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Hops and pot: How they’re related

Beyond their heavy-handed use of hops, Lagunitas Brewing is linked to the origins of 4/20 as a pothead holiday

Hops are a resinous, green flower, and from what Snoop Dogg taught me, so too is that sticky icky icky.

But the similarities between hops and weed go well beyond how they look and feel. Not only did scientists confirm in 2012 that the two plants are genetically related, belonging to Cannabinaceae family, now further research is helping us understand the similar aroma and flavor characteristics these plants exhibit. Cousins Cannabis and Humulus, it turns out, share a key ingredient called terpenes.

Terpenes are a class of organic compounds produced by several types of flowers and trees, especially conifers, and are responsible for producing flavors and aromas in plants. Recently, a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia published a study on what gives marijuana its distinct flavors and aromas. According to a recent Forbes article, the researchers “found close to 30 terpenes in the cannabis genome, producing such ‘fragrant molecules’ as limonene, myrcene, and pinene when those genes are active, and thus give it an alternately citrusy, skunky, or earthy quality.”

It’s no coincidence that those descriptors—citrusy, skunky, or earthy—are just as often associated with the hoppy double IPA at the local taproom. Hops and marijuana share many of these terpenes in common, such as myrcene, beta-pinene, and alpha-humulene to name a few. Certain hop varieties like Summit, Eureka, 007, and Nelson Sauvin—though it varies on Nelson Sauvin harvests—are especially pungent with green onion, chive-like, and dank aroma and flavor characteristics.

While terpenes tie hops and marijuana close in flavor and aroma, they’re also responsible for key differences in the plants. In hops, the alpha acids that bitter beer are actually terpenoids (compounds that are derived from terpenes) called humulone. According to a Popular Science piece, the tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) in marijuana give the plant its psychoactive qualities.

While developments of new strains of hops are happening in the beer industry, research on marijuana is lagging behind. It is, after all, hard to research something and develop it for aroma and flavor if doing so can net you a felony drug charge. But even with what little research is available, concrete commonalities have appeared—and more will be discovered in the future.

With the eclectic variety of hops already available for use and constantly being produced, it is not hard to imagine that marijuana aromas and flavors could overlap even more if afforded with the same investment, dedication, and legal status that hops enjoy.

Undercover #420 operations are in place. Discreet traps have been set up throughout the city today. #Happy420 pic.twitter.com/Jo8mh0Z5lQ

So, how are Minnesota breweries and bars marking the holiday day today?

At 4:20pm on 4/20 in Big Lake, Lupulin Brewing is releasing Straight Hash Homie Double IPA, an experimental IPA brewed with 100 percent hop hash—concentrated lupulin glands which contain high levels of terpenes and terpenoids present in hops.

Forager Brewery in Rochester brewed its second batch of The Danqs, purposely utilizing a bevy of hops—including Eureka and 007—for a pungent, dank, piney, slightly citrusy, dry IPA.

#420day… Hemp Seed Pilsner, the cause and the cure for cotton mouth in one glass. $4.20 pints all day! @GullDam_Brewing @growlermag #beer pic.twitter.com/OzIaML39gA

A post shared by Insight Brewing Company (@insightbrewing) on Apr 20, 2017 at 9:36am PDT

Hops and pot: How they’re related Beyond their heavy-handed use of hops, Lagunitas Brewing is linked to the origins of 4/20 as a pothead holiday Hops are a resinous, green flower, and from

The Relationship Between Cannabis and Hops

Even if you don’t know much about beer, you have probably heard of hops, a key ingredient in modern beer-making. In addition to functioning as a preservative, hops provide beer with a unique flavor. The cone-shaped flower comes in a variety of strains, and connoisseurs can distinguish them by their aromatic bouquets. Sound familiar?

Because of certain common structural features, Cannabis sativa and Humulus lupulus are the two most economically significant species belonging to the same plant family—Cannabinaceae. While that doesn’t mean much, it is an interesting factoid weed and beer enthusiasts can celebrate.

Physical Characteristics

Both hops and cannabis are green, resinous flowers. They are similarly shaped as well—their buds appear as small cones. Cannabis and hops leaves also share a similar structure. Larger humulus leaves and all cannabis leaves are palmately lobed, which means that the leaves come from a common point the way that fingers all spread from a single palm. In both cases, the leaves are serrated along the margins, giving them a jagged appearance. The leaves also always have stipules (small leaf-like appendages) at the base of their stalks. Finally, both hops and cannabis come in countless varieties or strains, each containing a unique set of flavors and attributes.

