In the realm of recreational indulgences, there exists a tapestry of culture and language that binds enthusiasts together in the pursuit of refined tastes. Whether it’s wine, cigars, whiskey, or even coffee, each of these domains boasts a rich vocabulary and storied history, enabling aficionados to articulate their preferences with precision and explore bespoke profiles tailored to their liking.
Wine enthusiasts delve into the intricacies of tasting notes, bottling years, terroir, and decanting times, while cigar and spirits connoisseurs navigate a plethora of distinctive descriptors ranging from tobacco leaves to countries of origin. Even coffee aficionados have at their disposal the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon, a comprehensive tool born out of collaborative efforts among industry experts to understand and measure coffee’s myriad flavors and aromas.
At the heart of these pursuits lies a lexicon—a standardized vocabulary meticulously crafted by trained panelists to describe a wide range of sensory attributes in a product. This lexicon serves as the foundation for communication among consumers and experts, fostering a shared passion and facilitating meaningful discourse within each community.
However, the cannabis community, despite its burgeoning prominence in recent years, has long languished in the shadows, lacking a refined lexicon comparable to those of its counterparts. Rooted in street vernacular and anecdotal wisdom, the jargon surrounding cannabis has struggled to evolve beyond terms defined centuries ago. Unlike the well-established lexicons of wine or spirits, cannabis lacked true connoisseurs until the wave of legalization propelled it into the mainstream consciousness.
A Historical Perspective on Cannabis Classification
It is only in the past five to ten years that a serious discussion about cannabis consumption has emerged, accompanied by the development of a specialized vocabulary aimed at articulating the nuances of the plant. Yet, the industry still relies on an ancient classification system primarily based on the plant’s morphology.
The classification of cannabis strains based on terms like “sativa” and “indica” traces its origins back to the 18th century, with Carl Linnaeus initially differentiating between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Further refinement came in 1785 when Jean Baptiste Lamarck coined the term cannabis indica, specifically referring to a species more prevalent in India. Throughout the 20th century, classification evolved with the advent of photographic evidence and genetic studies, ultimately leading to the categorization of cannabis strains based on chemical footprints.
A New Language for Cannabis: Terpene Classification
As the legal cannabis industry continues to expand globally, there is a discernible shift towards a more sophisticated understanding of cannabis beyond mere THC percentages. Flavor has emerged as a primary differentiator, with consumers increasingly valuing the diverse sensory experiences that cannabis flowers offer.
Central to this shift is the recognition of terpenes—the aromatic compounds found in cannabis—that define flavor profiles and tasting notes. While terpenes undeniably play a significant role in aroma variations, recent studies have challenged the belief that they alone drive strain variations. Instead, a nuanced perspective has emerged, highlighting the importance of minor, nonterpenoid compounds such as volatile sulfur compounds, indole derivatives, and esters in shaping cannabis aromas.
This paradigm shift challenges the industry’s terpene-centric approach and introduces the concept of “exotic scores,” which emphasize the significance of flavorants beyond traditional terpenes in influencing strain aromas. By acknowledging the role of these compounds, consumers are encouraged to follow their noses into the evolving world of cannabis aromas, recognizing the multifaceted nature of their psychoactive appeal.
Empowering Consumers Through Language
To elevate the cannabis experience, a more nuanced language has emerged to express individual preferences in flavor profiles and tasting notes. This newfound lexicon enables cannabis users to articulate their desires with precision, enhancing the consumer experience and fostering a more refined community.
By shifting the focus from THC percentages to flavor, the cannabis community aligns itself with other adult leisure pursuits, infusing depth and language into the culture. Just as wine enthusiasts engage with sommeliers, cannabis users can now dialogue with budtenders about their preferences, deepening their understanding and appreciation of the plant.
In conclusion, the cultivation of a refined language for cannabis connoisseurship not only enhances the consumer experience but also fosters a more sophisticated and interconnected community among enthusiasts. As the industry continues to evolve, this elevated discourse serves as a testament to the growing maturity and cultural significance of cannabis in contemporary society.
Follow on Instagram: @terpeneflashacards @tonybowlesconsulting
Feature Photo Credit: Courtesy of J. Ward
Tony has been involved in the cannabis industry for 20+ years, a long-time patient advocate and organizer with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). He’s currently Chair of the Bay Area Safe Access chapter and is the creator of the original Terpene Flashcards at terpeneflashcards.com