Friday, July 7, 2017

Judging Medical Cannabis:

What It Takes For A Valid Strain Review

Photo via Twitter

What does it take to be a flower judge reviewing a strain of medical cannabis? What is the process? What do you look for? How do you know the strain review is accurate? Just as the person sitting down to do a strain review has a head full of questions to address, so should you when reading strain reviews about medical cannabis. Taking into consideration the person, people or publication reviewing and judging strains is just as important to factor in as the strain review itself. When it comes to choosing the right medical cannabis strain, you’re always your own best judge, as just a few strains have common effects but most all cannabis varieties will affect each patient/person differently. And in today’s medical cannabis world; we’ve gone from the basic flower strain reviews to also having new products (edibles, tincture, bho, extracts, vapes, CBD products, hash, etc.) and new dosing methods developed - all providing new benefits for the patients and providing new reviews for patients to consider. Some reviews and judging are done to provide information while other reviews and judging are competitions between products—much like a wine tasting, or a BBQ cook-off—and the results are being taken quite seriously.

The first question that should be asked is, 'Who are the judges, and what qualifies them?' Additionally questions like:  How do prospective judges demonstrate their exceedingly high levels of cannabis knowledge? Is there a test? Is accreditation involved? Or is this more of a bro-brah selection process? Especially considering it’s medical cannabis and a person’s health and wellness can be resting on these decisions -more importantly, the substances being evaluated are also medicines. For example, if the review of strain by a judge includes “how high the product got them”, the medical cannabis patient should disregard the reviews by that judge- as judging intoxication of something is an oxymoron. What the medical cannabis community cares about is, is the medical cannabis product good medicine or not? And getting high from it doesn’t tell you that.(Keep in mind the results have the ability to make or break multi-million dollar businesses at bigger Cannabis Cups. Is it in the hands of unqualified stoners?)
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Take for example of the well known High Times Magazine Cannabis Cups, they modeled it after wine and beer competitions. Because of logistics and time restraints in running a competition of this size, Cup judges have only eight days to judge their kits that contain over 50 product for that category. Eight days does not leave these judges enough time to do a valid assessment, imagine trying to review 50 different micro brews in less than a week...An interesting difference, however, is that wine sommeliers generally do not consider a wine’s ABV content in any other way than how it affects taste—wine snobs certainly don’t describe the buzz—while THC levels are of the utmost significance in cannabis assessment. Wine somms are mostly concerned with the areas listed in the qualitative score: The color, the smell, and the taste, as well as the mouth feel, the terroir, etc. of the wine.

The world of drinking wine is all about pleasure, it’s not about pleasure and medicine. So when wine sommeliers assess wine, it’s more of an art. They paint a picture: I know this grower; I can taste the weather pattern; I can taste this year in this geography. And when you drink wine, you feel really good. There are types of alcohol that are more uplifting, like tequila, and types of alcohol that are more sedating, like wine. But cannabis is a herbal drug that can be a sedative, a stimulant, a hallucinogen, or a combination of those things. So it takes much more analysis and science to gauge how you’re about to feel when consuming this flower. Much more so than what wine sommeliers go through. It’s very different.

The burgeoning medical cannabis industry is in a potentially better place to provide a more accurate assessment of cannabis than wine sommeliers can for wine. Medical Cannabis has more science available to it to help identify strains and provide accurate quantifiable measurements about the products. Ideally, a medical cannabis sommelier could paint a lovely, romantic picture of the product being served and offer his/her opinion on it, much like a wine somm, but the canna somm will also be armed with actual scientific data—something relatively foreign when reviewing other non-medical products.

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At what is probably the most respected cannabis review and judging competition in the world, The Emerald Cup in Northern California, they have devised high quality standards and protocols for the competition by some of the best growers in the world. The Emerald Cup uses a combination of scientific lab testing, look, smell, taste, and medical effect in the judging of cannabis products. And just as important as the judging criteria is the time those judging and reviewing products at the Emerald Cup are provided. The Emerald Cup is held in mid-December each year and the judging for the competition starts in November, allowing well over a month for the review and judging process.

As we learn more about how cannabinoids and terpenes interplay and the medical benefits the plant provides, testing for safe consumption is becoming paramount. Ever buy a box of strawberries only to take them home and find the fat one in the center is a moldy mess? No one likes that. So, why would someone consider buying cannabis products with mold? Look at it as medicine or as an adult-use substance: either way, cleanliness remains important.

