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Inaccurate Names and Labels Are Hurting The Cannabis Industry

Does this sound familiar? You purchase a specific strain from a dispensary, enjoy it, and then decide to purchase it again. For whatever reason, you end up purchasing it from a different location and quickly discover that the aroma, flavor, and/or the effects aren’t the same. Unfortunately, experiences like this one are becoming more and more common. 

When consumers can’t rely on labels to give them accurate information about a product, it leads to confusion and distrust. While the inaccuracy of cannabis labeling was previously just speculation, a new study published in the journal PLOS One confirms it.

Bottom line, inaccurate or misleading cannabis labels are harming the cannabis industry in several ways. 

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Do “Sativa” and “Indica” Still Matter in the Cannabis Industry?

Study Results Reveal Inaccurate and Misleading Label Information

The study, which analyzed roughly 90,000 samples from legal markets across six states, is one of the largest cannabis analyses to date. 

“By comparing the observed phytochemical diversity to the commercial labels commonly attached to Cannabis-derived product samples, we show that commercial labels do not consistently align with the observed chemical diversity.” Essentially, the names and labels of cannabis products aren’t always accurate. This is a big problem for both consumers and businesses.

In particular, the findings show that terms like Indica, Hybrid, and Sativa are an unreliable indicator of effects. The samples they looked at tended to fall into three distinct groups: a group with high amounts of caryophyllene and limonene, another with high amounts of myrcene and pinene, and a third group with high amounts of terpinolene and myrcene. However, these groups don’t correspond with the previous categories of Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid. 

While these terms have been used commercially to distinguish between strains that are energizing and sedating, data from the study indicates that “even a simplistic labeling system, in which THC-dominant samples are labelled by their dominant terpene, is better at discriminating samples than the industry-standard labelling system.”

Strain names appeared more consistent (in terms of terpene profile) on average. However, that could be because “these names are more often attached to cultivars that are clonally propagated.” Ultimately, while strain names may be a better indicator of chemistry than Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid, they’re still “far from ideal.”

What’s more, researchers found most labels didn’t fully convey the full range of terpenes and cannabinoids. This is vital information that can help consumers better understand a product so as to make more informed decisions about purchases and consumption. 

Results Could Have Big Implications For Cannabis Industry

Not only could these findings influence the way that commercial Cannabis is classified, but it also has implications for consumer marketing regulations.

In a press release, Brian Keegan, co-author of the study and assistant professor of Information Science at CU Boulder, says “Our findings suggest that the prevailing labeling system is not an effective or safe way to provide information about these products. This is a real challenge for an industry that is trying to professionalize itself.”

The study also calls out the deceptive nature of some marketing. “Legal THC-dominant Cannabis products are marketed to consumers as if there are clear-cut associations between a product’s label and its psychoactive effects. This is deceptive, as there is currently no clear scientific evidence for these claims and our results show that these labels have a tenuous relationship to the underlying chemistry. 

The researchers suggest that the cannabis market develop an updated labeling system similar to the FDAs “nutrition facts panel” for food items.

How Can Cannabis Brands Build Consumer Trust?

Because cannabis isn’t federally legal in the US, it’s much more difficult to create an overarching, enforceable set of naming and labeling standards. That doesn’t mean, however, that brands can’t take matters into their own hands. 

The study ends with “Consumer-facing labeling systems should be grounded in such an approach so that consumers can be guided to products with reliably different sensory and psychoactive attributes.” That means brands should design packaging that accurately reflects the observed chemistry of a product (full cannabinoid profiles and terpene profiles).

To do that, however, more brands will need to invest in terpene and minor cannabinoid testing. While the cost of that testing may initially be expensive, as more brands participate in this testing the cost will likely go down. 

How Abstrax Tech is Working Towards a Stronger Cannabis Industry

As the only terpene company in the US that’s licensed to study, extract, and formulate terpene profiles completely in-house, we’re in a unique position. We can perform state of the art analyses that accurately capture and recreate the terpene profiles of a variety of samples. However, we’re taking things a step further.


Our Signature Series is created by working directly with the best cultivators to create the signature version of their flower’s terpene profile based off of our industry-leading analytics and the cultivar’s (strain’s) unique metabolite fingerprint.

Jack Herer Advanced Terpene Profile

Not only does this give cultivators the opportunity to capture lost revenue and grow their brand by licensing their own signature profile, it also gives consumers the opportunity to experience legendary cannabis strains as they were intended (regardless of where they choose to shop).

What’s more, our Signature Series gives 3rd-party companies the opportunity to sell 100% authentic products through a limited licensing agreement without expensive, complicated, and drawn out legal battles.

Welcome To The Next Age of Cannabis

If you’re ready to level-up your products and give consumers the real deal, then we invite you to try our Signature Series. These advanced terpene profiles were created in full collaboration with the original cultivators themselves to capture the truest expression of specific strains—and it all starts with our Jack Herer Advanced Terpene Profile

Jack Herer Signature Series

Contact us today to talk about using advanced terpene profiles in your products. Plus, don’t forget to follow us for all the latest updates.

READ NEXT → What is a Terpene Profile and Why is it Important?


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