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Indica strains are for nights in watching movies; sativa strains are for hanging out with friends; hybrids offer something of a mix. That, at least, is the simple formula for understanding strains that most smokers are familiar with, and a system that many cannabis companies rely on for marketing their products.

This taxonomy, however, is more a product of popular culture than science, says Nick Jikomes, principal research scientist at Leafly. Now Leafly, one of the organizations most responsible for popularizing the terms Indica, Sativa, Hybrid, is walking away from this language.

On Tuesday, the company is relaunching its massively popular cannabis categorization system in a manner that foregrounds the chemical composition of different strains, rather than the physical characteristics of the plants they come from – indicas, short and bushy; sativas, tall and thin.

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"In terms of chemistry, the indica, sativa, hybrid thing is really not a good map to help consumers find things in a reliable fashion,” said Mr. Jikomes.

“You can have something like Blue Dream, or something like Gelato, and they’re both hybrids, they’re both THC dominant, but they’ve got completely different terpene profiles. Or you could have something like ACDC, which is also a hybrid, but it’s CBD dominant. And so they’re going to have completely and utterly different effects for a consumer, and yet they’re all hybrids today,” Mr. Jikomes said.

With the brand refresh, Leafly’s website is changing how it uses the terms indica, sativa, hybrid, and introducing a new visual system that represents the chemical compounds contained in a given strain using a two-dimensional flower icon.

The colours of the icon corresponds to the terpene profile, the shape corresponds to whether it’s THC or CBD dominant, and the size of the shapes correspond to potency. Leafly has spent the past year and a half working with testing labs to source data on different strains.

"The designs that you’re seeing that will be on the strain pages come from aggregating data across thousands of batches, hundreds of growers, multiple labs, to create a composite of what certain strain names tend to look like from a chemical perspective,” Mr. Jikomes said.

“Of course we don’t want to stop there, because consumers aren’t buying strains generically. They’re buying specific products available at a specific location and a particular brand, and so we want to be working with those growers and brands to do the same visuals to bring their individual strains and products to life," he said.

Leafly will still crowdsource data on the effects of given strains. But it now intends to cross-reference these reported effects with their proven chemical profiles.

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The system of classification may be a shock for the industry, which still relies heavily on the indica, sativa, hybrid taxonomy for education and marketing purposes. The move could even be considered “provocative,” acknowledged Jo Vos, managing director of Leafly Canada.

Ultimately though, Leafly’s new visual language should be particularly welcome in Canada, where there are strict limits on what companies are allowed to communicate to customers about their strains, Ms. Vos said.

"From a Canadian perspective, consumers and the industry are really looking for a standardized system that helps them reliably navigate these products, and I think that solves some of the challenges that we’re seeing in store.

"Bud-tenders and front line staff are restricted around talking about medical claims, health effects and attributes, so by having a decoder and a standardized system, this is going to alleviate a lot of the pain points that consumers are facing when they’re actually shopping,” she said.

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