As cannabis becomes more accepted, it's important to develop a common vocabulary around this plant. Curt Robbins explains basic terms relating to cannabis genetics, including phenotype, genotype and cultivar. And he shares news about the discovery of a fourth phenotype.
Welcome to Twenty 4:20, the bite-sized educational podcast from Tom at Kannaboomers and Curt Robbins, author of more than 500 articles about the science of hemp and cannabis. We're giving 20 cannabis topics 20 minutes each to help you get smarter about terpenes, cannabinoids cultivars and much, much more. And our show starts now.
Kannaboomers: (00:29) Hey, it's Tom at Kannaboomers. We're back with Twenty 4:20 with Curt Robbins. We're at episode five already. We don't do a lot of idle chit-chat here because it's about education and we kind of tend to dive right in, which is OK. And today we're talking about genetics and labels and maybe the classic thing that I hear is people talk about cannabis strains and then purists say, well, a strain is like the flu. It's not really a strain. We call them cultivars.
Curt Robbins: (00:55) Yeah, that's true. I mean there's a couple of different ways of looking at this. If you're a purist on the technical and science side, cultivar is the best label. A strain is like a bacterial infection or the flu. But that's from a very technical perspective. From a lay person perspective, if I use the word strain and you think Jack Herer, Durban Poison or Girl Scout Cookies, then language serves its purpose. And when we were both talking about the same thing, I don't know if I say ‘brown dog” and you imagine a giraffe, well then we have a problem.
Kannaboomers: (01:32) So it's about defining terms, so we all know what we're talking about.
Curt Robbins: (01:36) Right. And we're not trying to turn anyone in the listening audience into a cultivation experts or give them a Ph.D. in DNA and breeding sciences. But in the cannabis industry and culture, we hear terms like chemotype and cultivar and genome and you know, these are terms from, science, you know, many of us, if you don't have a graduate degree, in one of those specific disciplines, most of us are unfamiliar with these terms. So I just thought we would cover some of them. We're not going to go real deep on them. So when they get tossed around or people see these, maybe they're reading a research study, that's where I see these terms most often. And understanding their relative status to one another helps me, you know, more quickly consume a research study. But even more a casual studies like say on Leafly or something, they're gonna use a lot of these terms. So they're certainly beneficial, especially for industry professionals. So a lot of people are jumping into hemp and cannabis and, uh, you know, it's deep science. We all need to, uh, learn as much as we can about this to do our jobs properly.
Kannaboomers: (02:43) Well, sure. And as the legalization movement kind of sweeps through Canada and the United States, there is more and more to talk about and we want to make sure we're all on the same page.
Curt Robbins: (02:53) Exactly. Let's start out talking about chemotypes. Another name, a synonym for chemotype is chemovar. So they're used interchangeably, different researchers and in, you know, in different countries, label, a lot of these things in different ways. So, it becomes a little challenging for people like us when we're trying to interpret the results. Cause if they're talking about the same thing and we think it's two different things, then obviously, you know, the instructional design model begins to crumble. A chemotype is it chemical phenotype. And we're going to talk about phenotypes in a second here. So I know this is confusing and a phenotype is a subset of a cultivar. And we just talked about cultivars. Think of them as a sub strain. It's like indica, sativa and ruderalis, is a third chemotype rather that people don't talk about very much.
Curt Robbins: (03:50) It comes from like Russia near the Arctic Circle. The plants yield very little. So, so there's not a lot of commercial value or interest from recreational consumers, but from a science perspective, ruderalis just as legitimate. It's part of the cannabis sativa genome or species. And that's the best way of thinking of that term geno. And that's another one of these terms we're defining here. It's basically like a species and the cultivar or rather the chemotype is like a subspecies. And again, that's indica, sativa, and ruderalis.
Kannaboomers: (04:25) Would ruderalis be industrial hemp?
