One of the frequently reported problems from cannabis consumers is that they find their experiences vary between uses. Some people attribute this inconsistency to a thriving black market, which consumers continue to use despite the legalization of cannabis.
However, other reasons can explain why someone might have inconsistent cannabis experiences, and surprisingly, those reasons are linked to the legal market. Three primary problems that are attributed to this issue.
Cannabis plants are living things, and are therefore fundamentally variable. Many factors can influence their growth and composition, including the nutrients present in the soil, the availability of sunlight, how often the plants are watered, and how the plants are cured and storaged. These variables — and many other factors — impact the synthesis of chemicals within the cannabis plant, which directly affects the presence of cannabinoids and other chemical compounds. What influences the chemical components even further is what happens in the curing process, which impacts the potency and the presence of terpenes, the aromatic compounds that determine the taste and smell of the final product.
If cannabis suppliers are not all operating in the same exact circumstances and using similar rules to formulate their goods, variability in cannabis products is inevitable. Without standard guidelines and similar soils, cannabis suppliers cannot guarantee that their products will deliver consistent experiences across the board. It’s like purchasing cherry tomatoes. If someone buys a tomato that’s grown in California and one that’s grown in New York, they’re going to taste very different.
The cannabis dose
When someone regularly uses cannabis, over time, the CB1 receptors in their cells will change. CB1 receptors are embedded into cells that are part of the endocannabinoid system. When a cannabinoid binds to a CB1 receptors, the connection will activate what’s known as a G-protein. The G-protein is what is responsible for initiating a chain reaction within the cell, which includes, but is not limited to, changing the cell’s behavior, morphology, and even genetic expression. In the case of continual stimulation of the endocannabinoid system via chronic cannabis consumption, one of the changes the G-protein will induce is the actual removal of CB1 receptors from the cellular membrane.
This process means that if someone uses cannabis on a regular basis, over time, their body will produce fewer receptors, requiring the individuals to consume a higher dose of cannabis to achieve the same effect. Therefore, a person’s inconsistent experience could simply be a question of whether or not they’re consuming the right amount of cannabis to achieve the same result every time.
The method and temperature
The method by which someone consumes cannabis has a substantial impact on the stability and action of the chemicals in cannabis. If someone prefers to vape, for example, the person will need to set their device to a specific temperature to activate the cannabinoids and terpenes in their product.
For instance, a cannabis user would need to set their device to 315° F to activate THC, 356° F to activate CBD, 349° F to activate limonene, 311° F to activate pinene, and the list goes on. Every terpene and cannabinoid requires a different heat for activation, and if consumers aren’t mindful of this factor, they will have inconsistent cannabis experiences every time they use a vape pen.
This logic also applies to the effect that cannabis users want to achieve. Accomplishing specific results with a vape pen requires specific temperatures. If someone wants to experience a mental high, for example, the person will need to set their device to 350º- 360º F to get the most CBD, THC, limonene, myrcene, and β-caryophyllene per inhalation. For a body high, the person will need to change their temperature settings to 390ºF or higher. If the individual simply wants medical relief, the most effective temperature will be 410º F – 430º F.
The form factor and heat play a crucial role in someone’s cannabis experience. Without the proper knowledge, an individual will notice different effects every time they inhale their cannabis flower.
Can DNA help provide consistent cannabis experiences?
A person’s genetic makeup holds a vast amount of information that can predict how they might respond to changes in diet, lifestyle, treatment regimes, and even cannabis.
Variations present in DNA can provide cannabis users with insights into why they might respond to cannabis in a particular way, or why they might experience specific side effects. In a particularly striking example, clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD) is an emerging disorder in which researchers theorize that the body can produce fewer endocannabinoids and receptors than a healthy person.
CECD can lead to multiple illnesses like migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia, but its connection to cannabis use lies in the amount of cannabinoids an individual has to consume. If someone has a smaller number of endocannabinoids and receptors than an average person, then that individual will require a larger dose of cannabis to achieve the same effects as an individual of the same size and gender.
Other genetic links are more subtle than the proposed effects of CECD. However, insights into the influence of genetic variation on cannabis can help recreational and medical cannabis users create more consistent and quality experiences.
DNA data can inform how best to consume cannabis
Another way consumers can use their DNA to develop uniform cannabis experiences is to utilize the information about their genetics to determine the way they should consistently consume cannabis.
Cytochromes P450, produced by CYP genes, are essential enzymes involved in a variety of cell processes and are particularly important for metabolizing drugs. Variation in the DNA sequence that makes up some of these genes (primarily CYP2C9 and CYP2C19) is associated with an individual’s ability to break down THC and CBD.
In fact, some variants have been associated with a 30% reduction in the efficiency of the enzymes, meaning people who carry this variant would be less capable of effectively breaking down cannabinoids. These individuals will experience a much more intense and prolonged effect of cannabis consumption compared to those without that variant.
However, these outcomes can be mediated with different types of consumption: if individuals with these variants avoid edibles, they will bypass first-pass metabolism. By avoiding this step, the liver enzymes will not have a chance to slowly process the cannabinoids, allowing the user to feel the product’s effects for a reasonable period of time.
This genetic variant could explain some of the reasons for inconsistent experiences, which should prompt users to change their consumption habits if they want to be in control of the effects of their cannabis use.
DNA variation can suggest which blends to avoid
While users’ DNA can help them determine the best cannabis dose and consumption method, genetics can also prevent users from periodically experiencing unwanted side effects. Cannabis-induced psychosis, for example, is a rare condition affecting a small proportion of long-term, frequent cannabis users.
Persistent cannabis use after the first episode of psychosis is associated with a much higher risk of developing independent psychiatric disorders. In terms of a genetic link, several studies have linked genes that regulate dopamine signaling in the brain with an increased likelihood of developing cannabis-induced psychosis. There is also a known correlation between the composition of cannabis products and psychosis, with higher ratios of THC to CBD being associated with worse outcomes. In contrast, when THC is present in a smaller or lower ratio to CBD, this effect is reduced.
If users are genetically predisposed to psychiatric conditions, they need to be mindful of the cannabis products they select if they don’t want to have a good experience one day and develop a cannabis-induced psychosis the next. Choosing to consume low-THC blends will improve the quality of their experience and reduce the risk of having adverse psychiatric events.
Nicco Reggente is a co-founder of Strain Genie, a Los Angeles based startup that offers a cannabis DNA test to match patients and recreational users with the right cannabis products, strains, terpenes, and dosage recommendations. Nicco received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from UCLA where he focused on using machine learning and neuroimaging to predict the efficacy of treatment regimens.