Battle of the Shishkaberry

Six grows from five different licensed producers, Color Cannabis and WeedMD are grown at the same facility based on the ones I have here but offer different package dates and lot numbers. This post is a brief opener on the Shishkaberry contenders I evaluated, first let’s look at,

Aurora Cannabis

Quick note
– $8.79 a gram plus taxes on the medical website for 5 grams
– 14.6% THC / 0% CBD
– Myrcene 0.381%, Ocimene 0.181%, Caryophyllene 0.131%, Limonene 0.108%
– Packaged 24 days

As an Aurora Certified product this means it wasn’t grown by Aurora, I tried contacting Aurora on social media and on email and was advised they couldn’t disclose this information. The aromas and flavour on this were pretty good but lacked a good presentation, the loose leaf and shake thrown into the jar is what ruined the experience for me. The grow by Redecan and this grow was dominant in myrcene, while the others were dominant in the pinene terpene.

You may read the full review here at the link.

 

Color Cannabis

Quick note
– $5.70/gram includes taxes on Ontario Cannabis Store for 3.5 grams
– 12.28% THC / 0.02% CBD
– Pinene 0.189%, Caryophyllene 0.166%, Nerdolidol 0.088%
– Packaged 186 days

I ordered this after seeing it was cheaper than the medical stream via WeedMD, which is the grower of this. If you’re a medical patient of WeedMD the cost is $8 a gram plus tax, while at the time of writing this was $5.70 a gram with tax on OCS. While the package date doesn’t indicate the harvest date, this was 186 days in the container and showed concerning white spots over the buds, this wasn’t noticed on the medical order I had with the same flower but package date and lot numbers were different, also was packaged for 125 days on the medical order.

You can read more about this review at the link.

 

JWC

Quick note
– $9/gram plus taxes on JWC’s medical website for 5 grams
– 14.07% THC / 0.04% CBD
– 26.89% content b-Pinene, 18.58% b-Caryophyllene, Cymene 13.44%, Nerdolidol 11.69%
– Packaged 10 days

JWC’s grow of Shishkaberry was second in terms of bag appeal, you can see it had some trichome heads intact in the macro shot but the cost per gram didn’t line up compared to the other contenders at a cheaper rate which offered a more pleasant smoke experience. It’s hard to determine the actual terpene values for this one as JWC shows their info based on content amounts vs actual noted tested amounts like other licensed producers. This data will vary in general and should always be taken lightly as each batch will vary in amounts but a good baseline is always nice to see and that’s what we’re given. 

More can be read on this review at the link.

 

Redecan

Quick note
– $6.50/gram plus taxes on the Redecan medical website for 7 grams
– 15.9% THC / 0.07% CBD
– Myrcene 0.39%, Caryophyllene 0.14%, a-Pinene 0.11%, Limonene 0.11%
– Packaged 32 days

While not the cheapest of the bunch it certainly deserves recognition for being one of the cheaper ones with the best quality. Trichome heads were mostly intact and had the most overall, these are vital to cannabis and are one of my markers for good quality cannabis. I did encounter three seeds in this batch which isn’t great but were easily spotted and removed. This is the winner of the Battle of the Shishkaberry for its low cost and good quality. 

If you wish you can read more about the full review at the link.

 

Thrive

Quick note
– $9.50/gram plus taxes on the PureSinse medical website for 3.5 grams
– 15% THC / 0% CBD
– Pinene 0.20%, Linalool 0.12%, Bisabolol 0.07%, Camphene 0.06%
– Packaged 180 days

Being touted as premium and not being premium, this was my least liked Shishkaberry and was bought off the PureSinse medical website and was the most expensive one out of the six I bought. It was really dry and didn’t offer much of an aroma and needed the use of a Boveda humidity pack which came at my expense. The weak number of trichomes upclose and zipped off trichome heads were not appealing at all, nor was the 6 month package date.

You can read the full review at the link.

 

WeedMD

Quick note
– $8/gram plus taxes on the WeedMD medical website for 5 grams
– 15.86% THC / 0.03% CBD
– Pinene 0.189%, Caryophyllene 0.166%, Nerdolidol 0.088%
– Packaged 125 days

Ordered off the WeedMD medical website, this Shishkaberry grow was better than their branded version by Color Cannabis based on two different package dates. This had a higher THC percentage and didn’t have the concerning white spots that I found on the retail brand. The zipped off trichomes in the macro is quite a shame and reckon the cost per gram here is a tad high for the quality. I would buy this again, but wouldn’t be my first choice. 

