There are more than 1,000 different cannabis strains in the market currently. Given the pace at which breeders are creating new hybrid strains, this number could easily double in the next few years. What breeding does is that it improves the genetics of a strain by combining the best genetics from different strains. You take a cannabis strain with a sweet taste, say Wedding Cake and combine it with one that has a beautiful appearance, say Purple Kush and you get a strain that has the best of both worlds. Of course, the same goes for therapeutic qualities. That’s how far scientists have come with cannabis breeding. On the flip side, this has made selecting the best cannabis strain very confusing for patients. Here is a detailed guide that breaks down everything there is to know about cannabis strains and how to choose the best one for you.
This Guide Covers:
What are cannabis strains?
The Most Popular Landrace Strains
Sativa Dominant Strains
The Most Popular Sativa Dominant Strains
Therapeutic benefits of Sativa strains
Indica Dominant Strains
The Most Popular Indica Dominant Strains
Therapeutic Benefits of Indica Strains
Cannabis Strains Versus Chemovars
Type A Cannabis: Marijuana or THC Dominant
Type B Cannabis: Balanced CBD and THC
Type C Cannabis: Hemp or CBD Dominant
What to look for when choosing a cannabis strain
Patients who are suffering from medical conditions in which traditional drug treatments are ineffective will often look for an alternative source of symptom and pain relief using medical marijuana. If you’re just beginning to search for the best medical cannabis to treat your particular condition, the amount of choices can be overwhelming. We hope to provide some simple information here to get you on your way in choosing the right strain or hybrid strain to best meet your needs.
What are Cannabis Strains?
Cannabis strain is actually a vague term that describes the lineage of a strain and the characteristics that are attributed to it. Earlier on, it was believed that cannabis strains had unique properties that were present throughout the strain. However, it has now emerged that environmental influences and “terroir” do affect the characteristics of a strain. This means that Purple Kush grown in one state may not have the exact same features as Purple Kush grown in a different state. That said, because the genetics are similar in each strain it is expected that the dominant characteristics will be present throughout the strain.
Originally, cannabis grew naturally in the wild and strains were indigenous to geographical locations. These strains such as Malawian Gold or Kilimanjaro from East Africa are referred to as landrace strains. Over time, breeders have created new strains by breeding existing strains. These are now called hybrids.
Cannabis hybrids are usually created with specific qualities in mind. For example, the legendary Colorado breeders, the Stanley Brothers, created the famous Charlotte’s Web strain with high amounts of CBD so as to help children manage their seizures and other ailments. Other strains will be created to offer high THC levels or to even produce beautiful-looking purple buds. This is called selective breeding.
It is believed that roots of the cannabis plant are in central Asia at the foot of the Himalayas. Cannabis strains from this region are believed to have a high resin content making them suitable for hash-making. Cannabis also found itself in China where it became an integral part of Chinese herbal medicine, and later moved to India where it formed a part of the Hindu religion. Finally, cannabis found its way to the European continent and Australia in the 18th century. By this time, different species of cannabis had begun to evolve as cannabis adapted to the changes in climatic and environmental conditions. Cannabis that left Asia did not have the same qualities as the one that was growing in Australia, even though they were of the same species. This process of natural and non-selective breeding created tens of landrace strains. Unlike hybrids, landrace strains have very close similarities to the original indigenous strains.
Popular Landrace Sativa Strains
Landrace Sativa strains originally grew in the equatorial region which has long summers. Due to the lack of water and high heat, the cannabis plants often grew tall and slender and were hardly bushy. The leaves were usually thin and delicate and the flowering cycle was generally longer. With such characteristics, the average yield of landrace Sativa strains is usually lower. The same characteristics have become associated with modern Sativa strains.
The most popular sativa strains include:
This Sativa landrace strain is a 100% Sativa and traces its origins to the Acapulco region of Mexico. It has high THC amounts topping 18% but low amounts of CBD. The dominant terpenes in this strain are myrcene, humulene, and beta caryophyllene. It’s suited for managing anxiety, stress, and depression.
Panama Red is a pure Sativa landrace that traces its roots to South America. It has moderately high amounts of THC, usually about 10% but it has a low level of CBD. The dominant terpenes in this strain include myrcene, limonene, and linalool. This strain is best suited for boosting appetite and dealing with insomnia.
Thai is a pure Sativa strain that originates from Asia. It boasts of high amounts of THC, usually topping 22%. The dominant terpenes in this strain include limonene, pinene, and terpinolene. It’s suitable for managing chronic pain, depression, and fatigue.
