Taste buds

Can you toke the difference between indoor, outdoor, sativa, indica, high-priced and inexpensive medical cannabis? Learn how—plus, our writer conducts a ‘Pepsi Challenge.’

My mom, age 54 and newly crowned “card-carrying” medical-cannabis patient, says she can’t tell the difference.

So did a patient friend: He, age 28, argued that the whole “sativa-indica thing” was a tease. Pot “gets you high,” he simplified, denying that strains have vastly different impacts on human biology or that, over time, their effects are discernible to even the least-discerning medical-cannabis patient.

He’s wrong, of course. But it begs the question: Can patients actually tell the difference between indoor, outdoor, sativa, indica, so-called “top shelf” or “bargain bin” medical pot?

I called a few local medical-cannabis dispensary owners, whose shoot-from-the-hip consensus was that probably half the patients out there really can identify one strain from another.

Being a stoner of science, I wanted more empirical evidence. And so, I recruited Mom, a 28-year-old friend and another patient, she of 34 years, to partake in a so-called “Pepsi Challenge”—of pot.

Here’s how it worked. I purchased four strains: 1) MTF, a top-shelf indica from Grass on 10th Street in Midtown; 2) Green Haze, a midpriced outdoor sativa, also from Grass; 3) Jamaican Lamb’s Bread, a top-shelf indoor sativa from Midtown Collective on P Street; and 4) a bargain-bin eighth of Blue Dream, an indoor sativa-dominant hybrid, from All About Wellness on 19th Street.

I gave all three challengers a thumb-sized nug of each strain, all unlabeled so they wouldn’t know which was which, and a list of questions. Over a four-day period, they would have to sample each strain and complete the questionnaire, which asked them to rank one through four: 1) Which strains are most expensive/least expensive? 2) Which strains are indoor/outdoor? 3) Which strains are indica/sativa/hybrid?

The results weren’t pretty.

Mom, surprisingly, fared the best. She nailed all the price-point questions, answering that both MTF and Jamaican Lamb’s Bread were the priciest buds, whereas Blue Dream was the most affordable and Green Haze was in the middle. That said, she bombed the indoor-outdoor quiz (Green Haze is the only outdoor, but she tagged it indoor), and also fudged the indica-sativa-hybrid query, only answering one correct (MTF as an indica).

The 28-year-old “he” and the 34-year-old “she” fared worse. Both tagged Blue Dream, what with its loose, flaky nugs and musty nose, as the least costly. But they choked on the indoor-outdoor query and, except for Blue Dream again, had no clue what was indica or sativa.

Sorry, but low marks across the board. Do not pass go, do not transfer units to Oaksterdam University. Fail.

Of course, it’s not really the patients’ job to tell one strain from the other; that’s why we have dispensaries (hopefully) to employ knowledgeable staff. Such as Kevin Friedrichsen, general manager at El Camino Wellness Center.

I called up Friedrichsen after my “Pepsi Challenge” experiment for tips on how patients can learn more about meds.

He says one of the first things to look for, before even differentiating between types of strains, is proper, sanitary packaging. Be wary of meds that are being opened in jars in the retail area; El Camino stores all its cannabis in glass in a separate room, where employees package buds in sterile casing behind the scenes, not on the sales floor.

Step two is to know what to look for when investigating medical cannabis. Most clubs, including El Camino, have “display” buds for patients to inspect, either with the naked eye or via a magnifying lens. Friedrichsen says to scrutinize: the nug structure, the nose or smell, and the trichome production.

Can you tell the difference?

He used a sativa OG strain as an example: “First thing you look for is the bag appeal,” or how well the bud is trimmed, dried and cured. This also includes the calyx-to-leaf ratio, or how much resin production the buds boast, and also the nugs’ density. He says to use a dispensary’s magnifying lens and specifically look for the “proximity, opacity and how bulbous the trichomes are.” Because if the trichomes are dense, cloudy and bursting with resin, it likely means the cannabis has been properly cultivated and handled by human hands the least amount possible. The proverbial “farm to table” bud, so to speak.

Next, the nose: An OG strain should have “that lemony, kind of dank smell.” Which is not true of all sativas, he explains, as a “perfectly cured Trainwreck will almost be a smack in the face, a really intense smell; or some kushes have sweeter noses, in some cases a vanilla bean scent.” Point being: Sniff around and know your scents.

This, in addition to lab-testing results that speak to cannabidiol and THC and other cannabinoids, will help you decide what to take home.

Once you get your buds home, Friedrichsen encourages patients to begin with the snap test: “You snap bud,” he begins, “and it should snap, and the reason it should snap is that all the water in the stem should be dried out, and it should be hallow and snap. And if it hasn’t been dried out, it will bend and fold, which means it has not been dried properly.” Undried buds also will impact the smell of the flower, as it will be musky, he adds.

And, finally, the ingestion or smoking of the cannabis. For Friedrichsen, the OG boasts a “very lemony citrus taste on the inhale and the exhale, and it has a lot of lung expansion in the smoke” with a cerebral, uplifting head high that you’ll feel immediately.

“To me, it’s the only medicine I can medicate with,” he explains. “It definitely increases my hunger, and it still allows me to function during the daytime.”

Try keeping a journal or notebook so you can go back and remember which meds had the best results.

And remember: Cannabis science is a new science. The federal government, what with it’s Schedule I classification of the drug, has stymied research over the years. So it’s on patients and dispensaries to slowly but intelligently disseminate the right way to hone taste buds and learn what all these various strains can do for all our numerous symptoms.

And that’s the true challenge.