Cannabis fingerprinting is a general term for the analytical characterization of a cannabis strain. This could include one or both of the following techniques:

  • Chemical profiling of a strain’s main active compounds such as cannabinoids and terpenes
  • Genomic profiling to characterize the genetic identity of a strain

Like a person’s fingerprint, this type of analysis provides a unique and traceable identifying profile for individual strains as well as specific harvests from cannabis producers. Fingerprinting was even considered by U.S. law enforcement as a viable way to track the source of illicit cannabis samples.

Why Fingerprinting? The Need for Consistency Across the Industry

A growing number of states have legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational use. This has led to an explosion in the number of dispensaries and legal cannabis producers across the country. As a result, consumers are likely to see certain popular strain names popping up again and again in different shops and different states.

But how similar are strains that share the same name? A 2019 study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research analyzed genetic markers in more than 30 strains from dispensaries in three different states. The researchers looked for genetic commonalities between strains labeled as Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid as well as strains carrying the same name purchased from different locations. They found no obvious distinction between strains labeled Sativa and Indica, and strains sharing the same name showed many genetic inconsistencies.

These results underlie a major problem in the cannabis industry: consistency. Third party testing helps in part by ensuring that legally sold cannabis is contaminant-free and consistent in terms of the labeled potency. However, there’s currently no way for suppliers or consumers to verify the identity of specific strains. Cannabis fingerprinting could help bring a much needed consistency and transparency to the industry.

Steps Towards Industry-Wide Adoption

Some regions are trying to make cannabis product information more widely available and easy to track. In California, the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control enacted a QR code system to help consumers and law enforcement identify licensed suppliers. Canada similarly established a national Cannabis Tracking and Licensing System to keep tabs on the movement of large quantities of legally produced cannabis within the country’s supply chain. However, both regions have stopped short of implementing a comprehensive system for cannabis fingerprinting.

In the absence of government action, those in the industry are taking on the task. Several companies are currently working on “seed to sale” services that allow growers to track genetic, chemical, and contaminant data and make it available at the point of sale. In August 2020, the U.S. scientific instruments company Bruker announced a new partnership with the Canadian biotech company Purity-IQ. By combining Bruker’s experience with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) based screening and Purity-IQ’s genomics expertise, the two companies hope to develop a system to bring strain identity testing and traceability to the cannabis industry.

Until cannabis fingerprinting becomes more widely adopted, cannabis testing remains the best way to ensure all legally sold cannabis is contaminant free and accurately labeled for potency. Encore Labs offers comprehensive testing services for cannabis growers and producers in California. Contact us today to learn about our California compliance package and options for R&D testing.