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The cannabis industry is evolving rapidly, but we’re still using an outdated classification system that confuses customers and restricts progress. The indica/sativa model was created decades ago based on plant morphology alone. It fails to accurately reflect chemical composition or effects. As cannabis transitions to a mainstream product, we need a scientifically valid taxonomy that empowers consumers and professionals with clarity.
Chemotype classification could be the solution. This system categorizes strains based on their unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles, providing a window into effects and therapeutic potential. For example, a strain high in THC and myrcene may have sedative, hypnotic effects, while one dominant in CBD and pinene could be energizing. Analyzing these compounds offers far more precise information than physical appearance.
Adopting chemotypes would help legitimize cannabis and propel innovation. With accurate data, researchers can develop condition-specific treatments, manufacturers can produce targeted products, and healthcare professionals can make recommendations tailored to patient needs. Chemotype testing also allows brands to ensure consistency and build customer trust in the safety and efficacy of their goods.
However, chemotypes may be too complex for some consumers, especially in newly legal markets. The indica/sativa system, while flawed, is familiar and approachable. An ideal model could integrate chemotypes into a simplified classification that still resonates culturally, similarly to how wine has adapted by combining tradition and science. For example, categorizing strains as Broad Spectrum, Balanced, or Focused based on ratios of major cannabinoids and terpenes.
As cannabis gains mainstream acceptance, we must establish a valid and standardized classification model. Chemotype analysis provides the insight needed for innovation and tailored product development but requires adaptation to work for all audiences. By translating science into a simpler paradigm and nomenclature, we can achieve clarity and accessibility.
Cannabis has been used as medicine and entheogen for thousands of years, yet we have only begun to understand its therapeutic potential and complex biochemistry. As pioneers in this new frontier, we must choose our path carefully. Adopting a chemotype-based classification system is a crucial step toward empowering professionals, delighting customers, and realizing the promise of this extraordinary plant. The future of cannabis is clarity.
To continue fostering that future, what we need is comprehensive education, thoughtful regulation, and an accurate but approachable system for understanding this incredibly nuanced plant. Chemotypes may just provide the insights we’ve been missing—if we’re willing to do the work of integrating science and culture, investing in consumer learning, and adapting language to create the clarity we all seek. It’s time for cannabis to come into focus. The indica/sativa model has run its course; the era of chemotypes awaits.
A LinkedIn Discussion Analyzed
Surrounding the idea that Chemotype should be the foundation for a cannabis classification system.
The traditional classification system of categorizing cannabis into “indica” and “sativa” strains is outdated and imprecise. These labels primarily describe the physical characteristics of the plant rather than the chemical composition or effects. As the cannabis industry evolves, many experts argue it’s time to transition to a more accurate classification method. However, there is no consensus on the best approach.
Chemotype-based classification is one proposed system. This approach sorts cannabis strains by their cannabinoid and terpene profiles, which provides insights into the potential effects and therapeutic properties. According to Olaf van Lonkhuizen, CEO of Delta 9 Analytics, “Analyzing cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, and terpenes provides a deeper understanding of effects and therapeutic properties. It offers more precise information for medical professionals and consumers.”
A chemotype-based approach could enhance research, inform consumers, and promote standardization. However, as Anna Schwabe, PhD argues, it may be too complex for inexperienced consumers. “Explaining the nuances of different terpenes and cannabinoids to someone who has no clue what those are is like disecting and narrating the complexities of a fine wine to a 21 year old.” She suggests starting with broader categories and then narrowing in on specifics as people develop preferences.
Chris Becker, Co-Founder of The Honeybee Collective, agrees chemotypes are “COMPLICATED.” He says, “If you can’t get people to look at the nutrition labels on the food they eat, you’ll never get them past indica and sativa.” Becker argues the industry needs an alternative shorthand to help people understand the experience they may have. He adds, “Most people don’t want to be educated. They don’t have the mental space to store nuanced information about cannabis.”
Others argue indica and sativa can still be useful, if contextualized properly. As Patrick Stevens says, “Sativa or Indica does not stand for what effect you can expect from it's effect, but gives an indication of the type of plant it is. and how it grows and/or flowers.” Scott B., a cannabis grower, agrees “we gotta have something to call stuff.” Benjamin Ballinger adds, “We just need to come up with a classification system that is valid but has a similar level of simplicity [to indica/sativa]. I believe it can be done.”