Just because a consumer/patient may not be able to visually spot moldy flowers doesn’t mean growers/producers aren’t responsible for providing clean cannabis.

In value-added products like cannabis-infused chocolate or bubble hash, there is no visual way to identify such contaminants (much less pesticides or fungicides), so testing is even more important.

Those reviewing strains should be looking for the judging “the entourage effect” — that combination of lab testing results, looks, taste, smell and effects that will leave your body’s equilibrium feeling balanced and good.  While reviewing strains, to avoid a cumulative effect of judging to many in to short of time, it helps to take a little walk, eat some grounding healthy food, or work on a project. There are always few strains that are “creepers”, they’ll suddenly hit you upside the head and that impairs the strain reviews being done.

So what do Judges look for in the perfect bud?  
“We begin with the Looks of course – is she dense or fluffy? Does she have a clean trim, definitely by hand, that defines the shape of the bud? No loose messy buds ever get far. Is she covered in crystals, and what are her color variations? Do the Trichomes still have their heads? These are just the first of many considerations said Nikki Lastreto, who has judged every Emerald Cup contest since its inception 14 years ago.

Over the past years, as the wonders of Terpenes have been discovered, the next category has taken on a whole new meaning. The Fragrance is so very important and can actually tune us into what to expect from the entire experience. Swami and I have trained ourselves to be as subjective as possible when smelling the bud. Rather than offhandedly suggesting, “This is so Blue Dream”, for example, we try to search our olfactory references for what the smell really brings to mind. Lemon meringue pie perhaps? A gym at the end of a basketball game? Moldy towels from under the sink? An orange creamsicle? The variety is endless!”

As a medical cannabis patient or adult use consumer of cannabis; What should You be Judging when looking at a cannabis strain review?
If the strain review is in a print publication or magazine, is the reader provided any details on the judging process and credibility of person doing it? In New Mexico, we see this often of publications doing strain reviews and without those key details there is little validity to those reviews being done. Also be aware of judges who are reviewing multiple strains and cannabis products in a row in the same day or in a party setting - all aspects that make the judges process invalid for doing medical cannabis strain reviews.

Is the judge being provided a benefit for doing the cannabis product review? As we have already seen in New Mexico with producers giving products to people for reviews and that process leads to bias in the review. If it’s a magazine doing strain reviews, are the producers whose strains are being reviewed, advertising in the publication...and are those who are paying for the advertisement getting better reviews and getting ranked better over those who aren’t buying advertisement. In one quarterly magazine that has become a clear issue.

How transparent is the reviewing and judging process? If people have to hide from the medical cannabis community at large and meet in secret to conduct what they may think is a cannabis judging contest, then those doing so have already failed with the structure used. A group of people gathering at a headshop with a bunch of different kinds of cannabis products in a party atmosphere - is just that, a group of people at a party getting stoned.  And a chronicle like that has nothing to do with medical cannabis or providing a valid strain/product reviews. The recent video of this in my mind of a bunch of stoners sitting around smoking/ingesting all of those concentrates and flower, and then trying to provide a serious evaluation of the quality of each, is both comical and sad.  Even more sad is those few who are employed by producers, patients and even patient advocates from non-profits doing this, acting as if they are better than all the other 44,000 people in the medical cannabis program.

Photo Credit: Leafly

Most of the strain reviews you see on
Medical Jane, WeedMaps or Leafly (all are great educational resources if you haven’t looked at it them) are broad overviews that aren’t specific to individual growers or products. These sites have some very nice basic strain overview information, including a list of effects, benefits and negatives – and often has some history of how each strain came to be. When it comes to choosing the right medical cannabis strain, you’re always your own best judge as a few strains have common effects but most all cannabis varieties will affect each patient differently.

Finding the best strain of medical cannabis along with the best delivery method is the key to getting the most benefits from your medicine. Getting “the biggest bang for your buck” is also very important for many people; you don’t want to waste money on a product that doesn’t work for you.

For the new medical cannabis person, initially, there is a lot of trial and error required to finding the ideal strain/delivery method. This may hold true, as well, for the seasoned user with all the newly developed strains and choices of delivery now available.

A medical cannabis patient medication log is a great tool that allows you to keep track of your medical cannabis usage and will ultimately lead you to your goal of improving your health and not just treating it by knowing the best strain/method to achieve that.

Treat the Condition and not just the Symptom.

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