Curt Robbins: (04:27) Right. Because they're all part of the same genome. It's sharing some of those genes, right? That DNA, and this is where we need more research, could you know, hemp is starting to get really big since the Farm Bill passed last year. And we need a lot more to happen on the genetic side of this because if you've got an acre of hemp and it produced, let's say you're trying to produce CBG or CBD and you get 8% out of that particular cultivar, that particular phenotype, right? Even deeper. OK. And more specific, or what if you could get 12%? That's 50% more, you know, from a commercial viability perspective, that's a really big deal. So yeah, we need to be, considering nobody's talking about ruderalis right now. And I'm like, well that's, that's kind of strange because there may be some commercial value there.
Kannaboomers: (05:17) So that's chemotypes and cultivars, basically?
Curt Robbins: (05:21) Right now, different chemotypes, they may feature very minor genetic variation, but significant chemical variation. And that's why it's chemotype. We're looking at the chemical composition of the plant, and in terms of having cannabis, this means a different cannabinoid profile. And we already know that that's the mix of those possible 113 cannabinoids and 200 terpenes. So when we're looking at numbers like that, it's not a couple of dozen, it's several hundred. We can get some very unique mixes and thus ruderalis and sativa and indica can be very different plants in the end.
Kannaboomers: (05:58) That makes sense.
Curt Robbins: (05:59) So we understand cultivar is a better way of saying strain. I see major media outlets say strain, but then again, they like to call cannabis consumers stoners and so they're not really tuned in to all of this yet. Maybe in a few years.
Kannaboomers: (06:16) Yeah. There, there's a lot of education that has to be done. I mean, you know, we've probably talked in the past, just the term marijuana is part of a racist past that we've talked about in other with other guests. Just the word cannabis itself is probably the proper way to talk about this plant.
Curt Robbins: (06:33) So let's talk about phenotype a little because again, the word keeps coming up and most people have either never heard it or certainly don't know what it is. Phenotype. You hear, cannabis farmers and gardeners throw this term around, especially if they grow outdoors. Technically speaking, it is the set of observable characteristics of an individual plant resulting from the interaction of that plant and its genotype with the environment. So if you and your specific genetics, if you grew up on the other side of the world in a very different environment, you know, different exercise patterns, different foods you may have manifested as an adult a little differently. And so that's what this is here. You know, the genetic blueprint is basically just a capability set and the environmental conditions of those particular plants is really what determines how they're going to turn out. And this gets into micro climates. Not that we're doing a deep dive here on cultivation, but you can take the exact same seeds, you know from, it's not only the same chemo type, the same cultivar, but from the same parents. And if you grow them, say in southern Humboldt County, about 10 miles from the ocean, you are going to get a certain manifestation of that particular set of genetics. If you move, and I've had these conversations with farmers in the Emerald Triangle, you go just 15 miles inland and you get a very different micro climate and that those same seeds will manifest differently. And this is just a great example, this stuff gets complicated.
Kannaboomers: (08:10) Sure. And how much of that is predictable or is it just kind of a test and learn scenario where you're judging the results after you grow it?
Curt Robbins: (08:19 Yeah, we're in that experimental phase right now and it's nice that some mobile testing technology is entering the market. Some of my clients are buying into that and utilizing it too. You don't, we need to get out of theory and see what is really happening, you know, get seeds in the ground and find out, okay, we've got an experiment with a ruderalis influenced cultivar of hemp here. If we can get better yields on it. Again, it could be the difference between a business that's not viable. We want to see this industry succeed and a business that can maintain a fair profit, pay employees, pay taxes and sustain itself.
Kannaboomers: (08:59) Just like growing grapes, you're going to have a different crop in Spain than you are in Sonoma.
Curt Robbins: (09:04) Right. Exactly. Then that gets exciting because on the branding and marketing side, because look what the wine industry has done, especially with California wine and you know, hopefully we'll start seeing some of that from small craft players in the industry. They're trying to do it in the Emerald Triangle in places like Humboldt County where there would be kind of a, uh, a seal of authenticity saying this particular cultivar came from this part of the world and obviously they would be touting the micro climate there and the uniqueness of those particular plants.
Kannaboomers: (09:36) Well that's good to know. Now we know phenotypes.
Curt Robbins: (09:39) Yeah. You've got the genome and we've got, phenotypes where the environment influences the genetics. I think the big takeaway here is that we just as lay people in the cannabis culture, we need to migrate away from strain and start saying cultivar. It's always a little risky because then people are less likely to understand what I'm saying or, or writing. But, uh, you know, we've got to make the transition at some point.