You can read this in its full review at the link

Final Thoughts

If you skipped to this part the winner of the Battle of the Shishkaberry was Redecan’s grow. The cost per gram and quality compared to the others is what made it shine. One takeaway for others to know is that two grows from the same licensed producer on different dates can make a huge difference, what I see is not what you might see and results could be better or worse. Unsure if consistency is an issue over at WeedMD but this was the vibe I was getting based on these two grows and other products I’ve tried by them. Aurora had a nice product minus the shake and leaves added, but the zipped off trichomes like most of the others here were unfortunate and wouldn’t qualify as a high quality flower in my books. Well done Redecan on keeping them intact!

Article: Testing Old Cannabis and Why We Need Stability Testing

In Canada if you take a look at the label on the package of the dried cannabis flower you bought you might notice that an expiration date isn’t noted and says “No Expiry Date Determined”. In June of 2019 I had posted about two products that were eight months old and Thomas Fraleigh, President and Founder of Vivariant Laboratories reached out and was willing to test this aged cannabis as my concern was on potency loss and not getting the full value from my purchase.

Before we get into this further I’d like to caution that it’s hard to say a drop in THC is 100% due to age. As Thomas advised you’re always going to see a difference when you test a licensed producer (LP) bud and compare it to the label value. Below he speaks of the sampling challenges and stability testing, and from there I take the results and give my final thoughts.

Sampling Challenges

Cannabinoids are not distributed evenly across a cannabis plant. A bud sampled from the top of a plant and the bottom of the same plant can vary in concentration, same goes for different clones in a grow room. Even on a single bud the trichomes have a distribution I often liken to “marble cake”. 

When a customer provides a sample for potency we typically ask for a minimum of 1 gram but suggest 5 grams. We then grind the sample to a homogenous (even) powder from which we take the material we actually analyze. The grinding is an important step because it takes the variable product and creates an average however that average is only as good as the input material that the customer provides. If the customer only submits one bud, the average result we return will be reflective of that one bud. If they take six buds from various parts of the plant, we grind those to a powder and that average is then more reflective of the whole plant. 

But how many plants, and what parts of those plants do you pull from in order to sample a whole grow room at an LP? Unfortunately there is no clear guidance on that matter right now. Health Canada (HC) has very carefully removed themselves from responsibility for sampling stating instead that it is up to the LP to make sure that they have a “good protocol for sampling”. Health Canada has also not placed any formal size definitions on what constitutes a batch or lot, so you could have someone sending in 1 gram sample for a 10 KG batch or a 1 gram sample for a 100 KG batch. 

The only time that HC has ever formalized any cannabis sampling plans was the now-obsolete 2004 Industrial Hemp Technical Manual. During this era each and every hemp farmer had to have their field sampled by a third party lab to check that THC levels were below 0.3%. The lab would send a technician who would walk in a very specific manner through the field and collect 60 flowering inflorescences (think of a branch off the main stem with the leaves and flowers), divide those into two groups of 30, 30 stay with the farmer as a reference and 30 go back to the lab for analysis. The THC determination would be based on the 30 inflorescences sent to the lab. This document is now obsolete and these guidelines no longer apply. 

Today the only hemp farmers that have to do THC testing are those breeding viable seed and clear sampling protocols for that testing have not been re-issued yet. I call attention to this old document though because it’s the only time that HC has given clear sampling guidance for cannabis/hemp because they wanted to keep an eye on the “evil THC” in hemp. They don’t seem as motivated these days to issue guidance on sampling for determination of THC and CBD at the medical and adult use cannabis producers. While mandating 30 branches sample size from a cannabis crop to determine potency would cause the LPs to riot it would be nice to have some sort of sampling guidelines from HC on the topic. 

It’s important to note that even with a huge sample input amount, which is going to give you a great representative average, if you were to re-test buds from that batch against that value you will still have outliers. There were some articles going around in USA from when state markets and testing labs were coming online with headlines like “omg I sent my buds to two different labs and got two different results” and that is to be expected for all the reasons we discussed above. I had a friend ask once why we don’t present values in ranges which I thought was a good question. My thoughts are that people in general don’t like ranges and the labels are also confusing enough as it is today. If you were going to go with a range you would need to conduct multiple repeat tests so the cost would go up a lot as well.