Popular Landrace Indica Strains
Landrace Indica strains originally grew in temperate and mountainous regions that have short summers and long winters such as Afghanistan, Tibet, and Pakistan predominantly. Because of the environmental conditions, landrace indica plants were usually short and bushy. They also produced higher yields due to the favorable climatic conditions. They also tend to have a shorter flowering cycle as an adaptation to the drastic seasonal changes.
Popular landrace indica strains include:
This is a 100% Indica strain that originates from the Hindu Kush mountain area on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has high levels of THC, around 20%, with minimal levels of CBD. The terpene profile includes myrcene, pinene, and limonene. It’s suitable for managing pain and boosting appetite.
Afghani is another landrace strain with pure Indica (100%) characteristics that originated from the Middle East. It has high amounts of THC, usually around 20%, and low levels of CBD. The terpene profile includes myrcene, humulene, pinene, and beta-caryophyllene. It’s suitable for managing chronic pain, nausea, and anxiety.
This landrace pure Indica strain originates from southern Afghanistan. It has THC levels of about 12% and only small amounts of CBD. The dominant terpenes in this strain are myrcene and beta-caryophyllene. It’s suitable for managing chronic pain, poor appetite, and nausea.
Final note on landrace strains
Landrace strains provide an opportunity to try out pure indicas or pure Sativas. However, you will find that the qualities of the present landraces will differ from the original ancestral strains. These are changes that occur naturally as the plants have to adapt to different climatic conditions. If you want a truly authentic landrace experience it is advisable to travel to the “ancestral home” of the strain in search of the wild and indigenous strain.
What Is Cannabis Ruderalis?
The term ‘ruderalis’ in Latin means ‘a weed’ or ‘growing in a rubble.‘ A ruderal strain can also mean any plant that grows wildly in an area. Ruderal cannabis strains are mostly found in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. Ruderalis strains are hardy and can survive in extreme conditions.
Ruderalis strains grow in 90 -110 days and are therefore considered to be the fastest-growing marijuana type. Originally, ruderalis strains were grown outdoors. However, breeders are now harnessing the unique traits of ruderalis by cross-breeding it with strains that do well indoors.
How to identify Ruderalis cannabis
Ruderalis plants are the shortest type of cannabis plant, growing to a height of 1 to 2.5 feet. These short plants have thick stems and wide leaves and produce buds that are small but chunky.
Ruderalis plants are autoflowering which is a very unique trait. Unlike Sativas and indicas, these plants will progress from the vegetative phase to the flowering phase without needing any changes in lighting. This will happen 21 – 30 days after they have been planted. Another month after the plants have been harvested they will be ready for harvest.
Most of the ruderalis strains that are on the market are not pure ruderalis but hybrids. Pure ruderalis will have the following effects:
Ruderalis strains have extremely low levels of the primary psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Ruderalis strains are non-psychotropic and non-intoxicating. This means that they are not ideal for recreational use.
Calming and Relaxing
Ruderalis strains have high amounts of CBD. Whole-plant extracts of ruderalis have a calming and relaxing effect. Novice patients can start with ruderalis easily without being anxious about getting overwhelmed by psychotropic effects.
Popular Ruderalis Hybrid Strains
Cannabis breeders have harnessed the auto-flowering capabilities of ruderalis to create exceptional cannabis strains. Here are a few that you are likely to come across.
This ruderalis hybrid was created by the master breeders Sensi Seeds. It is a cross between the original ruderalis and the legendary Skunk. The result is an auto-flowering strain that is indica-leaning with 70% Indica and 30% Sativa. This low THC strain is suitable for treating extreme fatigue and promoting restful sleep.
This rudelis hybrid was created by Zamnesia Seeds. It is a cross between the original ruderalis and Do-si-dos strain. The result is an auto-flowering strain that is indica-leaning with 65% Indica and 35% Sativa that’s best suited for combating pain and insomnia.
This rudelis hybrid was created by Dutch Passions as a cross between the original Mazar strain and an unknown indica strain. This is an auto-flowering strain that is indica-leaning with 70% Indica and 30% Sativa. It has moderate amounts of THC ranging from 10% to 14% and it’s best suited for addressing sleep disturbance and anxiety.
Cannabis Sativa strains are native to equatorial regions that are typically hot such as Thailand, Mexico, and Africa. With such a hot climate, Sativa strains are usually tall and may reach up to 20 feet. The plants have narrow and delicate leaves while the buds are small and fluffy.
