Cannabis 101: Strains Explained

Cannabis. The most stigmatized, sensationalized, vilified little botanical buddy out there. 

Most of us have been raised on the idea that marijuana is bad and that stoners are lazy, sloppy, ‘no-can-doers’ in life. A reputation built on misinformation and a total farce. 

Once you start to understand cannabis, its medicinal benefits and the science behind cannabis strains, you will start to understand how these magical little compounds can actually uplift you, motivate you, enhance food, music, art and can help to induce creativity. Sounds terrible, right? 

So, just like you might carefully curate the right playlist to get the right vibe, for the right event, you should also consider curating your cannabis. By picking the right strain, with the right aromas, and the right balance of cannabinoids and terpenes, you can really create a ritual totally suited to your needs. 

Cannabis itself has been well documented throughout history for its medical properties, and descriptions of the therapeutic use of cannabis can be found dating back over 5,000 years. Most particularly in Eastern Medicine, the subject is well addressed and widely used. 

Marijuana began, plain and simple, being grown in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Pakistan. Known then as ‘Landraces’, marijuana was cultivated for its whole plant benefits and medicinal properties. It was found that climates between 30° to 50° latitude were growing shorter, fatter, resin heavy plants that had strong cerebral effects, now known as Cannabis Indica. More equatorial regions (primarily Southeast Asia), between 0° to 30° latitude, were growing taller, longer, more mentally uplifting plants, now referred to as Cannabis Sativa.

As indoor farming came onto the scene, experimental cultivation, cross-pollination, and controlled elements like light and heat, growers were able to cultivate different types of marijuana that produced a myriad of therapeutic benefits. As hybrid strain development matured, strains were produced for their unique cannabinoid and terpene profiles and were used specifically for their different flavours, aromas, cerebral effects, and medical benefits. 

INDICA vs. SATIVA vs. RUDERALIS 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

So what’s the difference between strains? This is where it all begins, by understanding how all different kinds of cannabis are cultivated using three primary marijuana strains: Cannabis Indica, Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Ruderalis. 

Cannabis Sativa is known for its long, narrow body and leaves. Its medicinal properties and its whole plants usage, including stem fibres, oils, medicinal tinctures, smoking and for its use in ancient spiritual rituals. 

Medically, Cannabis Sativa is known for its ability to reduce anxiety, depression, migraines, nausea, pain and inflammation. This strain is known for its ability to be diverse in aroma, from earthy to sweet and fruity. Sativa’s hit the brain quickly and are used for their energetic, uplifting, art inspiring, ‘go-get-‘em-tiger” effects. A little too strong of a sativa though, and despite it’s naturally low THC content, you’ll be feeling a little like you are over caffeinated, so make sure you look for balance with your strain selection. Sativa strains often produce little hairs or pistils that are orange in colour, making this strain a little easier to identify.  

Straight sativa strains are actually more difficult to cultivate, and therefore more difficult to readily find. This strain can grow upwards of 20 feet tall, making it hard to grow indoors. Sativa’s also have a long cultivation process, taking up to six months to flower, and a full 10-16 weeks after flowering for maturation. This one takes patience, young grasshopper. 

Cannabis Indica is the guy with all the street cred — the guy that gets you ‘high’. Indica’s are known for their short, fat body and leaves, its deep green colour (due to the plants high chlorophyll content a.k.a plant blood) and its Hindu Kush Mountain origins. 

Indica’s, with its high THC content and dense CBD, is the strain known for its effect on epileptic episodes in both children and adults . Indica strains effect the part of the brain that controls involuntary muscle contractions and is considered anti spasmodic in nature. Indica’s are also known for its pain fighting properties, sleep inducing benefits, and for the role they play with pain relief in auto immune conditions. 

This strain is far easier to find medically and recreationally, as it’s substantially easier to cultivate and has a much faster turnaround. Indica is often known as the purple weed, as it produces pistils more purple in colour. Think relaxing, sedating, body buzz – the ‘purple haze’ of cannabis. 

As far as cultivation goes, Indica’s have an 8-12 week flowering time, followed by a 6-8 week maturation period. Although this strain typically produces a slightly lower yield compared to sativas, it has a far higher THC content, making it in high demand. 

Cannabis Ruderalis — I mean, who? This is the little survivor of them all, the two foot tall tough guy, the one no one pays attention to until they need something — and the need, is quickly growing in popularity. 

Although you won’t ever find a pure ruderalis strain for consumption, it is known for its ability to survive and thrive in some pretty harsh conditions and for its ability to be super resistant to damage.  Making it a really good partner for cross pollination. This strain produces thick, fibre dense stems, has a 21-30 day flowering time with a short maturation cycle, low THC content and high CBD content. Ultimately, as the self-flowering strain of cannabis Ruderalis is quickly being recognized as the perfect pairing for hybrid creation, as it therefore creates a new self-flowing hybrid strain, cutting down the cultivation process. 

