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Pot sommelier courses promise to bring science to budding industry

[Max Montrose, president of the Trichome Institute, smells cannabis. (Trichome Institute)]

Max Montrose considers himself “pretty picky” about his marijuana.

He grows and rolls his own joints, despite the mouth-watering array of edibles that are up for grabs in Denver, where he’s based, since Colorado legalized the drug in January 2014.

Montrose is also highly selective about the type of pot he smokes.

If he is going on a hike or to a concert – something active – Montrose will smoke some sativa.

If he just got off work and wants to do nothing but relax in bed, he’ll take some puffs of a joint with indica.

“I’m a situation smoker, which means if I want to smoke … I’ll smoke what fits that situation,” Montrose, who has been using marijuana since he was a teen, told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“I’m really an expert at pairing with whatever’s going on at the time.”

If Montrose comes off as persnickety about his greens you’ll have to forgive him: it’s his job.

The cannabis connoisseur is the founder and president of the Trichome Institute in the Mile High City. It offers courses and certification in interpening, or what they compare to training as a sommelier.

The skills taught in the three levels of classes, which start at roughly $165, are based on the analysis of a cannabis plant’s terpenes and flower structure.

Terpenes are a diverse range of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants including cannabis, that are responsible for their smell and act in concert with cannabinoids, which are the compounds found in marijuana that get you high.

Different types of cannabis plants and their effects can be identified based on these unique aromas as well as their flower structure, according to the Trichome Institute.

[The Trichome Institute’s system for interpening cannabis. (Trichome Institute)]

And with the potential widespread growth of legal marijuana industry on the horizon, Montrose expects the expertise offered by the program could prove highly valuable.

“People are building businesses out of these types of certification and this type of work,” said Montrose, pointing to the example of one of his former students, Philip Wolf, who completed two levels of schooling, and has since put his skills to use by creating the restaurant Cultivating Spirits, which pairs food with wine and weed.

“I’ve been to his meals. They’re f—ing awesome. They’re really, really good,” he said.

Many students also take the classes to upgrade their skills so they can climb the ladder, for example from “budtender” to manager.

“We are empowering employees to move up further in their job bases because they know more … deserve to be paid more and (have) better jobs,” said Montrose, who added that students over the past year and a half have come from all over the world, including Africa and Canada, to attend his courses.

And this marijuana economy is certainly budding.

The drug’s recreational use is now permitted in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C. Eight other states are also voting on the issue this year, and the process towards legalization is expected to begin in Canada next spring.

Last year alone, Colorado saw nearly $1 billion in legal sales of medical and recreational pot.

And it has been estimated that Canada’s marijuana industry could blossom into a $5-billion market.

In addition to the appeal of getting in on the green rush, Montrose said interpening skills can help general consumers cut through the haze of seemingly nonsensical strain names, ranging from the more plain sounding blue cheese and blueberry to Skywalker OG and purple Romulan.

“If you came to class you would learn real quick why you would never want to believe a strain name ever,” said Montrose.

He said often this problem is exacerbated by the fact that the cannabis found in a dispensary could be wildly different than the information that a consumer read about it online. And that could prove dangerous for a consumer who, for example, was looking for something to help with their PTSD.

“That’s scary because cannabis morphology is so drastic,” said Montrose.

The relative greenness of the industry also means that many so-called experts are peddling products without scientific evidence, often using sketchy information from the Internet to back up their advice.

“It is … an industry where everyone is an expert but nobody knows anything,” said Montrose.

“Some of the people running these educational institutions have never been in the cannabis industry ever. They’ve never sold cannabis. They’ve never grown cannabis and they’ve never used it.

Montrose said the Trichome Institute is on a different playing field and uses science to back up its techniques.

He said that his textbooks and courses on interpening have received the seal of approval from the top experts in medicine and science who study cannabis.

While Montrose wouldn’t divulge the intricacies of his courses which he said he has been cultivating since he was a teenager who experimented with marijuana to help self-treat his ADHD he said they start with a three-hour lecture about the biology of cannabis and later teach students how to dissect and detect different qualities of the plant by examining more than 50 different flower samples and “every different type of mold you can imagine.”

“If your weed is moldy and I can smell it, I can tell you the strain of mould and I’m right,” he said.

Students are taught to identify the psychoactive properties of different types of cannabis based on their aroma. Montrose added that there are generally five different psychoactive experiences that you can get from the drug.

“No matter what, every single class we blow people’s minds – even people who have been growing cannabis for over 20 years … say how they are dumbfounded by the amount of information we give in class and just how f—ing cool it is to be able to actually see and smell the different psychoactive effects,” he said.

While Montrose stands firmly behind his expertise, he admits there are some gaps in the science of being a pot sommelier and he makes sure that his students are aware of them.

In particular, he said it is difficult to prove findings connected to smell, but he is working with doctors and psychologists on further research.

And Montrose hopes to spark new discoveries in this growing industry.

“Anything that I can’t prove yet I am on a mission to prove because we don’t come from a place of ‘I think so,’” he said.

“It is: ‘we know so, even if we can’t prove it yet.’”