Of course, pot and hops differ physically as well. For one, hops plants grow as vines while cannabis plants grow like trees or bushes. Hops vines can get much longer than cannabis plants can get tall—humulus vines can reach up to 30 feet while the tallest cannabis plants can stretch up to 20 feet. Cannabis buds are much fuzzier and denser than hops flowers, which appear to have small, green, and almost translucent petals.

Chemical Characteristics

The shared chemical attributes between hops and cannabis are apparent in the way that each plant smells. The compounds responsible for their flavorful scents are called terpenes . Terpenes are volatile chemical compounds that, in addition to smells, express therapeutic attributes as well. Some of the most common terpenes found in hops are beta-pinene, alpha-humulene, and myrcene. These terpenes are also commonly found in cannabis plants.

Another chemical compound housed in both hops and bud are their terpenoids. Terpenoids are derivatives of terpenes synthesized by the process of drying and curing of the two plants’ flowers. The terpenoid responsible for a hop’s bitter flavor is humulone . Humulone belongs to the class of compounds called alpha acids. The compound is also an antimicrobial—it has the antiviral and antibacterial properties that make hops a functional preservative for beer.

The terpenoid that has made cannabis famous is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Like humulone, THC’s potency is activated by the process of drying, curing, and decarboxylation. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the mind-altering effects most cannabis enthusiasts seek when consuming pot.

A Similarly Legislated History

Both cannabis and hops have been around for a while, and both industries have been shaped by prohibition. But hops differs from cannabis in that it is a younger tradition and has outlived the national ban on the industry it is most associated with—alcohol.

Although beer—a mixture of malted barley, yeast, and water—has been around for ages (since the 5 th millennium BC), the introduction of hops into beer brewing became popular as recently as the 15 th century. Before hops, beer was flavored with different combinations of herbs, spices, and other plant parts. However, hops’ microbial properties and its depth of flavor have made it the most popular choice today.

During the first half of the 20 th century, alcohol was prohibited at the national level. Since the primary economic use of hops was in brewing beer, this definitely affected hops farmers, though its effect was surprising. According to an article by Rogue , simultaneously occurring global events mitigated the negative effects of prohibition. The cultivation and export of hops were not banned, so hops farms actually expanded, and farmers profited by exporting their product to European countries. These countries were known for their beer, but their farmland had been ravaged by the battles of World War I. By the time American alcohol prohibition ended, hops farmers were ready.

Cannabis has had a much less fortuitous journey. Weed has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for a much longer time than hops has been used to flavor beer. Like hops, cannabis has been found to contain antimicrobial properties. More than that, weed contains antiemetic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and antiproliferative properties that are attributed to catalyzing the wave of medical marijuana programs popping up all over the country.

Despite its medical utility and relative safety as a recreational activity (you can’t overdose on weed), cannabis has been illegal at the national level since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. That act imposed significant sanctions on those who sold, purchased, or possessed cannabis. Cannabis prohibition reached its climax in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. That law, supported by the Nixon administration, classified cannabis as a Schedule I substance, or one that has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

As with the national alcohol ban, cannabis prohibition has not worked. Weed is the most widely used illicit substance in the world . The world has also slowly begun to embrace the plant once again. Colombia, Mexico, Germany, Jamaica, Israel, Canada, and Uruguay are a handful of the countries that have revised their laws to be more inclusive of cannabis use for medical or recreational use. While it remains prohibited at the national level in the United States, over half of the fifty states have opted out of the national ban, electing to legalize cannabis for local medical or recreational use.

For beer lovers and cannabis enthusiasts, the relationship between Cannabis sativa and Humulus lupulus is no more than an interesting piece of trivia. However, one thing that the evolution of the hops and pot industries has demonstrated is that prohibition doesn’t work, at least not the way that prohibitionists want it to. As Budweiser’s former marketing chief said about his decision to enter the cannabis industry, “When consumers want something, you ignore it at your own peril.”

Cannabis and hops are similar in appearance, have a lot of similar chemical properties, and have both been illegal in the U.S. Are they related?