogs or humans, hopefully few of their bad traits). Some strains feature shorter growing periods or are more resistant to pests or mold, making them the desire of cultivators. Others, especially sativa varieties, may be more difficult to grow and feature relatively long flowering cycles, but can also deliver unique medicinal and psychoactive effects that are sought by many patients and cannabis consumers.

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For all practical purposes, it must be assumed that many landrace strains, in their original, pure form, have been lost forever. Endless crosses over several decades in most areas of the world, especially North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe, have resulted in diluted genetics. The sad reality is that many “pure” breeds of cannabis are often mislabeled. Many purported examples of seeds, harvested cannabis flowers, or concentrates from pure landrace strains are inevitably not. Instead, they are sometimes the descendents of multiple landraces that have been bred (either purposefully or accidentally), going back an unknown number of generations — and with possibly very different characteristics. Also, genetic mutations easily emerge, especially under different growing conditions, which can cause great stress to mature plants.

For decades, strains have been bred to bring out their potency, especially in terms of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the cannabinoid in the plant that delivers psychoactive effects and is largely responsible for its euphoria — but also is a powerful medicine for dozens of diseases. However, researchers and medical professionals have identified something called the entourage effect that supports the concept of whole flower medicine by observing that cannabinoids and terpenes interact synergistically, in a delicate and nuanced supplementation of the human body’s endocannabinoid system.

The good news is that a significant portion of the cannabis breeding community has been focused on creating strains that deliver the greatest medicinal value. Many modern varieties of cannabis are a far cry from the original strains from which they are descended. Just as a modern human living in Kentucky might be a descendant of American founding father Benjamin Franklin while, in most respects, the two humans are very different, cannabis strain crosses often, in reality, feature a morphology (shape and size), growing characteristics, and high type that is very different from their landrace ancestors. Sometimes, crosses and hybrids are more appropriate and therapeutic than landrace strains for particular diseases or ailments.

Understanding Phenotypes and Heirlooms

When seeds from landrace strains are cultivated outside the zone in which they evolved, they produce what geneticists and breeders label phenotypes. Phenotypes are transmogrifications of the plant that result in similar, but different characteristics. This includes morphology, development (such as the length of flowering cycles), and biochemical properties (potency and cannabinoid/terpene profiles). Phenotypes that are direct descendents of landrace strains, with no breeding or crossbreeding, are known as heirlooms.

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In landrace strains grown outside their area of origin, a change occurs in the cannabinoid and terpene profiles of the resinous trichomes found on the female flowers of these heirloom varieties. Because they necessarily receive different light cycles, sometimes artificial light instead of natural, and different soil (not to mention dramatic variances in water, humidity, and nutrition), these strains must modify and adapt to their new environments. This changes the inherent characteristics of these strains, including their medical efficacy and high type.

Because they have evolved over hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, landrace strains are considered to be more “balanced,” with terpene and cannabinoid profiles that are in harmony with the needs of the plant, its environment, and — in theory — the humans and animals living in the region that consumed it. (All mammals have an endocannabinoid system and, therefore, are affected by cannabis in a manner similar to humans.)

Origin of American Cultivation Culture

The cannabis cultivation cultures in Northern California and Hawaii have their genesis in heirloom strains introduced to the United States during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. The climate in Northern California sometimes closely approximates that of parts of Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountains. Because the central West Coast of the United States is roughly similar in the weather it receives, landrace strains brought back from some regions of Indonesia and the Middle East have traditionally thrived in Northern California. With them, the cannabis culture in the United States has also thrived. Both Hawaii and the entire West Coast have become synonymous with high-quality outdoor grown cannabis — just as Columbia is known for producing some of the world’s best coffee beans.

Patients and lifestyle consumers wishing to expand their cannabis horizons should seek out landrace and heirloom strains in an effort to learn more about the roots of cannabis in not only North America, but throughout the world. Cultivators wanting a change of pace should strive to obtain seeds and clones (cuttings) from heirloom strains in an effort to keep them alive for current and future generations and give patients (and medical professionals, including researchers) additional options for cannabis medicine.

