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The New American Culture of Legal Cannabis Consumption

Learning how to Identify, Distinguish and Select Cannabis Flower Cultivars

Cannabis Sativa is an amazing plant that has been a part of mankind’s’ medicine, utilitarian and recreational provisions for at least 8000 years. Recent legalization has opened up scientific research, providing better insights into this special flower, yet much is still to be learned by all of us, as we get to understand it’s incredible molecular array; with Cannabinoids, Terpenes, Esters, Alkaloids, Flavonoids and other molecular components that together provide unique therapeutic and recreational effects.

Myths and Misunderstandings

Consumers, growers and retailers of legal cannabis are all pioneers in this new legal industry. But we have been hampered by misunderstandings and the limited way that sellers can describe and consumers can select and get to understand the flower they are consuming.

Time to change the language

There are myths to dispel as we begin to understand the many types of flower and their effects. We need to drop the nonsense of assigning distinct effects to different cultivars (flower types) based on claiming they are Sativa or Indica or Hybrid. They are all the same plant with identical genetics and almost always, in stores today, every flower strain is really a hybrid. Sativa originally referred to cannabis grown in the warm lowland tropics. It grew taller and thinner with its own typical terpenes. Indica (from India) was found in the mountains, in cooler climates, grew shorter and wider, and developed special terpenes to repel pests and attract pollinators. Those original sources of the same plant, grown in different climates, with different terpenes were found to have differing entourage effects (from cannabinoids, terpenes and other molecules in the plant). But today, these distinctions between the original “OG” Sativa and Indica landrace (mother) strains … with many generations of complex cross breeding.

The transition to legal market where flower is bought on line or from a menu has changed the way flower is sold. Now it’s become a race to the highest THC, because that is the only information that the consumer is given to judge the flower. And with this push, the entire industry has started cultivating for THC content, not for the many other important substances in the flower that together create the entourage effect.

The conversations going on in dispensaries in the USA are not helpful for the consumer. The bud tenders are trying their best but the consumer is not allowed to see, touch and smell the flower before buying and only has THC tests to go by. Consumers generally assume that the THC percent will tell them how good the flower is. But growers know that some of the best cannabis doesn’t have the highest THC. This is because any flower over about 15% THC is going to trigger all your cannabis receptors. Super high THC will assure you of a good and quick psychoactive reaction but won’t assure you of a well-rounded entourage effect which includes body effects, mood elevations, calming effects, pain relief, anxiety relief and ability to focus. That will depend on the other cannabinoids, the terpene profile and a host of other molecular differences found in their particular collection of esters, flavonoids, alkaloids and other distinct molecules.

THC – How much is enough?

Cannabis grown today is very high in THC. Most cannabis users don’t need that much.

In fact, one of the only negative experiences possible from cannabis is too much THC for one’s threshold which can result in short term anxiety or paranoia caused by a rapid onset of intoxicating & dissociative awareness, once called “mind expansion”. This is avoided by choosing lower THC content and higher content of terpenes medically indicative of relaxing, calming and sedative effects; such as myrcene and limonene. *Dr. Ethan Russo

Actually, any flower over 10% THC should provide most users with the full intoxicating effect of THC in cannabis. Don’t get overly focused on high THC testing. Testing is also highly inaccurate. It is common to find different readings for the same batches and for most consumers, it’s not possible to feel the difference unless there’s a very large difference in THC percentages.

At Mello we provide an easy way for customers to see the THC ranges:

New or occasional users:

Flower under 20% THC. Experiment with flowers with heavy myrcene or linalool for relaxing/sedative effects in addition to the THC.

Advanced/experienced users:

Flower 21% – 26% THC. Experiment with flowers with different major terpenes such as Linalool, Humulene, Pinene have differing pleasant effects.

High tolerance & medical users:

Very high THC (over 26%). For daily and frequent users as well as medical patients seeking symptom relief from strong THC for pain or other debilitating diseases.

Aroma Profiles: how growers know their flower

Aroma profiles are how cannabis growers and connoisseurs know the characteristics of a strain. A good cannabis cultivator or connoisseur can look at a flower bud, smell it (check out its “nose”), pull it apart a little, look at its structure and color and know the flower’s genetics. The aroma profile is really the best genetics indicator that the growers and connoisseurs have learned and know well. As consumers start to get to know cannabis flowers by their unique aroma profiles it will open up a new world of understanding and fun in really exploring strains and their flavor, taste, smell and effect.

Before legalization (and the THC lab testing and the required buying of cannabis on line or from a menu) every buyer, both personal consumers and bulk buyers and sellers, would judge flower by its look, color, structure and most importantly by its aroma profile. Cannabis connoisseurs can even figure out the genetics of a flower, by its aroma.

Scientific support for selecting flower by Aroma Profiles:

The debate amongst cannabis enthusiasts is ongoing: What determines ‘quality’ cannabis? Is it THC percentage? Is it the terpenes? Or is it something else?

The answer is right in front of your face: Your nose. Smell and/or aroma are the defining characteristics of “quality” cannabis, according to newly published research.

The report, “The Nose Knows: Aroma, but Not THC, Mediates The Subjective Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis Flower,” was published in December 2022 in the journal Psychoactives and authored by Dr. Ethan Russo, Jeremy Plumb, Shaban Demirel, Jeremy Sackett, and Adrianne Wilson-Poe.

“Pleasant subject aroma (but not terpene expression, THC potency, or THC dose) was positively correlated with pleasant subjective effects,” the report reads. “… These results suggest that, unlike THC potency, pleasant aroma is predictive of pleasant subjective effects. Similar to other agricultural commodities such as coffee and tea, aroma appears to be a robust indicator of the quality of cannabis inflorescence.”

As the report title reads, data showed aroma or smell – not THC percentage – was the differentiating factor when determining “quality” of cannabis flower.

“The strongest contribution to subject appeal that we observed was pleasant subjective aroma. That is, cannabis flowers with the most appealing aromas were the most likely to have the greatest subjective appeal,” the report reads.

At Mello we share with our customers these six basic Aroma Profile Groups, well known in the former black and grey cannabis markets:

Aroma Profiles: Gas, Cheese, Pine, Fruit, Purple, Dessert.

These are the Aroma Profiles. These are not proprietary, they are simply the aromas emitted by these flowers caused by their genetic make-up. By getting to know these Aroma Profiles you can begin to know flower the way growers do. And by getting to know these Aroma Profiles, you also begin to understand the lineage and genetics behind the flower. These aromas travel down genetic lines and provide the consumer with some of the special aromas, flavors and smoke tastes that we all enjoy.

As you get more familiar with these Aroma Profiles you will be able to enjoy selecting other flower types of similar Aroma Profiles or, step out and try new Aroma Profiles and begin to notice the differences.

“Experienced cannabis enthusiasts always lead with the nose and there’s a good reason for that—you’re much more likely to enjoy a strain that is pleasing to your nose rather than going by only THC potency. That’s the effects of the terpenes and that’s what makes every strain of cannabis special,”
–Stephen Rechif, a San Francisco dispensary operator of The Bloom Room and a veteran cultivator, Leafly, 2018

…when shopping for cannabis “take a good look at it and really smell it to get an idea of its aroma. I think people can do a great job shopping for cannabis varieties by using their nose more so than their minds and reading the names on the containers.”
–Dr. Dustin Sulak, Maine-based physician and medical cannabis expert, The Cannigma, 2020