Terpenes (general)

Cannabis Labeling Found to be Associated with Genetic Variation Terpene Synthase Genes

Written by Shawn Tucker

In the current cannabis culture, the labeling of sativa, indica, or hybrid may be meant to indicate aromatics, psychoactive effects, and genetic lineage. However, in a study by Watts, et al. (and in other studies), there is little-to-no correlation between these labels and the genetics or chemical makeup of a given cultivar. [1,2] “The Sativa–Indica scale currently used to label Cannabis poorly captures overall genomic and metabolomic variation.”

Watts et al showed the connection between labeling of indica versus sativa as correlated to the aromatic effects provided by specific terpenes.

“Sativa content was positively correlated with the concentrations of bergamotene and farnesene, which impart tea-like and fruity aromas, respectively.” The strong, earthy smell associated with indica was tied to the terpene myrcene.

These terpenes are found outside of the cannabis plant as well. Farnesene can be found in sandalwood, myrrh, ylang-ylang, and grapefruit. Bergamotene is a well-known citrus terpene also found in kumquats and limes. Myrcene can be found in numerous plants including wild thyme, cardamom, and hops.

In an article for LCGC, McGregor and Hughes said, “Profiling the terpene content in these [cultivars] is vital to provide accurate labelling of cannabis-based products.” [2]

Labeling cannabis cultivars accurately would provide consumers with the ability to better identify which cultivars (specifically their cannabinoids and terpenes) provide the effects they are looking for. When it comes to medical cannabis patients, this information becomes even more valuable.

For example, a patient who currently uses (what is labeled as) indica-dominant cultivars for the purported relaxing and pain-relieving effects, may find that it is a specific ratio of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol to cannabidiol (not to mention the minor cannabinoids) plus the amount of the terpene myrcene and other terpenes like caryophyllene that are important to their pain relief.

Watts et al state, “A practical and reliable classification system for Cannabis that is consistent with contemporary understanding of the terms ‘Sativa’ and ‘Indica’ may be achievable by quantifying a small number of terpenes and/or genotyping genetic markers associated with key Cannabis aromas.” [1]

Product manufacturers can take the confusion out of consumer purchasing by providing the certificates of analysis for their products. While these test results are not provided at dispensaries (to our knowledge), they could be, or they could be available on the manufacturer’s website. Knowing which cannabinoids and terpenes comprise a given product, and which other products contain similar chemistries will bode well for people seeking products for defined effects.



[1] Watts S, McElroy M, Migicovsky Z, Maassen H, van Velzen R, Myles S. Cannabis labelling is associated with genetic variation in terpene synthase genes. Nat Plants. 2021;7(10):1330-1334. [Journal Impact Factor=15.79; Times Cited=0]


[2] Piomelli D, Russo EB. The Cannabis sativa versus Cannabis indica debate: An interview with Ethan Russo, MD. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2016;1(1):44-46. [Journal Impact Factor=5.764; Times Cited=80]

About the author

Shawn Tucker

Leave a Comment