Prior to cannabis legalization, you rolled the dice with every purchase from your “agricultural products broker”—AKA your friendly neighborhood weed dealer. Many a transaction had me asking if there was “any more of that lime-green stuff from last week” or “that pot that tasted like oranges.” Every once in a while, I would be told that what I was buying was a unique strain the grower had developed, or sourced from seeds brought back from the Netherlands. And perhaps they were, but I had no way of knowing.
Then came the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, and dispensaries offered a wide range of strains, all labeled. How certain were they that what they offered was indeed a particular strain? To an “uh, well, it’s what the grower called it” level of certainty, at best. Then we upped our game with testing for pesticides, molds, and other undesirables. Fantastic, but again—is that Durban Poison really Durban Poison? And does it really matter if it is or not?
It does matter, because consumers and patients may be seeking particular cannabinoids that offer certain benefits or effects, or, conversely, might be trying to avoid strains that induce unwanted effects, such as paranoia or sleepiness.
Last week, the brilliant team of sativa scientists and ganja geeks at Phylos Bioscience introduced a new program called Phylos Certified (PC). Simply put, it’s a database of cannabis genetics that confirm a plant’s identity. I spoke with Carolyn White of Phylos about PC.
“Few people realize that popular consumer sites like Leafly are highly inaccurate, because their platform assumes name consistency,” White says. “For example, if you search for ‘OG Kush’ and see that it’s at three local dispensaries, they could easily be three different varieties. There’s just no way to know. It’s such a mess that DNA testing is the only way to sort it out.”
White continues: “Phylos maintains the largest genetic library of cannabis on earth. Our scientists sequence and analyze the DNA of every ‘strain’ (AKA variety) that’s submitted to us. Then the DNA is compared to every other variety in our library and given a genetic location. Because the analysis is so complex, we created an interactive 3D visualization called the Phylos Galaxy. It’s free to access, and it’s putting an end to the name game.”
(Do check out the Galaxy—it’s at galaxy.phylosbioscience.com—and yes, do it stoned.)
“Names aren’t reliable, but DNA data is,” White says. “Inconsistency is a major problem when names are the primary way people categorize and find cannabis. For consumers, it’s about repeating a great experience. If you pick up a local variety that’s Phylos Certified, you know that its DNA has been publicly recorded. You can learn more about the farmer who grew it, see pictures, and—most importantly—know that you can find the exact same thing again, even if it’s under a different name elsewhere. It’s bringing transparency to the supply chain.
“Growers across the country have been submitting their varieties for DNA testing over the last two years, which are added to the Open Cannabis Project,” White adds. (I’ll be writing more about the Open Cannabis Project in an upcoming column.) “Here in Oregon, we’ve got Sofresh, Yerba Buena, Deschutes Growery, Massive Seeds, East Fork Cultivars, and many other growers who have tested most or all of their commercially available varieties. Regional distributors like LTRMN are now joining the movement, and Farma is beta testing an upcoming dispensary program. It’s powerful to see the community come together around science.”
But how does all this science affect you, the pot smoker? I asked Zoe Sigman, education co-director at the Farma dispensary, about the value of the Phylos Certified program for patients and consumers.
“One of the most common frustrations we hear from consumers is the lack of consistency in flower that shares the same name,” Sigman says. “Phylos’ certification is the first step towards resolving that issue. Ideally we’ll eventually see the genetic information from Phylos paired with chemotypic data, allowing for a much more accurate prediction of a genotype’s effect on a consumer. We’ll be talking to growers about the Phylos galaxy in the hopes that they decide to test their plants. Because the genetic test only needs to happen once if a grower is using clones, there shouldn’t be any consumer cost increase.”
If you’d like to learn more, Phylos Bioscience will be at Farma (916 SE Hawthorne) to discuss their Phylos Certified program on Tuesday, December 5, from 3 to 6 pm.