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What is a Marijuana Strain?

Jul 16, 2020 10:00:00 AM


Prior to the medical legalization of marijuana, most people didn’t know what strains were. To the average person there were two kinds of weed, cheap and really good. While people may have noticed a difference in batches that they would buy, they were only able to purchase what their “guy” would have. Today’s marijuana buying experience is a far cry from the days of prohibition. Dispensaries have multiple strain options that range from sleep inducing to energetic and with various flavor profiles. The connoisseur element of cannabis breeding and genetics can be confusing to people who are new to the idea of legalized cannabis and designer strains. What is a cannabis strain? What makes one strain different from another? If you’ve been wondering about the importance of the strain of weed that you’re smoking, you’re not alone. The world of cannabis genetics carries with it a deep and fascinating history dating back thousands of years. 

Basic explanation of strains

One of the main differences between the old and new kinds of cannabis is the seeds. Many remember picking out the seeds and stems before smoking their weed. Today’s cannabis is called sinsemilla which translates to “without seed”. Sinsemilla is made by growing a female cannabis plant without introducing pollen or excess stress. This produces the big beautiful buds that you see on dispensary shelves. By definition in terms of biology, a strain is a genetic variant of a species. Plant strains are variations of the same species that share a common ancestor.

You may remember from our blog post Can You Smell the Difference Between Indica & Sativa? that there are three main biological subspecies of cannabis: Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. Cannabis Sativa was first identified in 1753 by European botanist, Carl Linnaeus. Jean-Babtiste Lamarck identified Cannabis Indica from some specimens that had been sent to him from India. Cannabis Ruderalis was identified by Russian botanist Janischevsky. While these varieties are considered different subspecies on paper, botanists in the 18th and early 19th centuries made these identifications with little data. There is modern data that suggests that Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa aren’t actually that different.  


Where do different strains come from?

Despite the continued efforts to stifle knowledge of the cannabis plant, its rich history is well-documented. Humans have used cannabis for food, fiber, and medicine for thousands of years. Cannabis is believed to have evolved in Central Asia and spread to all reaches of the planet adapting to various climates. These location driven adaptations led us to what we now refer to as landrace strains. Many describe landrace strains as the forefathers of modern cannabis. They’re different phenotypes that are native to certain parts of the world. Landrace strains are named after their region of origin. The most well known landrace strain is most likley Hindu Kush that originated in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Other landrace strains include Durban Poison from the Durban region in South Africa, Panama Red from Panama, and Acapulco Gold from Mexico. These are the original indicas and sativas.


Cannabis cultivators have bred landrace strains to create new strains to either adapt to a new environment, change yield, or smoking experience. GreenCamp calls landrace strains the dinosaurs of the cannabis world. According to Alex Tropkovich,  “They are old, super cool, and you just don’t get to see them in their original form anymore”. Modern cannabis strains are variations of these landrace strains. Don't get us wrong, modern cannabis cross breeding has created some truly beautiful new genetics, but it would be cool to smoke a true, pure piece of history. 

How do cannabis strains differ?

Now that we’ve discussed the origins of various cannabis strains, let’s go over the general differences between the different subcategories. As we talked about in the previous section, indicas and sativas came from the original landrace strains. There are modern indica and sativa strains that are mixtures of different landrace genetics. These different strains adapted to their native environments, so the way they grow and how much they yield will differ across the globe. Breeding different strains allows the cultivator to create specific flavor profiles, plant yields, potency, growing time, size, and cannabinoid profiles.

Some of the major differences between strains are the flavor profiles. Cannabis gets its flavor and aroma from oils called terpenes. Terpenes not only make our cannabis taste and smell amazing, but they’re responsible for the unique experience that each strain gives us. This is because terpenes change the way THC affects us when we inhale them. Indicas and sativas have vastly different terpene profiles. 

 Here are a few basic characteristics between the three categories. 

Indica strains

  • Are known for being relaxing and sedative. They’re great for pain relief, anxiety, and insomnia. 
  • Indica plants are usually short and stocky with large dense buds that are sticky from high resin content.
  • The leaves on an indica plant are usually short, fat, and close together. 
  • Indica strains have tasting notes of earth, pine, pepper, berries, bananas,lavender, and hops. 


Sativa strains

  • Sativa strains are known for being energizing and creative. People commonly use sativas for depression, art, and other productive activities. These strains are good for daytime use. 
  • These plants evolved from being grown for their fibers, so they are usually quite tall with smaller and lighter buds. 
  • The leaves on sativa plants are usually long, slender, and far apart. This promotes light penetrating through the canopy to the lower levels of the plant. 
  • Sativa strains have tasting notes of citrus, tropical fruit, light florals, and cherry. 


Hybrid strains

The beauty of hybrid strains is that they can land anywhere on the spectrum between indicas and sativas. Hybrids can be uplifting, mellow, or somewhere in the middle. They can taste fruity or earthy. Hybrid strains have become increasingly popular because of their versatility. People who can relax without being knocked out, or can have the energizing experience without any of the anxiety associated with pure sativas. Your friendly budtender can help you pick out the right strain for you. 



Topics: cannabis 101

Rio Kaplan
Written by Rio Kaplan

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