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What Marijuana “Strain” is Right for You?

In order to determine what marijuana strain is right for you, it is critical that you understand what your needs or preferences are.

You should ask yourself whether you are consuming marijuana for its therapeutic effects, a medical condition, or for its THC potency.

These dispositions or attitudes toward cannabis consumption can be characterized as consuming for need versus consuming for want.

All are equally justifiable, for different reasons, and should be respected.

However, your motivation for using cannabis plays an integral role in the consumer environment insofar as it influences which products you buy.

That being said, understanding why you want to use cannabis or what your looking for is only half the battle, finding the perfect marijuana strain is a challenge unto itself.

Finding the perfect strain is difficult because there is a lack of understanding about marijuana on the part of the consumer, but also because it isn’t easy to find product descriptions that help you select a marijuana strain that resembles your needs and wants.

What Type of Marijuana User are You?

As mentioned above, while you may know why you are using cannabis, be it for recreation, general wellness, or a specific medical indication, this alone does not help you determine which marijuana strain best serves your needs or wants.

Why is this the case? Well it stems from the fact that cannabis is simultaneously a consumer product and a medicine.

As a result, the market has been forced to accommodate several variants of a potential buyer’s motivation to purchase.

Generally speaking, a potential buyer’s motivations to purchase and use cannabis fall into one of three groups.

These groups can be broadly defined as:

  • recreation
  • general wellness/wellbeing
  • medical

What does this mean for you? While you may know what type of marijuana user you are, the market does not have a nuanced understanding of their customers. The three broad groups mentioned previously are all cannabis companies have to understand what you are looking for.

As a result, companies cater their product offerings and marketing to appeal to individuals who fit into, albeit imperfectly, one of these broad groups.

For example, it is perpetuated in the market that if you are a recreational user, you are looking for a high THC potency.

Conversely, if you are not necessarily seeking a “high”, rather a non-psychoactive compound to improve your general wellbeing, then you are typically advised to look for a high CBD potency.

Finally, for those of you seeking a cannabis strain for a particular medical indication, you are hopefully advised by your clinician as to which strain would best serve your needs. While medical users receive better guidance when navigating the consumer market, they too face some challenges when it comes to proper strain selection, albeit to a lesser degree than the recreational or wellness user.

Find Your Cannabis Chemotype

It is not surprising that cannabis companies cater their product offerings and marketing to appeal to over-generalized buyer personas.

While it makes it difficult for people to find what they are looking for, it is characteristic of many companies that make and sell consumer products. It is a tried and true strategy for selling a lot of product.

The problem is that selling, buying, and using cannabis is not the same as selling, buying, and using a computer.

There are more inherent risks, more variability between strains, doses and modes of ingestion, as well as more individuation on the part of the buyer and user.

It is important for companies to shift away from over-generalized buyer personas to target customers and adopt a new model based upon product differentiation and buyer individuation.

This new model of customer targeting is best achieved by connecting potential buyers to their ideal cannabis chemotype.

What is a Cannabis Chemotype?

A chemotypical classification of a marijuana strain is derived from a full spectrum analysis of the cannabinoid and terpenoid compounds found within the marijuana strain and their concentrations per gram of product.

Currently, there are entities, such as leafy.com, that have begun to adopt this model of product differentiation and consumer individuation.

The Leafly system: Pro’s and Con’s

Using Leafly’s page for the strain AK-47 (shown on the left) as an example, it can be seen that an effort has been made to provide a much more comprehensive description than is typically seen in the marketplace.

The description goes through several arc’s which are:

  • What is AK-47?
  • Where to Buy AK-47
  • AK-47 Effects and Attributes 
  • AK-47 Genetics and Grow Info
  • AK-47 Flavors 

The first two headings are self-explanatory insofar as they are comprised of a written description of the strain, which is consumer-focused and provides some background on its origin, and an embedded map showing where the strain can be purchased.

Although the map is somewhat misleading in that I conducted my search for AK-47 in Canada, which means I can order medical cannabis directly from a licensed producer, or recreational cannabis from a provincial wholesaler, or licensed retail store (not yet available in all provinces).

This really makes the inclusion of a locater somewhat irrelevant and premature given that retail stores have only begun to come to fruition.

Perhaps more troubling are the three subsequent headings which speak to the elicited effects, both positive and negative, medical indications, as well as the strain’s lineage, grow information, terpene profile, and flavour palette.

What is troubling about these headings and the information they provide is that they are overly generalized while appearing to be scientific. This can give a current or prospective user the impression that their understanding of the product is sufficient to make a purchase and use the product.

As stated previously, this isn’t so damaging for recreational user’s looking for a high THC content (their purchasing criterion is singularly-driven) or the medical user who is, hopefully, receiving guidance from their clinician, but it is damaging for people who turn to cannabis for general wellness and wellbeing. This is due to the fact that buyers belonging to the wellness cohort could be looking to use cannabis for many different reasons including, but not limited to, improved sleep, sex, happiness, anxiety, dermatological issues, muscle aches and joint pain, and migraines.

It should come as no surprise that many of these reasons for using cannabis straddle the line between the wellness market and the medical market. The same carryover occurred in the food and vitamin supplement industry, wherein a lot of medical and scientific jargon was coopted to entice users looking for alternative solutions to their health problems, ailments, or conditions. This is not to say that the products in these industries are without merit, rather that the industries themselves are so unregulated that it becomes easier to perpetuate inaccurate or misleading information. The buyer has no mechanism to determine the good information from the bad.