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Classic Landrace Strains

In the past, landrace strains that happened to be sativas were eschewed by gardeners for indicas and crosses that featured shorter flowering periods. This was simply because these varieties were more profitable for commercial cultivators. However, the recent wave of recreational and medical cannabis laws at the state level in the U.S. has spawned markets for special strains, many of which are landrace sativas (such as Durban Poison).

Examples of popular and classic landrace strains include the following:

  • Afghan Kush: A pure indica strain purported to have originated in the Hindu Kush Mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • G13: A landrace from Afghanistan that typically leans toward indica. However, two phenotypes of this strain exist, the second of which is a sativa.
  • Durban Poison: An unusually potent sativa from the South African port city of Durban. Click here to read an expert review of this strain.
  • Acapulco Gold: The infamous landrace sativa that hails from the Acapulco region of Southwest Mexico and typically features high levels of THC.
  • Northern Lights: A legendary indica, this highly inbred Afghani is purported to hail from British Columbia.
  • Rooibaard: A sativa from the coastal area of the Transkei region of South Africa.
  • Colombian Gold: The fabled cannabis hybrid that is sometimes a bit sativa-dom that originates in the Santa Marta mountains of Colombia in Central America.
  • Hawaiian: A sativa-dom hybrid from the islands of Hawaii.
  • Malawi Gold: A pure sativa is from the Salima region of Malawi in Southeast Africa.
  • Thai: A sativa from, as its name implies, Thailand. Hybrids derived from Thai include Fruity Thai and Juicy Fruit Thai.
  • Panama Red: This sativa from Panama became popular in the late 1960s, during the hippy psychedelic era.
  • Punto Rojo: A sativa from Columbia that is considered by some to be even better than Colombian Gold.
Linalool Cannabis Terpene

Linalool Cannabis Terpene

Many are familiar with the major cannabinoids found in cannabis, such as THC and CBD, which have such great efficacy for conditions like depression, PTSD, and epilepsy. But cannabinoids are only part of the picture. Terpenes are like molecular cousins to cannabinoids and serve the primary role of delivering a wide variety of alluring aromas to cannabis flowers, but also offer a wide range of medicinal benefits as well.

In addition to aroma, terpenes deliver sometimes great medicinal value. They have been found to fight cancer and act as an analgesic (pain killer). Like amino acids, terpenes are powerful building blocks within the plant’s physiology that aid in the production of vitamins, hormones, pigments, resins, and — yes, that most prized part of the herb — cannabinoids. Cannabis plants release more terpenes when temperatures are higher (one reason they emit strong odors during the peak of harvest season).

Understanding Terpenes

More than 200 terpenes are available in the cannabis plant, while more than 20,000 exist in nature. They are produced in the small resin glands that appear primarily on the surface of the flowers and sugar leaves of cannabis plants called trichomes. It is estimated that there are nearly 1000 strains of cannabis that have been bred. Each of these features a distinct and unique mix of terpenes, something called a terpene profile.

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Cannabis and cannabis products — such as concentrates — sold in legal and regulated states often feature a label providing a laboratory analysis that lists the exact percentages of cannabinoids and terpenes. Often, lab techs, budtenders, and pot nerds will discuss particular strains or extracts of cannabis in terms of their terpene profiles and how the overall efficacy of one profile (an individual of a particular strain) compares with other samples or methods of extracting concentrates.

Major terpenes include myrcene, pinene, and limonene. Myrcene, which conveys earthy and clove-like odors, determines whether a particular strain is indica or sativa by its percentage within the plant (further illustrating the important role played by terpenes). Pinene, a terpene also found in evergreens, has been found to increase mental focus and energy and acts as a bronchodilator — making it helpful for asthma sufferers. Limonene, as its name implies, provides an aroma of citrus and is found not only in cannabis, but also oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes. It has been revealed to alleviate depression and aid in digestion.

Terpenes are very volatile, delicate molecules that are easily destroyed by heat and oxidation. Popular cannabis concentrates, like BHO and CO2 oil, are mostly void of terpenes. One new extraction method called live resin preserves the terpene profile of cannabis plants. This process involves cryogenically freezing plants immediately after harvest and then using a laboratory extraction process (backyard brewers need not apply) to remove and isolate a more accurate representation of a particular plant’s mix of cannabinoids and terpenes.