Personally I think that the single value is sufficient, we do need more consensus on sampling practices. Note that for products like oil solutions sampling is less of an issue because as liquid solutions these products are more homogenous to begin with. The problem re-surfaces again in edibles and topicals though. Cannabinoids are highly viscous and difficult to blend. If your mixing process does not evenly mix your cannabinoid you’re back at marble cake again, perhaps literally! 


Stability Testing and ‘old ass weed’

When we were first introduced on the topic of some old cannabis you received from an LP. We discussed how testing cannabis for cannabinoids isn’t necessarily a clear indicator of stability. There seems to be a consensus that THC breaks down into CBN but the kinetics of that are poorly understood. Stability studies are used to determine expiration dates and shelf life. They involve taking many products in its final container and putting them in a room of controlled temperature and humidity (“stability chamber”) and periodically pulling some out for analysis. 

When you test for stability you need to have stability markers, for example, what do I test for to show that this material is still stable? One thing you could do is repeat the tests on the Certificate of Analysis (CoA) until it fails to meet spec. For cannabis there is no pass/fail limit for cannabinoid content and the variability in cannabinoid content in between buds (as mentioned above) is going to complicate this. 

So what else? Microbes are one option. Keep in mind that microbial cells don’t grow at low water concentrations so very dry cannabis won’t show much microbial growth over time. Pesticides are unlikely to magically appear unless they leach in from packaging components. Metals may be leached from the container over time, especially vape pen products. Terpene content may diminish over time. The thing is, I think you can have old cannabis that still passes quality control long after it has lost it’s bag appeal. Again, there’s no consensus on how stability studies are performed especially on dry flower. If you meet LPs who are engaged in GMP production this is an interesting question to ask them as all GMP products must bear an expiration date and that expiration date needs to be determined by stability studies. 

The lab results

First in the lab Jean Guy was tested from Aphria which I ordered from the Cannabis by Shoppers Drug Mart (SDM) medical program. The label was stated this was packaged October 9th 2018 and was tested on September 18 2019, the potential THC amount was noted at 17.24% on the bottle.

According to this report the Total THC amount was 16.9%, a slight loss compared to the advertised potential of 17.24%. 

The second lab tested product didn’t fair as well and was Rockstar from Tilray which was also ordered from the SDM medical program. The package date was October 17 2018 and as tested September 18 2019, the potential THC amount was noted at 24% THC on the bottle.

According to the lab report the Total THC amount was 18.2%, that’s a large difference and not the potential 24% THC I paid for.

Final thoughts

One product had a tiny change and one significantly had a lower value. The takeaway here is the word “potential” THC on the label and the proper need of stability testing to determine when quality begins to degrade and when does it go bad. The cannabis I had wasn’t expired but the quality wasn’t where it should’ve been.

Vivariant Laboratories is one of the authorized laboratories in Canada to conduct analytical testing of cannabis under the Cannabis Act, and you can find more about them at vivariant.com for more details on potency testing that starts at $125 each and you can reach Thomas Fraleigh directly on Twitter under the handle @tfraleigh.

Thanks for reading!

Licensed Producer Tour: James E. Wagner Cultivation (JWC)

The tour experience

This was my first tour of a cannabis facility, and I must say I’ve never seen that many cannabis plants in my life, it was unreal. Nathan and Laura were my tour guides for two and a half hours, I asked some questions and learned a bit on the business of cannabis. Also, no soil plants here, JWC only uses aeroponics to grow cannabis and as JWC puts it, “Aeroponics is a plant-cultivation technique in which the roots hang suspended in the air while being periodically misted with nutrients and water.” 

I enjoyed walking the halls of the connected rooms in my marshmallow-like suit, the environment was really clean and made me feel happy knowing this is where I get my medicine from.

How I got a tour

It started with a Twitter joke Cory Philion (@c_philion) made originally about us going together on a tour, someone I never met but had casual online conversations with. A few weeks later JWC had a contest for a branded hat, and I made a comment, “A tour would be nice too”, and Laura Foster, Chief Compliance Officer at James E. Wagner, asked me to direct message and it was set from there.


After reading the recent AMA on Reddit that Nathan Woodworth, CEO of JWC took part in, I’m excited to hear their that JWC is currently working with provincial retailers to bring its products to the recreational market in the coming months.

 

Thanks for reading and big thanks to Nathan and Laura for taking the time out of their day to show me how a cannabis company works day to day.