Cannabis and Hops are Close Cousins
By Michael Woolston - Apr 20, 2022
There are hundreds of foods and herbs that are closely related. What is surprising is how many do not seem related at all. For example, Horseradish, Kale, and Cabbage are part of the Brassicaceae family. One can begin to appreciate the similarities when you consider that yellow mustard is in this family, and that it shares similar tastes and uses with horseradish. Keep this in mind as we explore Cannabis and Hops.
About 10 years ago scientists in the UK and US confirmed that Cannabis and Hops are closely related and belong in a single genealogical family, Cannabaceae. Before then, scientists had suspected the relationship given that the two plants share some physical traits. Both produce separate male and female plants that pollinate with the wind. Both have resinous glands which contain their active compounds. Hops plants are known for their lupulin glands, and cannabis plants are known for their trichomes (a.k.a. kief). Both plants produce immense amounts of a much-appreciated family of organic compounds called terpenes, and this is where it gets interesting.
Terpenes are produced by many types of flowers and trees, especially conifers. They produce the flavors and aromas that we often associate with hops and cannabis. Several years ago, when I worked at a well-known craft brewer, we celebrated one such similarity through a campaign that celebrated the dankness of our beer. It was a "wink-wink” to the closeness of hops and cannabis. This is not surprising since for decades brewers have been on the forefront of exploring the role that terpenes play in hops and the resulting large variety of beer flavors and aromas. They have long since recognized the similarities between hops and cannabis. A growing trend in the cannabis industry is the development of cultivation and processing techniques that accentuate terpenes that are complementary to the cannabinoids that cannabis is known for, like THC and CBD. This is in response to recreational consumers that want more than a psychoactive experience. They want more flavor and more complexity, and they believe that the terpenes are what provide the different effects that come from different strains. This is also in response to medicinal consumers that believe that the terpenes have a complementary medicinal effect with the cannabinoids.
Let’s go deeper into terpenes. For starters, you have been enjoying them your whole life and probably didn’t even know it. Limonene is a prevalent terpene and you guessed correctly; it is citrusy. Myrcene is herbal and somewhat peppery. Caryophyllene is peppery and woody. Beta-pinene is piney and spicy. Alpha-humulene is bitter and is the namesake for the Latin word for hops, Humulus lupulus. These are some of the most common terpenes found in modern cannabis and hops. With all this similarity can there be any doubt that homebrewers have been brewing beer with cannabis? I think not. Will there be a commercially available Cannabis Beer in our future? Ask the Feds. Is it technically feasible? Absolutely. THC, which is the psychoactive compound in Cannabis, starts to become soluble in beer that has an alcohol by volume above 8%. So, your double IPAs would be a good match. We’ve talked about the taste and aroma similarities of Cannabis and Hops. How about the reported medicinal and therapeutic similarities? Well, here again, there are many similarities that are thought to be related to the terpenes found in both. Before I get into the scientific claims, let us explore the history of cannabis as a traditional medicine. By the way, the history of hops used as a medicine is less documented but the subject has recently gained significant attention.
Cannabis is indigenous to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It was only during the early 20th century that western regulators outright criminalized cannabis, even its use as a medicine. This was in spite of a nearly 6,000-year history of medical use. Paleobotanists recovered cannabis pollen from the mummy of the great Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II. Around 1,000 AD, Arabic scholars and philosophers described cannabis as an analgesic. The medieval Persian physician and author of “The Canon of Medicine,” Avicenna, describes cannabis as being an effective treatment for gout, edema, and migraine-like headaches.
In a 2018 article published by the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry on Cannabis and Hops, the article states that “Terpenes' medicinal properties are supported by numerous in vitro, animal, and clinical trials and show anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, anticonvulsive, antidepressant, anxiolytic, anticancer, antitumor, neuroprotective, anti-mutagenic, anti-allergic, antibiotic and anti-diabetic attributes, among others.” Other researchers at MDPI Switzerland have focused exclusively on hops related terpenes and describe comparable properties.
HOP WTR’s brewers carefully selected its hops to provide a balanced terpene profile. We use Citra, Amarillo, Mosaic and Azacca hops. The first three hops deliver a citrusy, piney, and slightly floral experience with no grassy or herbal notes. Azacca hops have been growing in popularity. The strain is named after the Haitian God of agriculture, and it adds a tropical fruit note that evokes a peppery mango taste.
So, as we celebrate 420 and Cannabis, keep in mind its close cousin the hop flower. At HOP WTR, we pay tribute every day to this humble flower. It is in our name.
Michael Woolston, Chief Operating Officer at HOP WTR