UBC Okanagan study: THC amounts identical in most cannabis strains

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When it comes to marijuana, Canadian residents will soon have a legally overwhelming amount of selection to choose from.

B.C. Kush. Platinum GSC. Blueberry Cookies. Blue Sapphire. Death Bubba. Oregon Golden Coat. Those are just some of the many, many types of marijuana available for purchase online as of today.

Yet, according to newly published research from UBC Okanagan, many strains of cannabis have virtually identical levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) despite their unique street names.

Susan Murch is a chemistry professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus. UBCO
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“It is estimated that there are several hundred or perhaps thousands of strains of cannabis currently being cultivated,” said UBCO chemistry professor Susan Murch. “We wanted to know how different they truly are, given the variety of unique and exotic names.”

Murch said that cannabis breeders have historically selected strains to produce THC, CBD or both. However, she added that growers have had limited access to different types of plants and there are few records of the parentage of different strains.

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“People have had informal breeding programs for a long time,” Murch said. “In a structured program, we would keep track of the lineage, such as where the parent plants came from and their characteristics. With unstructured breeding, which is the current norm, particular plants were picked for some characteristic and then given a new name.”

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The study said that until now, the chemical breakdown of many strains has been unknown because of informal breeding.

Elizabeth Mudge, a doctoral student working with Murch and Paula Brown of BCIT, examined the cannabinoid — a class of chemical compounds that include THC and CBD — profiles of 33 strains of cannabis from five licensed producers.

The research said that most strains, regardless of their origin or name, had the same amount of THC and CBD. They also discovered that breeding highly potent strains of cannabis impacts the genetic diversity within the crop, but not THC or CBD levels.

However, Mudge added that they found differences in a number of previously unknown cannabinoids — and these newly discovered compounds, present in low quantities, could be related to pharmacological effects and serve as a source of new medicines.

“A high abundance compound in a plant, such as THC or CBD, isn’t necessarily responsible for the unique medicinal effects of certain strains,” Mudge said. “Understanding the presence of the low abundance cannabinoids could provide valuable information to the medical cannabis community.”

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Currently licensed producers are only required to report THC and CBD values. But Murch says her new research highlights that the important distinguishing chemicals in cannabis strains are not necessarily being analysed and may not be fully identified.

Murch’s research was recently published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

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