The cannabis industry’s sativa, indica and hybrid terminology leaves much to be desired when it comes to optimizing patient care and consumer experiences. Instead, budtenders and medical practitioners should look to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cannabinoid and terpene science to more effectively communicate with patients and consumers, as well as earn their trust.
Emma Chasen set out to do just that when she created the role of Director of Education at Farma, a Portland-based dispensary, where she developed a robust training curriculum rooted in cannabis science, product knowledge and empathetic patient care. Here, Chasen, now the co-owner of Eminent Consulting, shares why it’s time to replace the indica-sativa dichotomy with science and education for better patient and consumer outcomes.
Cannabis Dispensary: What is problematic about the indica-sativa dichotomy?
Emma Chasen: To me, it comes down to the lack of predictability and consistency that you can give to patients. Indica and sativa are colloquial vernacular terms that the community has adopted to have these consistent definitions regarding the experience that we can predict when we consume a variety. Indica is known as the “in the couch,” super-sleepy experience, whereas sativa is generally known as uplifting and stimulating. My problem is not so much that these terms have come to these definitions, even though at their inception or creation in the 1700s, they were only representative of plant morphology, the way that the plant grew. But my problem is when budtenders or retail cannabis professionals or really anybody who is acting as a guide for new patients or new consumers who are coming to cannabis, when they’re using this kind of dichotomy to predict experience for consumers, that is where the problem really lies.
Most everything on the current cannabis market that’s available widely is made up of hybridized genetics. So, we don’t really even have varieties that fit very neatly into these indica and sativa species categories anymore. Even if at one point the indica and sativa species did provide consistent experience, we just don’t have that genetic population.
Instead, I call on industry professionals and any industry guides to look to the actual chemical compounds found within the matrix of these cannabis varieties because that will be a much better dataset to look to when predicting experience. There’s a lot more scientific legitimacy when we actually look at the compounds and the way they interact compared to these antiquated species differentiations. And the more accurate we can get our definitions for our patients, the better time they will have with cannabis. At this point, the industry is still nascent, it’s still evolving, and we can’t afford to lose any newcomers. We need people who will actually have good, satisfying experiences with cannabis and begin to really develop their relationship with it, reimagine what this plane could do for them to help the industry grow.
CD: How can the industry benefit from discussing cannabis in terms of cannabinoids and terpene science rather than using indica/sativa terminology? How can cannabinoid and terpene science improve patient care and customer experiences overall?
EC: Shifting to more of an analysis of chemotype will just help people to have a better relationship with cannabis. There’s still a lot of pervasive stigma. There’s still a high intimidation factor when people look to integrate cannabis into their lifestyle due to the century-long brainwashing catalyzed by the war on drugs. People have a lot of unlearning to do, so if you look at this as, “OK, we’re actually providing some scientific legitimacy here,” it helps to assuage a lot of people’s fears, and that’s what I see as being the most impactful.
CD: What should education and training programs entail for budtenders when it comes to educating them on the endocannabinoid system and the fallacies of the indica/sativa terminology?
EC: For the last three years now, I’ve actually been workshopping a curriculum and creating a training program specifically targeted for budtenders and retail cannabis professionals. What I’ve found is looking at the fundamentals of cannabis science—so, going through the indica/sativa dichotomy and breaking down that myth and then looking at cannabinoids, terpenes, as well as the ECS—and then also just discussing the entourage affect and how we can optimize cannabis medicine by including a diverse, large range of compounds within the matrix of these products that then get developed to maximize the symptom relief.
Then, I go into general product information and information around consumption methods, looking at the delivery systems available in cannabis, looking at the bioavailability of those different delivery systems, the onset of the effect, the duration of the experience, what’s happening physiologically when you eat and edible versus when you smoke and some different helpful tricks you can provide to consumers, such as microdosing or keeping a consumption journal, so that your patients or consumers can just have the best possible experience that they are looking for.
Finally, [it’s] going into more of the “compassionate client care,” the art of consultative sales. Selling cannabis is not just another retail job. There is some finesse that comes into play, not only with compliance by having to modulate the language that you’re using in order to not make any medical claims, but also, you are servicing people who have questions that their doctors can’t even answer, who are sharing vulnerable, intimate information about their lifestyles. To be able to show up to that with active listening, with tailoring your body language, with just the general language and tone we use when we speak to patients and consumers—all of those three parts are what I deem to be really essential for a training program for the budtender population.
CD: How else might this new approach to cannabis science affect a dispensary’s overall business and day-to-day operations?
EC: I think it does necessitate an approach of quality over quantity. [Dispensaries should be] sourcing high-quality products where the makers—the vendors, the cultivators, the manufacturers—are taking great care and actually producing high-quality medicine for people. In my opinion, that means organic cultivation modalities with a care for their employees, the people who are on the team, sourcing genetics, small batch/craft [cultivation] and formulation processes for manufactured products, looking at organic manufacturing along with full-spectrum methodology to be able to retain the most compounds possible.
I think that once we start to educate our budtenders, then it will become apparent that, “Oh, we don’t want to sell this really crappy $8 lollipop if there’s not good source material there.” We all saw what happened with the vape pens and how low quality can impact people’s health, and that’s such a shame when we have this therapeutic plant that has so much potential to be manufacturing it in such a way that adds contaminants to favor profits over people. That is a huge disservice to the industry and to the plant, as well.
I think, overall, integrating education will increase your ROI from a business standpoint. Just having that customer retention and loyalty, which is so hard to gain in any industry, especially now in cannabis with the insanely high competition that we experience—especially here in Oregon—it’s essential to have an educated staff who can benefit patients so they’ll want to keep coming back to that shop for the information, as well as the high-quality product.
CD: What do you hope attendees will bring back to their business from your session at Cannabis Conference 2020?
EC: I really hope they will be inspired to integrate education in some way. It does not have to cost a lot of money, which I think that is the biggest obstacle when we talk to businesses about education, is they’re just so strapped for funds, given 280E and competition. People who are handling the plant are generally suffering [financially], so by talking about any extra to add on to a business, it just becomes more of a burden for the business owner. However, there are some really easy ways to integrate education into the workplace just by hiring people who are intellectually curious, who want to learn more, who want to take on more tasks just so they can better help their patients.
That’s how it started at Farma all those years ago, just by doing something a little bit extra for the staff so that they could talk to vendors, so they could have these educational sessions where they have access to information. We took it upon ourselves to just start analyzing the lab results and providing little write-ups and compiling research and all this extra stuff that didn’t necessarily come within our defined job responsibilities, but that we wanted to do to make the shop better and make ourselves better. And like I said, that doesn’t cost any money from the employer or the employees.
I hope after the session, business owners are more inspired to infuse their business with education without feeling such anxiety about the bottom line.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.