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    Using Terpenes to Call Bullshit on Your Weed Guy

    Written by

    Brian Anderson

    Features Editor

    Drug dealer (via Flickr / amarette)

    It's a classic first-world stoner predicament: Your guy rolls up with a veritable tacklebox of assorted and sticky product. You throw him some cash, and he plunks down a plump 8er of White Widow, a strain that you've just been, like, really jamming on lately. After a shared toke of good will and some awkward small talk, he carries on into that good night, off to the next customer. Alone, you blaze some more. (It's Friday, so fuck it.) You inhale good and deep, hold, and release. Ah yes, that's it. That's the stuff, right there. 

    One problem. You've got a pretty discerning pallette by this point and, well, This is not White Widow

    OK, so you're not 100 percent sure. (You are stoned.) It's just a hunch. The stuff looks like White Widow. The stuff is clearing the fogs of stress--a hallmark therapeutic trait of the Widow--that thickened throughout the work week. And yet it doesn't have that sweet, pine-y taste and scent so characteristic of the Indica-heavy strain, leaving you with the couch-sinking suspicion that your guy, standup dude as he is, made off like a bandit on a bit of false advertising. If only there were a way to prove it. 

    There is--and as it turns out, it may all come back to the proverbial sniff test. Sort of. It's one of a few threads teased out in a fascinating piece in High Times by Marin Lee that centers in on terpenes, those organic and resin-y compounds common to conifers and that are known in certain casual pothead circles as the shit that gives buds their distinct scents. Rigorous testing of cannabis for terpenes (or terpenoids) could well point to a future where picking up White Widow means picking up White Widow, and having some very sound science to back up the name and the score.

    The Widow (via Flickr / Lenny Montana)

    “A terpene analysis is like a fingerprint,” Jeff Raber, president of the Werc Shop, the LA-based analytical lab that in 2011 became the first to test cannabis strains for terpenes, tells Lee. 

    To date, the Werc Shop has analyzed over 2,000 weed strains for terpenes. (There are dozens, from Alpha-pinene, which spurs alertness and memory retention; to Linalool, an anxiolytic compound that dampens anxiety and stress and shows promise as an anticonvulsant; to Limonene, a terpene common in citrus that can alleviate heartburn and kill breast-cancer cells; to Myrcene, ideal for muscle relaxation.) Raber explains that this sort of testing is allowing his lab and others like it to flag misnamed strains. What's more, the Werc Shop is seeing numerous identical strains with the same terpene profile flying under different banners.

    “We’ve seen a dozen samples of Trainwreck, for example, that have a consistent terpene profile,” Raber tells Lee, author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana“And then we examine some bud purporting to be Trainwreck, but with a terpene content that differs markedly from what we know is Trainwreck. By testing for terpenes, we can often verify if the strain is what the grower or provider says it is.”

    But for those fortunate enough to have to worry about weed getting too good, it doesn't stop there. According to Lee, it may one day be possible to root out and verify the "genetic lineage of various strains" by way of terpenoid and cannabinoid analysis. Though it'd be a Herculean task demanding loads of research, folks like Raber could conceivably "be able to construct something akin to a marijuana family tree."

    Let your guy stew on that one. A Tree of trees.  

    Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. @thebanderson