TA DA!

HYBRIDS

Hybrid weed creation is what is ultimately making the medicinal benefits of cannabis so exciting, and so infinite in nature. By combining the properties of different strains and its seeds, growers are able to produce products that have very specific, scientific, measurable effects. Although cerebral effects are specific to the person consuming, medical benefits are consistent and can be produced with intent in mind. 

Although indica dominant hybrids are most popular, because they still give you a psycho tropic effect, sativa dominant hybrids are also produced and are widely available. As hybrids are cultivated, generally speaking, they go through a four generations of grow cycles to really clean up the final strain and it’s properties before being released to consumers. Because strains are holistic in nature (meaning they are each the sum of all it’s parts, like soil, light, temperature, harvest and curing methods) you can get the same strain, from different licensed producers and be getting a product that tastes and smells dramatically different from the last. As long as strains DNA is not altered, these are just preferential differences. 

THE GOOD STUFF 

So, what are the best sativa strains or the best indica strains? First, it totally depends on the consumer and second there are thousands to choose from.

BUT here are some of the most popular for those looking to get acquainted: 

  1. Jack Herer: Sativa, daytime friendly
      • Origin: Netherlands
      • Mix: Haze, Northern Lights, Shiva Skunk
      • Side Effects: happy, uplifted, energetic, focused
      • Medical Benefits: relieves stress, depression, fatigue 
      • Aromas: spicy, pine, earthy
      • Users report having no ‘come down’ or ‘crash’
  1. Blue Dream: Indica Dominant Hybrid, evening use
      • Origin: West Coast, California
      • Mix: Blueberry Indica, Sative Haze
      • Side Effects: full body relaxation, happy, uplifted, creative, relaxed, gentle cerebral effect
      • Medical Benefits: relieves stress, depression, loss of appetite
      • Aromas: berries 
      • High THC strain, level effects
  1. Harlequin: Sativa Dominant Hybrid, daytime friendly 
      • Origin: West Coast, Washington 
      • Mix: Colombian Gold Indica, Swiss Landrace
      • Side Effects: clear headed, alert, relaxes muscles without causing drowsiness, euphoric
      • Medical Benefits: relieves pain and anxiety 
      • Aromas: earthy, musky, sweet mango
      • High CBD strain — 5:2 
  1. Northern Lights: Indica, evening use 
      • Origin: West Coast, Seattle
      • Mix: descendant of Afghan and Thai Landraces
      • Side Effects: relaxed, happy, sleepy, overall sense of well-being
      • Medical Benefits: relieves stress, insomnia, depression, pain relief, staff inducing 
      • Aromas: sweet, spicy 
      • Strong psycho active effects
  1. Afghan Kush: pure Indica, evening use 
      • Origin: Afghan Kush Mountains on the Afghan/Pakistan border 
      • Mix: pure 
      • Side Effects: power sedation, relaxed, sleepy, hungry 
      • Medical Benefits: relieves insomnia, pain, stress 
      • Aromas: earthy, pine
      • Protected genotype 

There are thousands of hybrids, sativas and indicas on the market now, so it’s less overwhelming if you start your introduction to strains low and slow. Start exploring strains by researching and really looking for some user friendly feedback, to start finding out what works for you. Hundreds of cannabis review sites are now accessible, but I like to cruise on Wikileaf or the Leafly  strain guide for reliable reviews. 

So, figure out what it is you’re looking for from your cannabis consumption, take your basic foundation of strain knowledge (happily provided for you here) and have some fun with this! Because, contrary to popular belief, nothing makes a to-do list more interesting and satisfying then a little sativa session. 

REFERENCES:

  1. T. (2017). The Leafly guide to cannabis: A handbook for the modern consumer. New York: Twelve.
  1. Brand, E. J., & Zhao, Z. (2017, March 10). Cannabis in Chinese Medicine: Are Some Traditional Indications Referenced in Ancient Literature Related to Cannabinoids? Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5345167/
  1. Cannabis Varieties. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://medicalmarijuana.ca/patients/cannabis-varieties-2/
  1. HERB. (2018, March 16). The Introductory Guide to Cannabis Strains. Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://herb.co/marijuana/news/the-introductory-guide-to-cannabis-strains
  1. Carroll, M. (2018, May 14). A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Cannabis Strains | Medical & Recreational Marijuana News & Articles. Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://www.allbud.com/learn/story/complete-beginners-guide-cannabis-strains

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