While an effort has been made by Leafly to adopt a description model predicated upon product differentiation and buyer individuation, it has been done poorly. It appears to offer information that would empower a prospective buyer to make an informed purchase, but in reality it only appears to do so, relying on a smart design, smooth user-interface, a personalized experience (based on your location and preferences), and by coopting pseudo-scientific or pseudo-medical language.

Let’s explore why this is the case:

AK-47 Effects and Attributes 

As stated previously, the elicited effects, both positive and negative, are listed. As well as the corresponding medical indications that can be treated or managed with the strain. These graphics can be seen below.

The terminology happy, relaxed, euphoric, uplifted, and creative require the buyer to rely very heavily on their own subjective interpretation of what these terms mean in and of themselves, and how these effects manifest in the body once this particular strain is ingested. Moreover, there is no way of deriving meaning from the bar graph other than that we can say, according to this chart, that AK-47 elicits effects of relaxation more than it does creativity. There is no numerical level provided nor is there any indication as to how the level is determined in the first place. More confusing still is what the differences between happiness, euphoria and uplifted are. This is how the Leafly strain description gives the impression of being scientific and data-driven, but when examined, ultimately provides little meaning.

Similarly, the terms stress, depression, pain, insomnia, and fatigue also rely too heavily on buyer interpretation. Even more troubling is that they are listed under a “Medical” heading which implies that this strain could be a viable treatment or management option for the listed conditions. Is Leafly presupposing this information is being used by patient’s after a consult with their doctor, or is this meant for people who may be self-medicating? How were the levels determined? Finally, why did they choose to correlate the elicited effect of happiness with stress, or relaxation with depression? I am not saying they are wrong for doing so, but there is no means for the buyer to understand why these associations are being made, nor are they offered any numerical values to influence their dosing or titration. Again, the superficiality of the product description, intentional or careless, does not empower a buyer to make an informed purchase.

Finally, the negative effects listed do not seem to be correlated with the elicited effects or medical indications. It begs the question, is dry mouth really the most significant negative side effect of using the strain AK-47? Is that information anecdotal or is it substantiated with evidence? Moreover, if AK-47 is indicated for the management or treatment of stress and depression, I would expect that there are more noteworthy negative side effects worth mentioning than dry mouth or dry eyes. It gives a buyer an incomplete picture of what to expect from the product.

The Leafly system of product description is a step in the right direction in that they have identified the types of information that a buyer would find useful. However, they have a long way to go in terms of offering complete transparency on how these values are determined, what the terms mean, who the information is for, providing the specificity necessary to influence dosing and titration, the treatment and management of medical conditions or ailments, and the reinforcement of safe use.

AK-47 Genetics and Grow Info

Perhaps my favourite section on the strain page, primarily because the information is sourced, sponsored, or provided by a verifiable entity. The graphics can be seen below.

Obviously this is not actionable information to the average buyer, but for a home-grower, this provides some helpful insights. It is also sponsored by General Hydroponics – a product researcher, innovator, and developer for hydroponic growing systems. Providing source transparency goes a long way to empower buyers to make more informed purchases. It also ensures that the information is independently verifiable.

Showing the terpenoid profile, even if it isn’t exhaustive, is tremendously helpful to a buyer because over and above their contribution to the flavour profile of the strain, the terpene profile also influences how cannabis is modulated in the body and has merit in the treatment and management of certain medical conditions. Unfortunately, this chart only shows which terpenes predominate in the strain, and does not provide their specific concentrations per gram of flower. Offering some type of transparency about the lab that conducted the assay, such as how they determine their values, would lend more credibility to the chart and empower a buyer to make a more informed purchase. If providing the numerical concentrations is too difficult or cumbersome, then providing a mechanism to interpret the existing chart would be helpful.

Knowing the selective breeding that resulted in a particular strain is a great benefit to a buyer. The ability to trace the lineage of your strain elevates your cannabis IQ and introduces you to strains that share genetics with your chosen strain, and may be worthwhile for you to try. However, the fact that there is no transparency on the information source undermines the usefulness of the information.

The flavour palette is a potentially useful descriptor of a strain, but it is somewhat redundant insofar as the flavour or aroma of a strain is largely dependent on the terpenoid profile. Each terpene elicits a particular flavour or aroma. Similar to the concerns raised in the Effects and Attributes section, the terms earthy, woody, and skunky do not necessarily correlate with the predominance of terpenes listed for the strain AK-47. The information is also not independently verifiable nor is it well understood how  this flavour palette was developed. The lack of transparency continues to be a concern, but is somewhat less significant when solely pertaining to flavouring.

The final point of contention with Leafly’s strain description system is that not all descriptions are created equal. The site boasts descriptions on 2656 strains, but a lot of them are missing sections. It is my assumption that they are continually updating these strain pages, but for buyers who are currently using them, it should not be the only place they look for information. Cannabis, its biological consequences, and its applications as a medicine are too complex and diverse to be communicated through a product description like that which Leafly provides. Perhaps these types of systems will improve with time, but for your own edification you should look elsewhere.

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