Redefining cannabis: elevating the way we talk about weed

redefining cannabis

Wine, cigars, whiskey, and other spirits all have one thing in common: these categories of recreational consumption are all well defined and carry with them a group of enthusiasts who share community in their pursuit of their desired tastes. They are bound together by a common history that uses pre-defined qualities, allowing them to describe their likes and dislikes and letting them hone in on the exact profiles they desire. 

With wine, one can choose to study at length the various tasting notes, bottling years, terroir, and decanting times. With cigars or other types of alcohol like whiskey, it’s the same; each distinct product type has its own descriptors. Different types of tobacco leaves or different countries of origin leave room for individual consumers to cater to their likes

Each genre of these adult leisurely pursuits has a well-developed language and vocabulary that enthusiasts use to describe and talk about. This gives both consumers and experts the ability to communicate about what they like and have the ambition to try in the future.    

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However, due to cannabis being in the shadows for so long, it’s the opposite. The jargon is from the streets and filled with bro science that uses terms that defined it centuries ago. It also relies on anecdotal evidence shared between those who are passionate about something and consume it regularly. They then come up with colloquial terms shared amongst their communities.  

There was no canna-melier or sommelier or cannasseur for cannabis until quite recently, once cannabis consumption emerged from the shadows and into the legal light—much the same way alcohol did a century ago after prohibition. 

cannabis plant
How to we elevate the rich world of weed? Photo: Canva

A brief history of cannabis classification 

It’s only in the last five to ten years that a more serious discussion and vocabulary around the consumption of cannabis has developed. With that said, the industry is still using an ancient classification system based on the plant’s morphology. 

Carl Linnaeus, an 18th-century botanist, first named the cannabis plant. He called it cannabis sativa in his seminal text, Species Plantarum. This variety of the plant was grown commonly in Europe; it wasn’t until 1785 that Jean Baptiste Lamarck, a European naturalist, wrote about cannabis indica or another species more commonly found in India, thus the origins of the new name he coined. 

Later, in 1974, Harvard professor Richard E. Schultes published photographic evidence of a second subspecies of cannabis indica, which he called C. Indica sub-species afghanica. These plants were common to Afghanistan hash makers, who would use them to make their traditional hash. 

In 2004, KW Hillig, a biologist, used a genetic basis to differentiate cannabis species in order to examine their relation to each other. He compared landrace strains and chemical footprints or the compounds found within the different plants as a way to classify them. 

Hillig then re-categorized varieties into groupings that more closely linked them through their related chemical footprints. This was the first time that compounds like THC and the many other cannabinoids and terpenes would be used to organize the myriad of cannabis strains that now exist. 

In 2011, Dr. Ethan Russo, a well-respected researcher, wrote his seminal article Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. This was one of the first articles that examined the way in which all of the chemicals present in each distinct cannabis strain synergistically worked together, affecting the high experience of the consumer. It was the first use of the term, “the entourage effect,” and it would usher in a new way of understanding how terpenes and cannabinoids would work together.

Terpene classification defines flavor profiles and tasting notes

As the cannabis industry matures and continues expanding its legal footprint across the globe, a shift from THC percentage will continue to occur, and flavor will likely become the dominant differentiator. Customers will begin placing more value on the experience of tasting the diverse flavors cannabis flower can offer. 

These flavor footprints, through the various chemical combinations that each strain has, form the basis of what makes cannabis so special and unique. Most plants do not share such a rich and complex number of possible aromatic combinations.

Most recently, the celebrated Emerald Cup, the preeminent California cannabis contest and festival, in conjunction with their lab partner SC Labs, discovered a pattern amongst the thousands of flower entries tested. What they found was that all of the strains entered could be grouped into five main distinct flavor categories (“Jacks + Haze,” “Tropical + Floral,” “Sweets + Dreams,” “OGs + Gas,” and “Desserts”). A sixth class (Exotics) marks the profiles that didn’t fit into the first five.

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For cannabis users to sit at the adult table along with their fellow recreational enthusiasts, the culture needed a language with which the community could express their individual wants and desires when it came to flavor profiles and tasting notes. This new system allows cannabis users to better hone in on their preferences, elevating the consumer experience. It also improves the dialogue between customer and budtender in the same way a wine enthusiast can talk about flavor notes with a sommelier before purchasing a bottle. 

The shift to terpenes also moves the focus away from assessing cannabis flower simply as a single number based on its THC percentage. This new classification system puts the emphasis back on flavor. After all, why would a consumer choose to smoke a joint of loud tree if not for the taste and the diverse aromatic experience that a variety of modern cultivars offer? 

By introducing a more specific way of describing the complex variations in flavor and taste found in cannabis it allows consumers to more specifically understand and seek out what they want. This finally elevates the experience, aligning it with the other adult pursuits of leisure by giving it more depth and language, which allows for a more refined sense of community amongst its consumers.

This article was submitted by a guest contributor to GreenState. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Harry Resin