Guide to Better Choosing Cannabis StrainsWritten by Chris Weatherall on Dec 14, 2022
As new innovations in cannabis cultivation are discovered, the world of cannabis becomes more nuanced every day. As a result, understanding the terminology and differences between varieties of cannabis is a crucial step before trying new products. For some, loyalty to a specific strain is crucial when looking for products to try, while other cannabis consumers are more open to trying new hybrids and broadening their cannabis horizons.
If you’re ready to browse our selection, you may be wondering: is there really a difference between cannabis strains? The answer is yes! Since the number of cannabis strains available for use is seemingly endless, navigating this expansive selection begins with understanding the differences between the strains.
Cannabis Strain Vocabulary
Just like using a glossary to define different vocabulary words, this glossary of essential cannabis-related terms and phrases is crucial to understanding the differences between strains. The complex processes of genetic engineering, cross-breeding, and selective cultivation create an intense web of phrasing that can be confusing at times. Finding the root phrases and terms that can help guide your search in the right direction is a big help when you’re looking for new cannabis products.
Some of these core terms include:
Cannabis sativa is a plant that has psychoactive, therapeutic, and medical benefits. It is also commonly known as marijuana, pot, or “weed” and has been used for centuries in rituals, medical practices, and recreational activities.
Cannabis is frequently sold and used in its dried flower form, also called buds or nugs. The highest natural concentrations of cannabinoids like THC, the psychoactive substance that gives cannabis its effects, are found in the resin deposits on the dried flowers of the plant. Smaller flowers are frequently referred to as popcorn buds, while shake refers to pre-ground flower used to make joints or pack pieces like bowls and pipes.
Cannabis strains are commonly classified by their effects.
Here are some common classifications:
- Sativa strains are known for their energizing and uplifting effects.
- Indica strains are known for their relaxing and sedating effects.
- Hybrid strains are a mix of both sativa and indica strains and can provide the best of both worlds.
When it comes to choosing the right cannabis strain for you, it’s important to know the difference between the three main types of strains: sativa, indica, and hybrid. Each type of strain has its own unique set of effects, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you make your purchase.
If you’re looking for a strain that will give you an energetic and uplifting buzz, then you’ll want to go with a sativa. If you’re looking for a strain that will help you relax and unwind after a long day, then an indica is the way to go. And if you want the best of both worlds, then a hybrid is the way to go.
Cultivar is an additional name for a cannabis variety. A cultivar is a plant variety that has been improved for cultivation through selective breeding. In the case of cannabis, this cultivation is intended to create a plant that will provide the desired effect when used. Different cannabis cultivars are developed to highlight various key qualities of the strain, including their aroma, flavor, and chemical composition.
Reading through information on cannabis cultivation and selective breeding can be confusing, especially for novice cannabis users, so understanding these key terms is useful when determining the difference between strains. For example, distinguishing between an indica-dominant strain and a sativa-dominant strain is crucial if you’re seeking cannabis suited for a specific purpose like sleeping or relaxing.
Some might consider the cultivar the grower of the strain. However, there are some cultivars that provide seeds or plants to growers.
For some growers, having a broad selection of different phenotypes in their grow room is a great asset – the diversity provides a choice of flavors, aromas, and highs. However, many growers (especially large-scale commercial growers) place a very high value on a harvest of near-identical plants, and many prefer to use clones rather than seeds.
So, if you are looking for consistency in a strain, you have to consider the cultivar and the grower as well. Are they using a clone to replicate the experience every time? Or, are you getting a cross-variety grown from seeds? Something to think about!
What Does Cannabis “Strain” Mean?
Essentially, a cannabis “strain” is the name of a specific type of cannabis. As a result of cross-breeding between other kinds of flower, new strains are named to highlight these unique blends and showcase the results of these new cross-breeds. For example, the iconic “Pineapple Express” strain, made famous by the 2008 movie of the same name, is a cross-breed between the strains Hawaiian and Trainwreck. The two parent strains that make up Pineapple Express are both sativa-dominant hybrids, making the final product a sativa-dominant hybrid that leaves users with a fun, euphoric feeling once consumed.
Understanding the various strains that go into a final hybrid or cross-breed is part of the cannabis cultivar lineage of that particular strain. Cultivar, which is a more technical term for strain, describes the specific product of cross-breeding. The lineage refers to the strains used in each generation to create the new cultivar.
Like mapping human genealogy, the cannabis cultivar lineage of a single strain shows the parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent strains that were bred together over years of cannabis research.
Using Pineapple Express as an example, the cannabis cultivar lineage would show the two parent strains, Hawaiian and Trainwreck, along with the various types of flower that went into cultivating each of those strains.
As with other plants, male and female cannabis plants must be near one another during the breeding process to encourage new plant growth. The pollen produced by mature male plants is used to fertilize the female plant, either with organic pollinators like bees in open-air cannabis fields or by hand in growth labs.
Cannabis genetics from two different plants are intentionally combined to produce unique strains. Often, the two plants are carefully chosen to highlight desired effects and translate them to the offspring plant. Manipulating cannabis lineage in this way enables producers to create new types of cannabis strains.