What is Linalool?

Linalool, one of the minor terpenes found in cannabis, conveys a floral aroma, sometimes with a hint of spice. More than 200 species of plants produce linalool, including a variety of mints and herbs. More important, linalool serves many roles in relieving a number of symptoms, including pain, depression, seizures, inflammation (similar to limonene), and even insomnia (because it acts as a sedative). Its tranquilizing effects are helpful for those suffering with many types of psychosis.

  • Analgesic: Linalool is helpful for conditions like multiple sclerosis, dystonia, arthritis, post-operative pain, and chronic pain from any source because it is a pain killer. Combined with cannabinoids of the same efficacy, linalool can be a reinforcing agent in a patient’s struggle to manage pain, especially if they are trying to avoid or reduce use of opiates such as Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin.
  • Antidepressant: More than 20 million people in the United States alone suffer from sometimes debilitating depression. This common psychological ailment can negatively affect one’s career, personal relationships, and even physical health. Linalool, when combined with cannabinoids like THC that are also effective in helping alleviate depression, helps form an overall strategy for using cannabis to treat these types of disorders.
  • Anti-Convulsant: Just as chemotherapy is used to treat conditions other than cancer, seizures afflict those with conditions other than epilepsy, such as traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, and hydrocephalus. Most seizures feature a duration of between 30 seconds and two minutes. Typically, they do not cause lasting harm, although they seizures often very taxing, painful, or exhausting for sufferers. Seizures that last longer than five minutes are considered life threatening.
  • Anti-Inflammatory: Those suffering from inflammation-based diseases, such as Crohn’s, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, asthma, fibromyalgia, dermatitis, IBS, lupus, and Parkinson’s, among many others, gain benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of linalool (as well as a variety of anti-inflammatory cannabinoids).
  • Sedative and Sleep Aid: It is estimated that 10-30 percent of people suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives, with 10 percent reported to experience chronic and severe sleep deprivation. Cannabinoids like CBN, when combined with terpenes such as linalool, help patients get the sleep they require to maintain homeostasis (balance) and health. Adequate sleep is critical for patients to most effectively fight their condition or disease.

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The  Studies

Ancient cultures have used terpenes like linalool, available in a variety of aromatic herbs like cannabis, for millennia to treat a wide variety of conditions. 21st century research has confirmed the beliefs of these ancient civilizations, revealing strong medical efficacy for a variety of conditions.

A 2002 study published in the Journal of Phytomedicine revealed that linalool is a major anti-inflammatory agent, potentially helping with a variety of inflammation-related ailments, such as cancer, arthritis, and Crohn’s disease. The same research team, in a 2003 study, found linalool to also be a pain killer. These researchers again, in 2006, conducted another linalool study that further collected and examined data from animal models. This study reinforced the fact that linalool is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

2008 research published in the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal supported the sedative qualities of linalool. The study estimated that 19 million Americans suffer from anxiety-related ailments, with 16 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 54 being patients of one or more anxiety conditions, which sometimes lead to substance abuse and mood disorders.

This study revealed linalool to be a powerful sedative that delivers real efficacy to those who suffer anxiety disorders and one of their most common side effects, insomnia. Concluded the study:

“Our data…suggested that linalool modulates the central nervous system by producing unconsciousness and degradation of motor movements.”

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A 2010 study involving mice that employed three different sub-types of linalool found it to be an effective anticonvulsant, meaning it shows significant promise for those who suffer seizures, such as patients of epilepsy and brain tumors. Reported the study:

“Linalool…[was] effective in preventing tonic convulsions induced by transcorneal electroshock in the animals.”

More Research Needed

As with all areas of cannabis science, terpenes like linalool are in desperate need of well funded, robust research in the form of human trials. Until cannabis is dropped from Schedule I and real studies are permitted by reputable research institutions and laboratories, medical professionals and patients must play a guessing game in terms of the types and dosages of terpenes like linalool that are most appropriate for particular conditions.

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