For recreational users, the only criterion for picking a strain of cannabis is the character of the high they want to get.
But for the medical user, the choice of strain can be vitally important.
Different buds have different effects on the various ailments that can be treated with marijuana.
Thanks to a new industry of cannabis testing in Oregon, many clinics can now direct patients to the best strain for their particular needs.
Though testing labs have been a staple of the medical marijuana industry in California and Colorado for years, they've started to appear in this state in only the past 18 months.
Testing works like this: Growers provide labs with small samples of buds, which are liquefied and sent through a chromatograph, which heats up the samples; separates out the medically useful compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN); and measures the amount of each chemical present in the sample.
"CBD is the important one," says Richard Reames, owner of Oregon Green Lab in Williams, Ore. While THC makes you high, CBD helps relieve pain, nausea and anxiety.
"We're finding all kinds of therapeutic uses for that compound," Reames says. "This testing lets you know what strains have more CBD and less THC and alert people that have them to develop those strains and make them more available.â
Businesses like Oregon Green Lab also test samples for mold and pesticides, both of which could be dangerous for some users if ingested.
Like medical marijuana clinics throughout the state, these labs operate openly, with websites filled with contact information and, in at least one case, a physical address—even though they may not, technically, be legal.
"I suppose if the people who worked at these labs all had their own medical marijuana cards, then it would be OK," says spokeswoman Christine Stone of the Oregon Public Health Division.
Both labs interviewed for this story were cagey about answering questions regarding their businesses. Green Leaf Lab, which has trademarked "Cannalysis" to describe its testing process, would communicate only via email and refused to answer some questions.
Neither lab would say how many clients it serves or how much money it makes. But if Oregon Green Lab is any indication—the entire operation is run out of Reames' basement, but it has nine drop-off locations throughout the southern and central parts of the state—there's some money to be made in the testing game.
"The equipment involved is not much bigger than a PC," says Reames, who charges up to $140 per test. "People visualize something with 10 people in lab coats, which is a fine vision for them. The truth is, you can do this by yourself."