When growers, budtenders, or cannabis connoisseurs talk about strains, they are referring to either pure or hybrid varieties of the cannabis plant. The three types of cannabis strains are Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. No one talks about C. ruderalis much because it is a very small plant compared to the others and has naturally low THC content, thus it isn’t useful for medicinal, recreational, or industrial use. However, it is sometimes used by cannabis growers to breed autoflowering strains.
Some of the most popular cannabis strains are hybrids. Marijuana hybrids, which are spoken of so fondly are created by interbreeding strains. Hybrid weed can be sativa dominant, indica dominant, or a true 50/50 balanced combination of the two, referred to as an even hybrid. Since so much cross breeding of the cannabis plant has been done throughout history, it’s extremely rare to find a true pure sativa or pure indica strain. Today, nearly all of the bud in a dispensary labeled as an indica or sativa are actually hybrids of some sort.
The most obvious difference is the physical appearance of the plant, though this is more important to cultivators, it is still great knowledge for consumers to have. The Cannabis sativa is tall with sparse leaves throughout. Each leaf is narrow and the plant grows best in warm climates since it has a long flowering period. Cannabis indica is a short, bushy plant with broad-shaped leaves. It has a shorter flowering cycle and grows well in cooler climates. Indica flowers can have a purple hue, but there are a few sativas that have purple buds as well. When it comes to effects on the consumer, oftentimes an indica plant can produce effects typically associated with a sativa and vice versa. This is because of a variety of factors such as the fact that most strains are not pure due to the long history of interbreeding and the plant’s specific cannabinoid and terpene profile.
You’ve probably heard the saying “indica equals in-da-couch”. Ingrained in pot culture is the idea that indica gives off more of a body high, while sativa produces a head high. This is an extreme overgeneralization that doesn’t work all that great in determining the type of high or effects you’ll get after smoking. It is actually very difficult to predict cannabis effects before testing it out, so take these common “facts” with a grain of salt. Effects are best predicted by the chemical makeup (cannabinoids and terpenes) which reacts with the body. These are a few other generalizations about strains that stoners often accept as true:
This sativa vs indica chart by Cresco Labs visually breaks down a few of the differences between the two strains. You can see the general shape of sativa vs indica leaves and some additional effects associated with each strain.
Since most cannabis strains today are hybrids, the best predictor of a strain’s effects is its cannabinoid and terpene profile. Both cannabis cannabinoids and terpenes are naturally-produced chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. You’ve probably already heard of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These are just two of the many cannabinoids that interact with the body’s cannabinoid receptors within the central nervous system to produce effects. Only THC (and possibly THCV) have been found to get consumers high. Terpenes on the other hand are created naturally by all plants to fend off predators and are responsible for each marijuana strain’s unique smell and flavor profile. The pungent fuel-like aroma of Sour Diesel, that’s from the caryophyllene terpene. Varieties of pot that produce similar effects often have similar terpene profiles, so it’s believed that terpenes influence cannabis effects in some way, but more research needs to be done. The quantity also matters and since there are thousands of terpenes, the combinations are endless. Each strain and even each plant may produce a unique cannabinoid and terpene profile that makes it distinct and enjoyable.
The next time you’re at a dispensary and want to try out something new, talk with a budtender about an experience you want to have or the ailments you want to treat such as insomnia, stress, or anxiety instead of narrowing down the choices by strain. It’s best to research which terpenes and cannabinoids help with these issues and speak with a budtender to choose a strain high in those specific active chemicals. This way you’ll be more likely to find the perfect strain with the desired effects without having to do too much experimenting.
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