What’s the Difference Between Strains of Indica and Sativa?
Cross-breeding has been crucial in commercial cannabis cultivation for the past 50 years. As a result, pure indica or sativa strains are now sporadic and hard to come by. Strains marked as either “indica” or “sativa” are actually “indica-dominant” or “sativa-dominant” based on their cannabis cultivar lineage. Their unique characteristics, however, do present themselves in the offspring plant, creating a unique high and therapeutic effect. That’s why hybrid strains are marketed based on whether indica or sativa is more present in the hybrid. For example, the strain “Ice Cream Cake” is marketed as an indica because of the stronger indica presence in the strain, but it is still a hybrid. Cannabis users looking for a strain with key characteristics of an indica strain, like anxiety-reduction and calming, can expect those results.
Still, today’s indica and sativa dominant plants can be distinguished from one another by their characteristics during the growing cycle. Indica plants often have stout stems, broad, dark green leaves, and a short overall plant height. They may thrive in colder, more temperate regions and have brief flowering cycles. Sativa plants typically grow taller and have light-green, thin leaves. They also have longer flowering cycles than most indicas and do well in warmer locations with longer growing seasons. The two often have visibly different buds. By assessing their physical makeup, producers can distinguish indica-dominant and sativa-dominant strains from one another.
Cannabis Strains and Effects
Cannabis has been used medically and recreationally for years, and certain cannabis strains have been engineered to help provide certain effects. Whether you’re looking to unwind after a long day of work or want to try a more natural approach to treating your anxiety or depression, finding the right strain for you starts with understanding the effects that go along with certain strains. Finding cannabis strains that are best for your specific issues is a journey, but knowing what kind of strains provide certain effects is the first step toward finding your cannabis match. All cannabis strains are some form of hybrid, but depending on the amount of indica or sativa in each strain, they can be divided into three categories.
Indica-Dominant Strain Effects
Cannabis users typically refer to indica as creating a “body high” since its effects tend to generate relaxation rather than psychoactive effects. The term “couch lock” is commonly used to describe indica highs. In fact, cannabis users have created the nickname “in-da-couch” as a mnemonic device to describe these effects.
Indica-heavy strains are often best used at night because they tend to cause drowsiness. For some, they can be detrimental to productivity if used during the day. Other uses for indica-dominant strains include pain relief, nausea reduction, and increasing appetite, as well as helping.
with sleeplessness and lessening anxiety symptoms. Because indica strains often have higher CBD concentrations than sativa, they typically provide a more relaxed high.
Sativa-Dominant Strain Effects
People sometimes refer to sativa effects as a “head high” because they tend to affect your mind rather than your body. People who smoke sativa report feeling more energized and concentrated afterward. Sativa strains are great for daytime use for this reason, though some people report that using them at night could result in insomnia. People use sativa strains for a variety of purposes, but mostly when looking for an energetic, active high. Sativa dominant strains can be used to help with depression symptoms, headaches, nausea, general appetite loss, and trouble focusing.
CBD and the Entourage Effect
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the primary cannabinoids present in cannabis alongside THC. CBD binds to different cannabinoid receptors than THC and does not cause a high. In fact, it can even modulate the effects of THC. This makes CBD-heavy strains appealing to folks who want cannabis’ therapeutic and medicinal benefits without the psychological effects.
In combination with THC, CBD can work wonders to revolutionize your high. As part of the entourage effect, phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD can work in harmony to provide a better high. According to this theory, all the components of cannabis, including phytocannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds, work in unison to provide the full effects the plant offers.
The Role of Terpenes
One of the most significant identifying features of any cannabis strain is its dominant terpenes and how they change the flavor and scent of the final bud. Terpenes are a natural chemical compound present in all plant matter, giving them distinctive aromas, flavors, and scent profiles. Much like notes in wine or coffee, terpenes provide a background flavor profile for the different cannabis strains and can change your experience as you use them.
Terpenes are more than just flavor sensations—their unique chemical properties also impact the effects cannabis has on those who partake. In general, terpenes boast a wide range of health benefits, including pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibiotic, and antifungal properties. Researchers are also exploring the potential of terpenes as a treatment for cancer, diabetes, cognitive decline, and more. Each terpene has its own unique qualities, and by working synergistically with the other cannabis compounds as a part of the entourage effect, they can help to define the strain’s therapeutic and medicinal properties.
In this way, the terpene profiles of different cannabis strains can help you compare bud to bud to determine which flavor profile and which therapeutic benefits will be best for you. Some of the most common terpene flavor profiles in cannabis strains include:
Terpenes like alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, and carene all help to bring a fresh, piney, earthy aroma to your bud. Plants and foods heavy in piney terpenes include oranges, basil, and cedar trees, and notes of these aromas can be found in strains with these terpenes. Common strains heavy in piney terpenes are Blue Dream, Bubba Kush, and Forest Fire.