Most Sativa strains have a higher THC to CBD ratio but this is not a hard and fast rule. Sativas are cerebral strains that cause intense cerebral feelings and psychedelic effects. They are popular for their uplifting, energizing, and stimulating effects.
When consuming Sativas, moderation is always advised. Sativa strains with high amounts of THC could easily trigger paranoia, anxiety, and panic. It is advisable to start off with small amounts and work your way up to your desired effect.
Causes mental stimulation
Most Popular Sativa Hybrid Strains
This famously known cannabis author and activist and namesake hybrid strain is flavor-packed and delivers powerful Sativa effects. It is a cross between three strains: Northern Lights #5, Haze, and Shiva Skunk. Its dominant terpenes include myrcene, pinene, and humulene. It can be used to treat stress, migraines, and anorexia.
This is an award-winning potent Sativa strain (90%) that features high amounts of THC (about 25%). The dominant terpenes in this strain are myrcene and limonene which give off a skunk-like and citrus aroma. With an energizing cerebral high, this strain is best suited for dealing with depression.
This is a Sativa dominant hybrid strain with 70% Sativa and 30% indica. It is a delicious high-THC strain that’s best suited for combating pain and dealing with low mood. The dominant terpenes in this terpene are limonene and myrcene.
Therapeutic Benefits of Sativa Strains
Sativa strains are uplifting and contribute to improved mood and a happy disposition. Consequently, Sativas are used to treat mood and emotional disorders.
Sativa strains are energizing and uplifting. They also increase one’s focus leading to increased productivity.
Most Sativa strains have high amounts of THC which is a known appetite booster. One scientific paper noted that “…the ability of [C. Sativa] to promote eating has been documented for many centuries … [many users report] strong cravings for, and intensification of, the sensory and hedonic properties of food.” Simply put, Sativa strains will ignite your appetite in a big way.
Sativa strains offer mental stimulation and mood enhancement. This is helpful in treating depression and reducing depressive episodes.
Cannabis Hybrid Strains
Cannabis hybrids are created by cross-breeding two or more cannabis strains. The result will be a cannabis hybrid strain that carries the genotypic characteristics of the parent strains. Cannabis hybrids can either be Sativa dominant, Indica dominant, not balanced hybrids.
Sativa dominant hybrids will have a higher percentage of Sativa characteristics which are usually expressed as a percentage. For example, it can have 70% Sativa characteristics and 30% Indica characteristics. The same applies to Indica dominant hybrid strains. Balanced hybrid strains have 50% Sativa and 50% Indica.
Indica Dominant Hybrid Strains
Indica dominant hybrid strains have a higher percentage of Indica characteristics than Sativa. They are usually associated with strong body effects and minimal cerebral effects. It is also believed that indica strains tend to have higher CBD concentrations than THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid). However, some indica strains such as Death Star, Skywalker OG. Purple Kush, and Green Gelato have high amounts of THC. Here are some effects that are associated with indica strains.
Enhanced senses such as sound, touch, and smell
What Are The Therapeutic Benefits of Indica Strains?
Indica strains are generally very relaxing and are the perfect way to wind down after a hectic day. They cause deep muscle effects which help to ease away deep-seated aches and chronic fatigue.
Consuming a strong indica strain is likely to produce a couch-lock which happens when one is not able to get up from a sleeping position. This makes indicas ideal for evening use when bedtime is beckoning. Even in small doses, indicas are likely to cause sedation.
Anxiety and stress relief
Indica strains are suitable for relieving stress and anxiety. The mental stimulation is rarely overwhelming and even new users are likely to tolerate indicas quite well.
Pain and Inflammation relief
Indicas strains with moderate amounts of THC will offer pain and inflammation relief. They are ideally suited for managing nerve pain, spasticity, joint pain, and non-migraine headaches.
Indicas with higher amounts of CBD can be used to reduce seizure episodes. Fortunately, high CBD indicas can be administered safely to children suffering from seizure disorders.
Indicas are generally better tolerated than Sativas. An online study that was published in the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine“ in 2014 showed that most patients prefer Indica strains for pain management, and sedation while they prefer Sativa strains for mood improvement and boosting energy levels.
Popular Indica Hybrid Strains
Northern Lights is a popular and award-winning Indica dominant strain that has very high THC levels, usually exceeding 30%. It’s a cross between two landraces; Thai and Afghani strains. It’s suited for treating sleep problems, poor appetite, anxiety and depression.
