The legal cannabis industry is expected to reach $11 billion in size by 2019 thanks to ongoing legalization of marijuana on a state level, according to ArcView Market Research. While a number of studies have demonstrated the plant’s efficacy in treating medical conditions like cancer pain and childhood epilepsy, researchers are quickly discovering just how little they know about different cannabis strains and their mechanisms of action.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of these issues, some near-term solutions, and potential long-term goals to ensure the long-term health of the industry.

Inaccurate Labeling of Strains

In a recent blog post, DigiPath Inc. (OTCQB: DIGP) Chief Science Officer Dr. Cindy Orser, Ph.D., highlighted a series of studies that show that the identity of marijuana strains cannot be reliably inferred from their strain name or reported ancestry. Covert amateur plant breeders and the creation of so-called hybrid strains over the past several decades have led to a lot of confusion among participants in the rapidly growing multi-billion dollar industry.

These problems were perhaps best illustrated in a recent article, “The Genetic Structure of Marijuana and Hemp” that was published in PLOS ONE, which shows that cannabis samples were found to be more genetically similar to samples with different names than to samples with the same name. In other words, the labeling of cannabis strains was more inaccurate than accurate due to poor strain naming conventions.

These are troubling dynamics for those that rely on specific concentrations of cannabinoids to provide medicinal benefits. For instance, someone that’s consuming marijuana derivatives for the CBD content may be adversely affected by significant THC content, which may produce a greater psychoactive response and related side-effects. The reality is that people are simply making up names, applying them to whichever strain they come across, and voila you have the most popular strain on the market and can charge more for it.   A brilliant marketing strategy, and one that would not work in other industries.

The difference in concentrations could also become a problem when presenting the drug for regulatory approvals, as samples will need to be consistent and standardized in order to have proper testing conducted on them.

Entourage Effects in Cannabis

Cannabis chemistry goes well beyond household cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, with more than 60 different cannabinoids present in most plants. The interactive synergies between marijuana compounds has been coined the “entourage effect” and new science suggests that THCs and CBDs in isolation may be insufficient for most medical conditions, which is troubling given that many synthetic marijuana derivatives focus on isolating them.

In a 2011 survey on forms of consumption, only 1.8% of 953 patients preferred synthetic THC pharmaceuticals to inhaled or infused methods. There are many potential reasons behind these trends – such as the fact that THC-only pills can take hours to deliver relief as opposed to fast-acting inhaled or infused methods, but the chemical diversity found in inhaled or infused methods is likely a key driver behind greater therapeutic benefits.

For instance, a recent Leafly report highlights that the terpene myrcene reduces resistance in the blood-brain barrier, enabling easier passage of other beneficial chemicals. Similarly, pinene helps counteract compromised cognition and memory loss caused by THC. Specific concentrations of cannabinoids may also be better for certain indications, such as the combination of THC and CBN for enhanced sedating effects.

Measuring Cannabinoid Content

The need for accurate identification of cannabis strains has become apparent, but a well-funded unified scientific effort would be required to create a classification system. In the meantime, the cannabis industry may have to rely on laboratory testing to develop so-called potency profiles, metabolic profiles, or “chemo” profiles of a particular cannabis crop in order to determine the appropriate strain naming conventions and drug content.

With the cannabis industry expected to rapidly grow over the coming quarters, investors in the traditional laboratory testing or diagnostics space, including companies like PositiveID Corporation (OTCQB: PSID) or Psychemedics Corp. (NASDAQ: PMD), may want to consider DigiPath Inc. (OTCQB: DIGP) and the cannabis testing space as an opportunity to diversify into a new industry that’s well-positioned for substantial future growth.

The rise of cannabis testing requirements could also make cannabinoid profiling important for dispensaries, such as those operated by Kaya Holdings Inc. (OTCQB: KAYS) in Oregon, or dispensaries that are already served by companies like DigiPath Labs in Nevada.

Looking Ahead

The cannabis testing industry is likely to only grow in importance as researchers realize just how little is understood about the breeding and content of cannabis plants. With over a million dollars invested in laboratory equipment, a company like DigiPath Labs is well positioned to support the long-term growth of the industry.

For more information, visit the company’s website at www.digipathlabs.com.

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