- Alpha-pinene is best known for its short-term memory-boosting properties, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties, which make it a good candidate for arthritis, diabetes, and kidney treatments. It also has bronchodilator and antioxidant properties and has shown promise in anti-cancer research.
- Beta-pinene, like alpha-pinene, has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties. Beta-pinene may also have an antidepressant effect and has shown promise in combatting the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Carene exerts powerful anti-inflammatory properties and may increase alertness and memory retention.
Fruity terpenes like limonene, myrcene, and para-cymene are naturally found in many strains of cannabis and evoke notes of fruits, herbs, and even hops. In some instances, these strains will have names that tie them to the specific fruit flavor they taste like. This is especially true in the case of Pineapple Express. For other strains, like Headbanger and Kush Cake, searching specifically for the fruit flavors you like will lead you to your preferred experience.
- Limonene, as you might expect, has a fruity, lemony scent. Like many other terpenes, it has been found to reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress associated with ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, cancer, and more. It has been found to slow the progression of cancers, modulate blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce appetite, support digestion, and modulate mood.
- Myrcene has a piney, peppery scent and is best known for its sedative qualities, including muscle relaxation and the promotion of sleep. It has long been associated with pain relief, and its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help speed the death of cancer cells and slow the progression of cancer.
- Para-cymene is sweet and citrusy but also woody and spicy. It is widely used as a component of essential oils due to its antibiotic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. It is also a known smooth muscle relaxant and may reduce the risk of seizures. Like other terpenes, para-cymene has analgesic qualities, appears to reduce the oxidative stress that contributes to neurological diseases, and is toxic to cancer cells.
Beta-caryophyllene, humulene, and terpinolene are all woody terpenes that give certain strains a more earthy, herbal flavor profile. These terpenes can be found in plants like black pepper, sage, and tea tree. The products carried by Kind Farms that include these terpenes are Durban Poison flower, Lemon Meringue flower, and Shango Chillum pre-rolls.
- Beta-caryophyllene is a woody, spicy terp and is a known anti-inflammatory agent that may have a positive effect on arthritis. Some studies show the potential for this terp to improve blood glucose levels, increase sleep time, and provide pain relief.
- Humulene is more musky and earthy than caryophyllene, has demonstrated antibacterial and antifungal properties, and appears to help reduce the severity of allergies. When used in conjunction with beta-caryophyllene, it may also further reduce inflammation. Like other terpenes, humulene’s antioxidant properties may help slow the growth of cancer.
- Terpinolene is a woody terpene with citrusy notes and is best known for its sedative effects. Its other potential uses include reducing the inflammation and oxidation that contribute to cancer growth.
Floral terpenes, including citronellol, geraniol, and linalool, give cannabis a flowery, botanical flavor profile. Also found in flowers like roses, geraniums, and lavender, these terpenes help provide a distinctive, sweet, floral flavor to these strains.
These terpenes can be primarily found in strains with citrusy, floral aromas.
- Citronellol is a floral, citrusy terpene primarily used as an insect repellent but can also be found in many perfumes and other scented items. Researchers are currently exploring its antifungal and antibacterial properties.
- Geraniol is a vaguely fruity but primarily floral terpene frequently found in linalool-heavy strains, where it notably acts as a neuroprotectant. It also demonstrates antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal qualities, and like other terpenes, may help prevent the oxidation and inflammation that contribute to cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and other diseases.
- Linalool is a well-known anxiety and stress reliever often used to create lavender-scented products and has also demonstrated depression-relieving effects. Its sedative qualities appear to improve sleep longevity and quality. Currently, researchers are studying its anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and pain-reducing effects.
The strength and combination of certain terpenes in a particular strain of cannabis can create a unique, complex flavor profile that can completely change your smoking experience. For example, breeding a strain that is heavy in myrcene, like Blue Dream, creates a strain with a distinctive fruity and sweet flavor palate. Meanwhile, the secondary terpenes in the strain, pinene and caryophyllene, help bring out piney, woody notes as secondary flavors.
As the terp flavors blend and work in synergy with one another, so, too, do their therapeutic effects. For example, if you are looking to find a potential cannabis strain to help address anxiety and inflammatory arthritis, you might choose OG Kush, a strain that features both myrcene and pinene. So while searching for new cannabis products to try based on the terpene profile is a great way to discover a cannabis flavor that appeals to you, it’s an even better way to choose a strain that addresses your unique set of ailments.
We should note that not all growers and brands list their terpene profiles on the packaging, but chatting with your budtender is a great way to get started. For example, if you know you’re searching for pinene or limonene, ask your budtender if they know of any pine or lemon-heavy strains. The best budtenders will be able to point you toward strains they are familiar with that contain your desired terpenes.
Choosing Cannabis Strains In Your Area
The world of cannabis cultivation has completely revolutionized cannabis, so knowing how each strain is unique is crucial for finding your perfect match. At your local Kind Meds, we carry hundreds of different cannabis products featuring a variety of strains and blends to give you the widest array of options.
Want some insight in choosing the right strain for your next sesh? We’ve developed a helpful strain guide.