This is an indica dominant hybrid strain that was created by crossing Purple Urkle with Big Bud. It has a high THC (23%) with low amounts of CBD. It is famous for its beautiful purple-colored buds that are loaded with anthocyanin. Its dominant terpenes include myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, and pinene. It’s best suited for insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
This (G-13 aka Government -13) is an indica-dominant (70% indica) hybrid strain whose exact lineage is unknown. It is a high THC strain that is known for causing extreme happiness and euphoria. With an aroma of skunky and sweet, this strain has myrcene and terpinolene as the dominant terpenes. This strain is suited for seizure reduction and pain relief.
The Sativa/Indica Debate
Some scientists have argued that due to the constant inter-breeding and hybridization of cannabis strains, indica versus sativa as a classification of cannabis has become “meaningless.” This has paved the way for a modern classification that is based on the biochemical properties of cannabis aka chemotypes.
Cannabis Strains Versus Cultivars
You might have come across the word cultivar and probably wondered if it is the same thing as cannabis strain. While strain is usually used to refer to varieties of microorganisms, the cultivar is the appropriate name for varieties of cultivated plants. Cannabis strain as a classification (Sativa and Indica) is falling out of favor because it does not capture the full essence of the cannabis plant. The cultivar is based on the chemical composition of the plant aka chemotypes. It takes into consideration the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical compounds that are present in cannabis. Scientists now believe that cultivar gives a more accurate prediction of the effects and therapeutic benefits that can be obtained from a type of cannabis. Consequently, they have created a new system of classifying cannabis types that is based on the cannabinoid content.
Type A Cannabis: Marijuana Cultivars
Cannabis Sativa is a type of Marijuana that has high amounts of THC, usually exceeding 10%. Marijuana strains may also be referred to as high-THC strains.
Popular Marijuana Cultivars
Bruce Banner – 25%
Gorilla Glue – 25%
Lemon Kush – 23%
Banana OG – 23%
GMO Cookies – 24%
Therapeutic benefits of marijuana strains
Offer pain relief
Relieves nausea and vomiting
Relieves symptoms of PTSD
Offers antibacterial and antioxidant properties
Type B Cannabis: Balanced THC:CBD
Type B cannabis cultivars have equal amounts of THC and CBD. These are rare cultivars that are intended to provide balanced effects.
Popular Balanced Cultivars
Type C Cannabis: Hemp Cultivars
Hemp is a type of cannabis Sativa that has minimal amounts of THC, not exceeding 0.3%. Hemp strains may also be referred to as pure CBD strains.
Popular Hemp Cultivars
Elektra – 20% CBD
Cherry Wine – 17% CBD
Lifter – 16% CBD
ACDC – 14% CBD
Remedy – 14% CBD
Therapeutic benefits of hemp strains
Offer pain relief
Offers stress relief
Reduces PTSD symptoms
How To Choose A Cannabis Strain
When choosing a cannabis strain, there are a number of questions that you should ask yourself. The most important is the kind of effects that you expect from this strain. This will be determined by the chemical composition of the strain.
How much THC is in the strain?
How much CBD is in the strain?
Which terpenes are in the strain?
What other cannabinoids are in the strain
This information can be found in the certificate of analysis (COA) report. When purchasing any cannabis strain, it is important to scrutinize the COA for the cannabinoid and terpene profiles. If you are a medical cannabis patient, your recommending doctor should give guidance on the best cannabis strain that will help you achieve your therapeutic goals.
The options on hybrid strains are endless, and you may not know which specific strain will help your medical condition most until you try it. The two top criteria in choosing the best medical marijuana are:
What is the illness or ailment you have been diagnosed with?
What are the symptoms you are trying to treat using medical marijuana?
Now that you know the different kinds of strains and cultivars and what they are best suited for, the answers to the questions above will help you determine which cannabis strain will work best for you.
Although most well-known for treating cancer and HIV/AIDS patients, cannabis is effective in treating illnesses and autoimmune diseases such as:
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Choosing the best medical marijuana strain for your particular condition can take a little trial and error, but knowing the difference between the two main strains can help shorten the search. Potency and dosage vary with each strain, your condition and your individual tolerance. Your medical marijuana providers (sometimes also referred to as ‘budtenders’) can help direct you to the best strain and dosage that they carry and potentially will best reduce your pain while still maintaining your ability to function in your everyday life.
For more detailed information about the many different strains available, we have listed United Patients Group’s Cannabis Strain Guide in the resource section of our website. Also, feel free to contact us for a recommendation of a medical marijuana dispensary in your area that can help you determine the best strains for your condition.