Some propose a hybrid model that incorporates both chemotype and morphology. For example, Steven Walman points to the system used by the US Pharmacopeia: "These three main chemotypes have been identified as useful for labeling based on the following cannabinoid constituents: (1) tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-dominant chemotype; (2) intermediate chemotype with both THC and cannabidiol (CBD); and (3) CBD-dominant chemotype. Cannabis plants in each of these chemotypes may be further subcategorized based on the content of other cannabinoids and/or mono- and sesquiterpene profiles." This approach provides more information than indica/sativa but less complexity than a focus on chemotype alone.
Robert Chapman, PhD suggests using the term “chemovar” as a more precise but still simple classification system. There are clearly many perspectives on how to best categorize cannabis strains. A chemotype-based approach seems the most scientifically valid but risks being too complex for most consumers. Simpler models could be more practical but may be misleading without the context provided by analyzing chemical composition.
The cannabis industry continues the challenging search for a classification system that balances these needs—one that is both chemically accurate and practically accessible. An ideal model may incorporate elements of both chemotype and chemovar or morphotype, using a hybrid taxonomy that evolves as the general level of consumer education improves. The debate is ongoing, but most experts agree that indica and sativa alone are no longer sufficient. Out with the old, but in with what? The cannabis industry continues shaping the answer.
Here's a table comparing the pros and cons of different cannabis classification systems discussed in the LinkedIn thread:
- Pros: Simple, familiar to consumers
- Cons: Outdated, imprecise, not scientifically valid
- Pros: Precise, insightful, promotes research
- Cons: Too complex for most consumers, difficult to standardize
- Pros: More precise than I/S, simpler than chemotype
- Cons: Still may be too complicated for some, lacks morphological context
- USP model (3 chemotypes + morphology)
- Pros: Balances precision and simplicity
- Cons: Risks still being too complex for inexperienced consumers
- Effects-based ("daytime" vs "nighttime")
- Pros: Focuses on consumer experience, simple
- Cons: Lacks scientific validity, effects vary person to person
- Terpene-based (categorizing by aroma/flavor)
- Pros: Approachable, helps guide product selection
- Cons: Does not directly indicate effects, limited for medical use
- Hybrid model (combining chemotype, morphology, chemovar)
- Pros: Could balance accuracy and accessibility
- Cons: Complicated to develop and communicate, risks confusion
Overall, there are many options but no perfect single solution. An ideal classification system would incorporate chemical composition (for validity) in a simplified model (for accessibility) that evolves as consumer education improves. Combining approaches—e.g., a hybrid of chemotype and chemovar with a morphological context—may offer the best path forward, even if imperfect. The debate continues on how to replace the outdated indica/sativa model with a taxonomy that serves the needs of the entire cannabis industry and community.
Here are some additional ideas and context that could be explored further based on the LinkedIn discussion:
- The debate reflects the broader challenges of science communication and balancing technical validity with practical accessibility. There are opportunities for educating consumers and promoting scientific literacy, but information must still be made digestible and not overwhelm inexperienced customers. The cannabis industry will need to thoughtfully navigate this challenge.
- Standardization is important for research and commerce but may be difficult to achieve given the diversity of cannabis strains as well as personal variation in experiences. A system that accounts for nuance and the complexity of this plant may be most ethical. Strict categories could be counterproductive.
- The effects-based model highlights that cannabis is often consumed for the experience, not just medical use or wellness. Classification systems geared only toward treatment of symptoms or conditions may be too limited. Many consumers use cannabis recreationally to alter their experiences and mindsets. A robust taxonomy would account for this range.
- Flavors and aromas influence consumer selection but do not determine effects. Terpene-based categories could play a role in a hybrid classification model but should not replace consideration of cannabinoid profiles. Effects arise from the entourage of compounds, not terpenes alone.
- The debate reflects the tensions between scientific validity and cultural tradition. Although indica/sativa is not scientifically meaningful, it represents decades of cannabis culture and breeding. An ideal system would not dismiss this history and culture but update it to meet modern needs. Honoring tradition while promoting progress.
- Classification impacts the wellness industry and medical system. An updated taxonomy may enhance healthcare professionals' understanding of cannabis and ability to guide patients to suitable options. However, it must still translate across fields to be meaningful and useful in practice. This amplifies the need to balance scientific validity and simplicity.
- There is no “perfect” solution, only the best option for current needs that requires continuous re-evaluation and progress. An adaptive, evolving model may be most ethical, as it would continue improving to best serve community and industry. But frequent changes also risk confusion. Stability has value as well.
The tensions in developing an ideal cannabis classification system are many and varied, reflecting challenges that arise whenever science, culture, commerce and medicine intersect. An ongoing, iterative process may be the only ethical choice.
