“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet proclaims in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In other words, what matters is what something is, not what it is called. Can we say the same for cannabis, which currently has more than 700 named strains? Do the names we give cannabis actually mean anything, and if so, what exactly? Does lumping them into categories like Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid help? What if someone told you that all cannabis available nowadays is hybrid? That Indica and Sativa have lost their meaning and actually muddy our understanding of what we're dealing with?

Certainly the ancestry of cannabis strains as reported by breeders/growers will tell us what we have in our hands, won’t it? Well, unfortunately, no -- DNA analysis has shown only a moderate correlation between the ancestry of strains and the ancestry inferred from their DNA. In other words, the identity of strains cannot be inferred by their name or by their reported ancestry.

Hmmm…this is a bit troublesome. All dispensary menus list the strains as Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid, and their ancestry. If this isn't really telling us anything useful, what are we to do?

Let's try focusing in on the THC and CBD potency; that will certainly tell us all we need to know! Well, yes, if all you are solely interested in is how stoned you may or may not become. Again, boring!

To make matters even more complicated, we now know there are multiple constituents in cannabis involved in its overall effects. These include major and minor cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, THCV, etc.), as well as over 200 unique terpenoids! And, apparently, these constituents have the potential of modulating each other in a positive or negative way, i.e., strengthening or weakening their effects. This is especially important for medicinal users as the exact composition of constituents gives each cannabis variety its unique medicinal properties.

We could continue as we've been doing for decades: relying on anecdotes and hit and miss, trial and error. But this is potentially costly and time consuming, if you ask me. For medicinal users with serious aliments, it also could be seen as irresponsible, and, in some cases, “too late.”

Don’t expect doctors to show the way as the vast majority of them are in the dark too, or, at best, talk about a few cannabinoids and a few terpenoids. The “single compound - single target” paradigm of pharmacology continues to dominate their thinking.

Overall, it's as if we're trying to speak a language using only a few letters of the language’s alphabet, ignoring the rest of the letters out of inertia and/or convenience.

So, what is one to do? How do we start talking about cannabis in a sensible and effective way? What is being done to elevate our knowledge and bring some order to our love affair with this fantastic herb? More in my next blog.

Dr. B.