Traditionally the industry categorizes the marijuana plant by “Indica”, “Sativa”, and “Hybrid”. However, the more we learn about the hemp and cannabis plants, the more we discover this approach is flawed. It is becoming outdated. This historic system typically applies to cannabis, but does not translate well for the hemp industry as a whole. Research continues to show that we need a more sophisticated structure. One which accurately describes the different varieties of this unique plant. Once and for all, we will clarify how to navigate these plant varieties in a science led way.
We have discussed in the past that, according to science, hemp and cannabis are the same plant. We also know that this plant can do many different things based on its chemical makeup. This chemical makeup refers to cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds that the plant creates. Hence, the most accurate way we are today able to classify this plant is by its chemotype.
The word “chemotype” sounds pretty fancy. But, it’s actually a simple term when we break it down. Think of it as the blend of the words “chemical” and “type”. So really, we are trying to classify the cannabis and hemp class based on their chemical makeups. Currently, there are 5 types of chemotypes that focus on just the cannabinoids; Types I – V. Note that it does not consider the other compounds available in the plant, like terpenes. This is important as we will be looking at classifications based on terpenes in our next post!
Why are chemotypes important?
What are these chemotypes and why are they so important? The first 3 types are pretty straightforward. They finally give us a scientific difference between hemp and cannabis as we know it. To put it simply, Type I is high THC, low CBD content. Type II has a roughly 50:50 split of THC to CBD. While Type III is high in CBD and has a max amount of 0.3% THC. We dive into more detail for the full five types below.
Type I & II – cannabis
We categorise Type I as high in THC, and this is typically what we refer to as cannabis. It is also referred to as marijuana, too. We know that THC is psychoactive and is what causes the “high” associated with cannabis. Type II is less psychoactive than Type I. However, it still maintains a sufficiently high level of THC that would impair the consumer, albeit less so.
So, chemotypes I and II fall under the traditional cannabis category. These types are still illegal in a recreational sense in the U.K, EU and much of the US. However, they are increasingly available through medical programmes across the world, including the UK. Access is still limited, though.
Unfortunately, the lack of legality has stymied significant medical research of Type I and Type II categorized products. It is to the point that there is little expertise outside of the United States and Israel.
Type 3 – hemp
The Type III chemotype is where traditional hemp falls. As the U.K. and EU have recently raised the max THC limit to 0.3%, they now match US regulations. This further establishes said concentration as the standard THC limit for hemp. This reclassification now allows for consistency across the borders and truly establishes hemp as a Type III chemotype.
The physical effects of Type III products are significantly different than that of Type I and II. Type III is much more mellow and relaxed, and lacks the impairment that comes with Types I and II. Type III material is not psychoactive and will be the main focus for medical research in years to come.
Interestingly, while Type I and II will also go through significant testing for medical research, the associated “high” makes it difficult to prescribe as a kind of daily use-type medication.
Type 4 – rich in CBG
Type IV cannabis and hemp plants are gaining traction over the last year. These are plants which are high in Cannabigerol, or CBG. Researchers are interested in CBG because it binds directly to the body’s cannabinoid receptors. This is unlike CBD which does not do this. Further, it has a slightly higher affinity for binding to the CB2 receptors over the CB1 receptors.
Also, CBG is not psychoactive so it will not impair the consumer in the same way that THC does. Needless to say, there is a lot of excitement about CBG. But, we are still learning about its function and benefits to the human body. CBG does offer wellness benefits but it will take some time to quantify what those benefits will be.
Type 5 – no cannabinoids
Finally, we are at Type V of hemp and cannabis. This chemotype does not produce any cannabinoids at all! The science community is still figuring out what function they can serve. One idea is that they may be helpful in stabilizing the genetics of Types I – IV chemotypes, for example.
Drew Ford, our Hemp Advisor, says, “as we expand the industry I fully expect more chemotypes to be confirmed. This will happen as we stabilise more genetic variations which have a focus on the other minor cannabinoids. It is somewhat short-sighted to think we can classify this plant and its 113+ cannabinoids with just a few categories. By focusing on the chemical makeup we discover it is a much more accurate system to understand the amazing benefits of this plant”.