Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A study of nearly 90,000 samples across six states suggests that the labels used to distinguish one category of cannabis from another could be confusing.

The largest analysis to date of the chemical composition of marijuana products was published in the journal PLOS One. Commercial labels don't align with the observed chemical diversity of the product. The authors want a weed labeling system similar to the Food and Drug Administration's nutrition facts panel.

The prevailing labeling system is not an effective or safe way to provide information about these products.

Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states to allow adult use of recreational marijuana in the year 2000. Over that time, the industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar one, in which strains of cannabis are associated with an energetic high while strains of cannabis are associated with a relaxing effect.

There is no standardized labeling system.

What is in a name?

If you buy Girl Scout Cookies in one place, you will get the same product, or at least the same effect, if you buy it elsewhere.

While marketers are required to state the amount of cannabinoids on the label, they are not obliged to include information about other compounds, such as terpenes, which can influence the smell.

They can name their product what they want.

A farmer cannot just pick up an apple and call it Red Delicious. A beer manufacturer cannot just label their product a DoubleIPA. There are standards. Nick Jikomes is the director of science and innovation for the e-commerce cannabis marketplace

To get a sense of how similar products around the country really are, Keegan and Jikomes collaborated with two other cannabis scientists to apply cutting-edge data science tools to a massive database of chemical analyses Leafly has compiled from cannabis testing centers.

The researchers found that most of the cannabinoids in recreational cannabis are derived from the cannabinoid and terpene make-up of six states.

When they looked more closely at the samples, they found that there are three different types of products: those high in caryophyllene and limonene, those high in myrcene and pinene, and those high in terpinolene.

The categories do not correspond to the scheme.

It is likely that a sample with the label Indica will have an indistinguishable terpene composition as a sample with the label sativa or hybrid, according to the authors.

There are inconsistencies within strains.

What are the similarities between products with the same names?

The study found that it depends on the strain.

Jikomes said that some strains, such as one called White Tahoe Cookies, were surprisingly consistent from product to product.

He said that there was more consistency among strains than he had expected.

The existing recreational cannabis in the United States is quite homogeneity, with plenty of room to innovate new breeds with different chemical profiles. It could be useful for both recreational and medical use.

The founding fathers of cannabis research call it a pharmaceutical cornucopia because it produces so many different chemicals that interact with our bodies in different ways.

As consumers increasingly use cannabis for specific purposes, precision in labeling will become even more important.

He wants to see a day when products are categorized based on their chemical make-up and labeled with details on their compounds.

If your cereals only show calories and fat, you need to be pushing for more information. The industry will respond if we do that.

More information: Christiana J. Smith et al, The phytochemical diversity of commercial Cannabis in the United States, PLOS ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0267498 Journal information: PLoS ONE Citation: What's in your weed? You might be surprised (2022, May 19) retrieved 19 May 2022 from This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.