The debate reflects the broader challenges of science communication and balancing technical validity with practical accessibility. There are opportunities for educating consumers and promoting scientific literacy, but information must still be made digestible and not overwhelm inexperienced customers. The cannabis industry will need to thoughtfully navigate this challenge.
The cannabis industry has a responsibility to provide accurate information to customers, but that information must still be accessible and understandable to people with a range of scientific backgrounds. Technical terms like “chemotype” and “terpene profile” have value but may alienate newcomers. Education takes time, and an ideal classification system would meet customers at their current level of understanding while also inviting them to learn more as their interest and experience grows. Scientific validity and practical accessibility do not have to be mutually exclusive. A thoughtful system and education strategy could achieve both.
However, standardization typically requires some degree of simplification, and these risks omitting important nuance. The diversity of cannabis itself poses barriers to any strict classification system. The industry will need to determine how to achieve sufficient standardization for research and commerce without sacrificing acknowledgment of nuance, variation, and complexity. This is no easy balance, but one that responsible progress demands.
Standardization is important for research and commerce but may be difficult to achieve given the diversity of cannabis strains as well as personal variation in experiences. A system that accounts for nuance and the complexity of this plant may be most ethical. Strict categories could be counterproductive.
Standardization has obvious benefits: it allows for more rigorous scientific research, helps businesses develop and market products, provides consistency for consumer, and enables global trade. However, strict categorization and narrow standards may do a disservice to the diversity and complex nature of cannabis.
Individual experiences with the same cannabis strain can also vary. Differing cannabinoid receptors, tolerances, product usage history, and a host of other factors influence how people experience the effects of cannabis. An ethical classification system would acknowledge this human variability rather than imply that categories alone determine outcomes. Strict standards risk implying a universality of experience that cannabis does not actually have.
Some degree of practical categorization and standardization will be necessary to realize the benefits of orderly commerce and research. However, an ideal system would recognize diversity, emphasize the influence of individual genetics and biology, and avoid an oversimplification of categories that fails to capture the nuance of this plant or human variation. The ethical path is one of balance, not extremes.
There is no “perfect” solution, only the best option for current needs that requires continuous re-evaluation and progress. An adaptive, evolving model may be most ethical, as it would continue improving to best serve community and industry. But frequent changes also risk confusion. Stability has value as well.
There is no single perfect classification system for cannabis. Rather, the best approach is one flexible enough to evolve with progress and shaped by the diversity of community needs. However, frequent changes also introduce challenges. An ethical model would evaluate and refine regularly to meet both current and emerging needs, but balance progress against stability.
Cannabis research and applications are rapidly advancing. Community and industry understandings are also shifting, as once- marginalized groups gain mainstream access and exposure. A static model risks quickly becoming outdated and unable to serve the complexity of needs. However, constant changes confuse and alienate consumers, companies and healthcare professionals.
An ideal classification system would incorporate mechanisms for continuous re-evaluation and refinement, adapting to scientific and social progress. But it would also commit to a degree of stability, minimizing unnecessary variations and providing a consistent framework for education and commerce. It may outline a process by which categories evolve as knowledge improves, rather than make frequent overhauls. Updates would follow a predictable pattern allowing communities to anticipate and prepare for changes.
No single solution will suit all stakeholders or remain optimal indefinitely. Rather than searching for a utopian but static model, the cannabis industry requires an ethical framework for developing a practical taxonomy that can mature as understanding grows. This framework would determine when and how to refine categories and messaging to reflect progress, as well as the degree of consistency required for a meaningfully stable system. It would provide a roadmap for balancing evolving validity and practical stability.
An adaptive classification system, like the communities and industry it serves, requires ongoing work and re-evaluation. But consistent foundations and a coherent process for change allow progress to build upon itself constructively. The ideal approach is not to continually overhaul but build a taxonomy flexible enough for steady improvement yet stable enough to educate, resonate and empower. One able to change yet also provide a shared language for how people discuss, understand and access cannabis. This balance of new and familiar may be key to ethical, meaningful progress.
In summary, there are many perspectives on how to best categorize cannabis and develop an ideal classification system. The debate is complex with many trade-offs to consider. An approach that incorporates chemovars, chemotypes, and morphology while remaining adaptive may offer the best path forward, but it is also very possible the answer is simpler than even this idea. But ultimately, there is no perfect single solution — only what best balances current needs and allows for progress. The discussion is ongoing, and the search continues for a model or framework to guide this process, built to serve community and industry above all else.
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