Kannaboomers: (10:06) Yeah. Just so we're all on the same page. And that's what this is all about is educating people and consumers about all their options. And uh, yeah, we, we need to have a common vocabulary about this for sure.
Curt Robbins: (10:20) So now that we understand what chemotype is, I discovered something doing research on a recent project and it kind of blew my mind. So we've got indica, we've got sativa and we've got ruderalis. Well, a study back in 1987 found what is theorized on, I'm not sure why people aren't talking about this because it's very interesting and could have some major commercial impact, but they found a chemotype. We know that THC is derived from CBG. CBG, cannabigerol, is the molecular lifecycle called the biosynthetic pathway. It is the beginning of all of that. It is the genesis. Thus we have a relationship and all of these cultivars and then the genome over all that — the more THC we have the less CBG because there was a lot of CBG in that plant but as it matured and got up to harvest time it was converting the CBG and I'm using very, very simple model here. There's a set of precursors and all that other stuff we talked about in previous episodes involved in that. So again this is this a very simple model. Well then it goes to reason. If you have a chemotype that's very high in CBG, it's going to be very low in THC. And we've talked before about broad spectrum versus full spectrum products and there is a lot of need or desire in the market for products that do not give any overt psychoactivity, sometimes called intoxication. I don't like that term because I don't think it's toxic, I think it's medicine. But anyway, so they found this chemotype to have a very high amount of CBG. Mind-blowing. Now before I give that number, normally in these common indica, sativa, chemotypes, there's roughly 1 to 3% CBG cause it's converted most of it to THC. That's what the breeders and the cultivators are trying to get, right?
Curt Robbins: (12:25) They're racing toward THC. There have been cultivars identified that had upwards of 10% but they're extremely rare. You just don't see it. But they've been found and they've been cited. They've been identified in research studies, what the folks in 1987 and then another study in 2002 and then a follow on study in 2005 by the same 2002 group found 94% CBG and 0.001% THC. And that is so kind of earth-shattering that puts it in its own category. That's like a fourth chemotype. So now it's looking like we've got indica, sativa, ruderalis, and we don't have a name for this CBG-dominant fourth type.
Kannaboomers: (13:14) Tell us more about CBG. It's very medicinal, correct?
Curt Robbins: (13:18) Yes. Just like THC and CBD. I know in the popular press, and I've written a ton about THC and CBD, but uh, we tend to think of those as the only two molecules in the plant. And as we've said so many times in the past, we've got a 113 cannabinoids, 200 terpenes, there's 20 different flavonoids and they have a lot of the same medicinal properties. And because of the entourage effect, you know, they're jumping right in there with the endocannabinoid system interacting with CB 1 and CB 2 receptors. So yeah, there's, there's a lot of things going on there. But CBG is known for several things. And again, this is all of my recent projects have demanded that no medical claims are made whatsoever in the content I'm creating if we cannot cite multiple peer-reviewed research studies. So none of this is anecdotal and all, “my aunt Jane said, you know, it helped her glaucoma.” That's, that's great. But this was all backed up by research studies. So CBG can have a bigger role. A study in 2015 found that it was good for bladder dysfunction. A study in 2014 found a, it was good for cancer in general, uh, and, and different types of cancer. Another 2014 study found it was good for colon cancer. Specifically, a 2004 study found, CBG and other cannabinoids was very effective in reducing the intraocular pressure that leads to glaucoma and makes a lot of people blind. It's a big deal. We make this joke of, “Oh grandmas smokes a joint for glaucoma,” wink, wink, nudge, nudge. But uh, some of these cannabinoids are extremely effective. There have been case studies of people who were on the verge of blindness and were able to maintain their site because of their use of cannabis. So it's very interesting. Huntington’s Disease, a study as recently as 2015 showed the efficacy of CBG for that immune dysfunction overall. And we know there's AIDs and, and many other, the things associated with immune function, literally hundreds.
