The first time I ate a pot brownie, I finished the entire thing in one evening. Six hours later, I was lying awake, heart pounding out of my chest, kaleidoscopic patterns twirling before my eyes. I hadn’t realized how different edibles could feel from smoked flower. Nine years later, I still mostly avoid them, unsure whether I’d had too much that night, or if brownies aren’t for me.
But with DNA testing, you can now find out what kind of cannabis is your best fit — and what to avoid. “This is a market that isn’t about the stoner, [but] about the curious consumer,” says Dean Crutchfield, chief business officer of Omē CannabisDNA. DNA testing, he says, reduces the learning curve and offers control over the cannabis experience.
Think of weed as a formulation of cannabinoids — chemical compounds like high-inducing THC and the non-intoxicating CBD — and terpenes, aromatic compounds that give a distinct flavor to your high. These compounds act upon receptors throughout the endocannabinoid system, which regulates physiological functions like sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. Not only is everyone’s endocannabinoid system unique, but we each have a different likelihood for anxiety, slow metabolism, and other factors that affect how we’ll react to various cannabis strains and modes of consumption.
“Think of us as a scientific matchmaker for cannabis,” says Len May, CEO of biotech company Endocanna Health. “We provide you with your personalized ratio of cannabinoids and terpenes that align best with your genetic profile.” Just as 23andMe tests genetic risk for things like Alzheimer’s or celiac disease, a swab of saliva carries enough information to evaluate sleep quality, pain sensitivity, and cognitive function, as well as propensity for conditions like anxiety, psychosis, and dependance. But the particular makeup of the product will determine whether it helps or exacerbates something like anxiety.
Meanwhile, metabolic function determines how long cannabinoids linger in your system. A slow metabolism means you’ll need less THC to feel its effect. And with CBD, because the compound can act as an uptake inhibitor, reducing the efficacy of certain pharmaceuticals. “If you’re an ultrafast metabolizer, wait 30 minutes between taking, [for example] your SSRI and CBD,” says May. “If you’re ultraslow, wait several hours.”
The test also evaluates genetic markers for the enzyme FAAH, which breaks down the endogenous bliss molecule “anandamide.” More FAAH means less anandamide, and therefore more anxiety. Since CBD breaks down FAAH, it treats anxiety, allowing anandamide to flourish. The relaxing cannabis terpene linalool (also found in lavender) helps anxiety, as well.
But Dr. Jean Talleyrand, chief medical officer for MediCann, says we’re still in the “experimental phase” with regard to DNA testing. Most patients and doctors would rather experiment with trial and error, than spend $100 or more on a DNA test. “One day I hope we’ll be doing screenings, and using insurance to cover the cost,” he says. “But it’s still new.”