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Study says that the aroma – and not the THC – is what counts most in the subjective selection of cannabis

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Photo: DR

An investigation published in Psychoactives discovered that the most significant indicator of a cannabis strain's appeal is its smell and not its THC, as many may believe. Based on data obtained by volunteer judges at a local craft cannabis competition, researchers determined that the amount of THC, its potency and total terpene content had no significant correlation with whether the judges reported a pleasant experience. However, pleasant aroma was positively correlated with reports of pleasant subjective effects and the study suggests that the cannabis market would only benefit from adopting a model in which consumers can smell the flower before purchasing it.

The research analyzed 278 cannabis samples that had been entered in the 2019 and 2020 editions of the Cultivation Classic Cannabis competition, held annually in Portland, Oregon. As part of the competition, all samples were sent to an independent testing laboratory for cannabinoid and terpene analysis. Each of the contest's 276 volunteer judges received a Kit of samples containing between 8 and 10 varieties of cannabis in competition. Over the course of approximately one month, judges were asked to use each sample and then respond to an online questionnaire about the subjective effects and desirability of each sample. This included rating interest in each variety's aroma and its overall effects, as well as noting any changes in mood. In addition, judges were also asked to record which method of consumption was used and to take a 48-hour break between tests.

“The varieties that had the most appealing smell were those most likely to result in the desirable subjective effects and positive mood.”

The study authors used the information obtained to compile a “composite appeal score” for each sample, which could then be compared against other factors, such as the potency of the cannabis strain. Researchers found that a pleasant scent contributed most to your subjective attractiveness. The varieties that had the most appealing smell were those most likely to result in the desirable subjective effects and positive mood. The researchers also found that there was a high degree of consensus about which varieties had a pleasant smell.

Quantity does not mean quality

In the current legal (and illegal) cannabis market, consumers are generally willing to pay higher prices for higher potency cannabis. This has led to THC potency becoming an indicator of quality, thus driving high demand for high-potency products, forcing it to become an important factor in purchasing decisions. However, the results of this study suggest that THC potency and dose have no impact on subjective attraction. Therefore, consumers may want to consider other factors, such as aroma, when choosing a cannabis strain.

“Our analysis revealed that, contrary to both market dynamics and consumer perception, neither potency nor dose of THC had an impact on subjective attraction,” the researchers wrote. “In the context of naturalistic recreational enjoyment, some hemp-like chemovars […] were as appealing as chemovars with 20% or more THC.”

“The market (…) could benefit from adopting a model in which cannabis is sold in such a way that consumers can smell the flower before purchasing.”

Terpenes have also become an important metric in the cannabis market. These volatile compounds are thought to be responsible for the flavor and aroma of cannabis and many terpenes are already known to have therapeutic properties when isolated. However, despite the role of terpenes in cannabis aroma, this study found that total terpene content was not associated with greater subjective appeal.

Trends for the cannabis industry: smell before you buy

The lack of relationship between subjective appeal and THC potency and dosage with total terpene content may have important consequences for public health. Previous research has linked frequent consumption of high-concentration products with mental health problems, as well as substance use problems and an elevated risk of psychosis. In this sense, the study results can support existing efforts to desensitize high-THC products on the market.

Furthermore, this study suggests that the cannabis industry should focus on a broader set of indicators to assess the quality of cannabis, rather than placing too much emphasis on THC. It also states that the market should be based on a broader set of elements, which give a more specific indication of the effects of cannabis on consumers, and could benefit from the adoption of a model in which cannabis is sold in such a way that consumers can smell the flower before purchasing.

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