Curt Robbins: (15:27) And you know, the healthy immune system can prevent thousands of diseases and ailments and then there's inflammatory bowel disease. A study in 2013 showed that efficacy and multiple sclerosis, you know, millions of people have MS that relegates them to a wheelchair. Yes. They get benefit from THC, yes, from CBD. And as we're learning, uh, from many other molecules in the plant CBG is just one more benefit. And it really does. When you hear this list, gosh, I could have been talking about THC or CBD or we almost forget the exact cannabinoid. So the efficacies are very, very similar. And I, while we haven't proven the entourage effect, it is still a theory. All of this drives towards supporting the entourage effect and is credible arguments for full-spectrum formulations, staying away from isolates. And you know, when we say broad spectrum, OK, what got filtered out, broad spectrum is a fairly ambiguous label.
Kannaboomers: (16:31) This whole thing is blowing my mind a little as you predicted. I mean CBG, if it's a fourth, a cultivar essentially, and suddenly it's found at a 94% concentration. I guess theoretically growers could manipulate that percentage down to 50% or 40 or whatever is found to be efficacious. Right.
Curt Robbins: (16:50) Well this in the real world, you know, we have so much of our dialogue here is theoretical, but in the real world I have a compliance documentation client in the Midwest planning to grow hemp and obviously wanting to get the best yields possible. I shared this information with him and he was mind blown. You know, it was keeping him up till 3 a.m. doing his own research because if he can produce that much CBG. Oh, and another thing we didn't talk about is the same studies, 87 and the 02 and the 2005 showed that this for theoretical chemotype had what they called a companion molecule. So CBG was the main molecule and the companion molecule was always found repeatedly to be CBD.
Kannaboomers: (17:39) So they travel together.
Curt Robbins: (17:41) Right. And the CBD content, I, if I remember correctly, it was like 10% or something, but it was significantly higher than it normally is. But it, it was, you know, vastly outnumbered by the CBG.
Kannaboomers: (17:52) The entourage effect. Is that still considered a theory or has it been proven?
Curt Robbins: (17:57) It's, it's technically it's a theory and Mara Gordon is one of my go to people for topics like this. And yes, she explains it well, but, we, we have not put millions of dollars into, you know, large human trials, placebo-controlled double-blind trials involving hundreds of people. Those are 2 or $3 million, as we've talked about in the past. And that's the money that's starting to flow through the industry as we, as we build a true industry that, you know, it takes, it takes money to do these. We spout off these research studies left and right here, but there are tens of thousands of them, millions of hours of human hard work that went on being behind them and uh, hundreds of millions of dollars. Especially when we look at the time span here, we're talking about research that was in 1987 and that's why it blows my mind that why haven't we been talking about this 95% CBG? Why in the heck haven't we been talking about it?
Kannaboomers: (18:59) Right? It's going to change people's lives to have access to that medicine in that form.
Curt Robbins: (19:05) It's just more evidence that we need to get our minds out of. I'd love THC and I think there's a ton of value there. Again, it's got the same kind of medicinal efficacy as CBD and CBG on the other terpenes and cannabinoids. But if all we can do in this series is give listeners and understanding that this plant is a whole lot more than THC and you know, let's get high and watch Scooby Doo,
Kannaboomers: (19:29) Right. Well, and this kind of segment where we talk about the vocabulary and the different definitions I think is very useful. You know, we’ve covered chemotypes and cultivars and the genome and genotypes and phenotypes and I think it's all going to help us because it's not just strains and if anybody listening now, you know, you know, the strain has to do with bacteria and the flu. It's not what you should ask for when you go into the dispensary. Let's start talking about the cultivars and let's all get smarter about that.
Kannaboomers: (19:56) Well, Curt, we covered a lot in a short time as we always do, but I think there's a lot for our listeners here to unpack. I think we can wrap it up and look forward to, uh, the next episode, in another week or so.
Curt Robbins: (20:08) Sounds good. Thanks for the opportunity, Tom.
Kannaboomers: (20:09) You've been listening to Twenty 4:20 a special edition podcast series from Kannaboomers and Curt Robbins. Want to learn more and help grow the cannabis movement, spread the word and follow us on your favorite podcast platform or at Kannaboomers dot com.