At the Trichome Institute, Students Learn to Predict Cannabis Effects by Aroma

Is Interpening Legit, or Just Difficult?

When students reach Level 2 of the interpening program, they must take a test in which they plot anonymous strains on the indica to sativa spectrum using only their nose–and only about 10 percent of exam takers will pass and achieve their interpening certification. But is the test really that difficult, or is there a problem with the method?

“If there are distinctions between available cannabis ‘strains,’ such phenomena are most likely related to relative terpenoid contents and ratios.”

Dr. Ethan Russo

“I’m super confident in basing strain classification on aroma. I’m 100% solid on that,” Montrose told Leafly. “What I also respect is how hybridized these flower types are.”

Cannabis can contain more than 200 different terpenes, some of which deliver more intense aromas than others.

“Let’s say 150 of them are more sedative terpenes, but you still pick out that strong citrus note because it’s sharp, it’s strong, and you’re familiar with it,” Montrose said. “But maybe there are many more terpenes that have a pharmacy of being more sedative.” In this way, interpening can sometimes be incredibly difficult for the initiate.

Arizona resident Kiley Kane uses a flashlight to observe a flower during a sommelier class at SOHI Art Gallery in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

“Someone else besides me will need to design a test to prove this theory,” Montrose said, when asked how interpening will be fact checked in the future. He mentions using neurological studies someday to bring empirical evidence to the correlations.

Research on cannabis terpenes is already on the rise, thanks in large part to neurologist and psychopharmacologist, Ethan Russo. “If, as many consumers and experts maintain, there are biochemical, pharmacological, and phenomenological distinctions between available cannabis ‘strains,’ such phenomena are most likely related to relative terpenoid contents and ratios,” Russo stated in a paper titled “Taming THC.”

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THC and CBD cannot be solely responsible for all the nuanced effects of cannabis flower, and as educated consumers shift their thinking towards terpenes, it makes sense to teach and engage practices such as interpening.

Montrose gives the example of Banana Kush and Golden Goat, two strains he found with identical cannabinoid profiles. “They were both 22% THC, 1.5% CBD, and 0.5% CBN,” he said. “So why does one flower make you feel like you can clean your whole house while the other makes you feel like you can’t lift a pinky? What’s the difference if their cannabinoids are identical? It’s terpenes. And terpenes are complex.”

Interpening in a Rapidly Changing Industry

Trichome Institute sales and operations manager Rollie Hermoso points out different aspects of a flower during a sommelier class at SOHI Art Gallery in Denver, CO. (Daniel Brenner for Leafly)

While appreciating the nuances of cannabis aroma could be as much of a hobby as coffee, beer, or wine tasting, interpening serves purposes beyond enjoyment or bragging rights. It allows patients and consumers to be more confident in their selection of a product–a product whose label often lacks the real information they need.

“Interpening is important for people today because it helps them select what they are getting in a time period where that’s a challenge in our industry,” Montrose said.

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Even in legal, regulated states where lab testing is mandated, consumers typically only know:

  • The strain’s name, according to the grower
  • Its indica, sativa, or hybrid classification, according to the grower
  • The cannabinoid content (THC, CBD, etc.)

It’s become commonplace to rely on just a single facet of a product, such as THC percentage or strain name. For many consumers, that’s enough, especially if they aren’t insistent on a particular experience or therapeutic benefit.

But Montrose thinks we can do better for the wide variety of consumers that exist, like the insomniacs who need to know they’ll be able to sleep at night. The novice consumer looking for a relaxed first time experience. The person treating depression who requires a stimulating strain to stay up and out of bed. We can do better for anyone who just wants more out of their experience, because the world of cannabis is an ever-expanding playground if we take the time to learn more about it.

“Even if you’ve smoked cannabis for 10 years, it still isn’t anywhere close to what you think it is,” Montrose said. “There’s so much more to know about it.”


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