Unlike other plants, Cannabis sativa is excluded from regulation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Distinctive Cannabis varieties are ostracized from registration and therefore nearly impossible to verify. As Cannabis has become legal for medical and recreational consumption in many states, consumers have been exposed to a wave of novel Cannabis products with many distinctive names. Despite more than 2000 named strains being available to consumers, questions about the consistency of commercially available strains have not been investigated through scientific methodologies. As Cannabis legalization and consumption increases, the need to provide consumers with consistent products becomes more pressing. In this research, we examined commercially available, drug-type Cannabis strains using genetic methods to determine if the commonly referenced distinctions are supported and if samples with the same strain name are consistent when obtained from different facilities.
We developed ten de-novo microsatellite markers using the “Purple Kush” genome to investigate potential genetic variation within 30 strains obtained from dispensaries in three states. Samples were examined to determine if there is any genetic distinction separating the commonly referenced Sativa, Indica and Hybrid types and if there is consistent genetic identity found within strain accessions obtained from different facilities.
Although there was strong statistical support dividing the samples into two genetic groups, the groups did not correspond to commonly reported Sativa/Hybrid/Indica types. The analyses revealed genetic inconsistencies within strains, with most strains containing at least one genetic outlier. However, after the removal of obvious outliers, many strains showed considerable genetic stability.
We failed to find clear genetic support for commonly referenced Sativa, Indica and Hybrid types as described in online databases. Significant genetic differences within samples of the same strain were observed indicating that consumers could be provided inconsistent products. These differences have the potential to lead to phenotypic differences and unexpected effects, which could be surprising for the recreational user, but have more serious implications for patients relying on strains that alleviate specific medical symptoms.