Any experienced cannabis connoisseur could take a hit and tell you which flavors and notes they pick up in the bud they’re smoking. Weed encyclopedia Leafly lists nearly 50 flavors people might look for when picking out a strain, everything from basics like lemon and blueberry, to less obvious flavors like menthol and chestnut.
The taste, aroma, and flavor of cannabis are based in part on the plant’s terpenes, or aromatic chemicals. Now researchers have also discovered flavor genes in cannabis, which are related to those terpenes.
Professor Jorg Bohlmann, from the departments of forest science and botany at the University of British Columbia, and a team of researchers discovered 30 genes in cannabis that dictate the plant’s flavor and aroma, and published their findings in the science journal Plos One.
The genes Bohlmann and his team discovered are responsible for the production of various terpenes. However, not all 30 of those flavor genes are active in every cannabis plant. Hence, cultivators can mix and match genetic combinations for a particular desired result. “Our genomics work can inform breeders of commercial varieties, which genes to pay attention to for specific flavor qualities,” said Bohlmann.
The research team also found a gene that makes the cannabis plant’s signature terpene, beta-caryophyllene. This terpene, like the plant’s cannabinoids, engages your body’s cannabinoid receptors. In fact, beta-caryophyllene is sometimes classified as a cannabinoid, and can be used in treating inflammation, such as from arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and has been shown to target cancer, anxiety, depression, ulcers, and pain.
A strain’s flavor isn’t just incidental to its effects. The way a consumer reacts to a strain of cannabis is influenced not just by the cannabinoid ratio (such as how much THC or CBD it has), but also by its flavor profile. Terpenes, like cannabinoids, also bind to receptors, and are responsible for a strain’s various effects.
By helping to identify what’s behind a strain’s flavor, Bohlmann’s research can help inform later efforts to replicate a flavor or help cannabis producers stabilize medical marijuana allowing patients to be sure it will affect them consistently.
“The goal is to develop well-defined and highly-reproducible cannabis varieties,” said Bohlmann. “This is similar to the wine industry, which depends on defined varieties, such as Chardonnay or Merlot, for high-value products.”