Cannabis is an industry that continues to go from strength to strength.
Just a few decades ago marijuana was solely the property of the black market. But state by state, legislation has swept the country. The recreational use of cannabis is now legal in 18 states with more set to follow, and it is decriminalized in a further 13 states.
Medical cannabis is even further ahead, with 48 out of 50 states legalizing medicinal weed in some form.
It’s predicted that the global cannabis market will surpass $34billion before the end of 2021. Dispensaries are popping up on high streets up and down the country and access to ganja has never been easier.
For the seasoned vets, this is great news.
In years gone by your options were limited. Unless you had your own secret grow, you pretty much had to take what you could get. Nowadays things couldn’t be more different. Cannabis dispensaries are packed to the rafters with hundreds of new and classic strains.
For those with less experience or anyone coming into the cannabis culture for the first time, this vast array of choice can be a little daunting, and even acts as a barrier for entry to those who just want to know what all the fuss is about.
One of the first and probably most important questions to ask is ‘what even is a cannabis stain?’ So without further ado, let’s dive straight in and get to the bottom of this eternal mary-jane conundrum.
If you’ve ever stepped foot into a Seattle dispensary you probably noticed that cannabis is split up into three broad categories – Indica, Sativa, and hybrid.
Traditionally cannabis was labeled either an Indica strain or a Sativa strain, or a mix of the two, known as a hybrid. All strains of cannabis fall under these three umbrella terms. But what do they even mean?
The differences between the two types start with the actual plants themselves. Indica plants are generally shorter, with thicker stems and broader, dark green leaves. Sativas on the other hand are taller and narrow, with thin light green leaves.
Indica is thought to originate in the Kush mountains of northern India, growing naturally on the foothills of the Himalayas. Sativa is known to originate in drier climes of central and equatorial South America.
Apart from the differences in history and physical appearance, there has been a long-standing consensus about the effects of Indica cannabis and Sativa cannabis. Indica has been marked as having a relaxing, sedative effect, whereas Sativa is associated with a euphoric, uplifting high.
But as more money and attention is directed towards cannabis research, it turns out that these generalizations may not be as accurate as we once thought.
Cannabis strains from all over the world are being analyzed in close detail. The findings suggest there are no consistent characteristics within the traditional Sativa/Indica classifications.
Some Indica strains have a profile that will cause energetic highs and others have a profile that causes a relaxing buzz, and the same is true for Sativa strains.
With these new discoveries, more importance is falling on to the differences of the individual strains, the types of high they cause, and their unique flavor profiles.
The simplest way to explain cannabis strain is to compare cannabis to fruit.
Take an apple, for example. An apple is an apple. But if you ask a bunch of different people to describe an apple you’re bound to get a bunch of different answers.
Some will say an apple is red. Others will say an apple is green.
Some will say an apple is sweet, others will say tangy.
Some say soft, others say crisp.
The reality is, humans have been carefully cultivating cannabis for centuries to create plants and buds for different tastes and needs.
Whether it is to achieve stronger or milder highs, increased yield size, create different flavors and aromas, or effects of euphoria, sedation, creativity, or relaxation.
There is an almost endless choice out there and it all comes down to why you’re using cannabis in the first place.
As cannabis growers and users place less emphasis on the difference between Indica and Sativa, new ways of categorizing buds have emerged.
One term you may have come across is ‘cannabinoid profile’ and it’s becoming a more reliable standard for deciding which strain is right for you.
Let’s break it down a little.
Cannabinoids are the active ingredient within cannabis that cause the actual effects that we all know and love.
The two most well-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC is responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis. CBD doesn’t get you high but it has medicinal properties such as helping combat anxiety, inflammation, chronic pain, glaucoma, and MS.
But these two are just the tip of the iceberg. In total there are 113 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Currently, we don’t know the full effects of all of them, but research is ongoing and moving rapidly.
From what we do know so far, different cannabinoids interact with each other and the human body to change the way we experience the high of cannabis.
But for the most part, you only really need to keep an eye out for the THC and CBD levels.
As we’ve already discussed, THC is the psychoactive ingredient that actually gets you stoned. It goes without saying then, that the higher the THC percentage in your weed, the stronger the high.
Large amounts of CBD in your bud mean you’re more likely to feel the medicinal benefits of smoking weed. Not only this, CBD tends to take the intense edge off the high, meaning you’ll be less likely to feel the paranoid and anxious effects that you sometimes get with high potency weed.
If you’re someone who tends to start getting the sweats and overthinking yourself into a pit of despair when you take a few puffs, you’re probably more suited to weed that has high in CBD.
Another buzz phrase that has come about as our understanding around cannabis grows is ‘terpene profile’.
Terpenes are complex hydrocarbons that are found in organic matter which give them their unique aromatic makeup.
Or to put it simply, they’re the part of plants that make them smell and taste nice.
Cannabis plants have an extremely high concentration and a wide range of terpenes, which is why you can always smell someone blazing up herb from a mile away.
In fact, the industry of terpene extraction is rapidly developing alongside the cannabis industry. These aroma extracts are used to add depth to everything from food and drink, perfumes, air fresheners, and cosmetics.
Over the years, cannabis cultivators have been selectively and cross-breeding cannabis strains to enhance their terpene profile. The result is the huge difference in tastes and smells you can get from different strains.
One of the first things a cannabis connoisseur will do upon inspection of some dank buds is open up the bag and take a deep sniff. Instantly you get hit with a variety of different aromas – sweet, sour, pine, earth, cheese, diesel, fruit, candy, wood, and so on.
Like an experienced wine sommelier, ganja experts can begin rattling off the different subtle undertones they’re experiencing and many can even tell you the strain of cannabis without even having to look at it.
But do terpenes affect you?
Short answer, yes.
Long answer, yes – but again we’re not fully sure how and the research is still ongoing.
Terpenes are bioactive, meaning they react with the human body in different ways. They’re thought to add to the so-called ‘entourage effect,’ the larger overall effect of smoking cannabis herb that you don’t necessarily get from smoking isolated THC on its own.
So until we know more, choosing a terpene profile comes down to what you like and what you dislike. Sour Diesel is one of the most recognizable and popular strains of cannabis due to its unique, mouthwatering, and chemical flavor. It’s one of my favorite tasting strains, but there are plenty of people out there who cannot stand it.
That’s cool. With a little bit of digging around on online weed databases, you can find weed that produces an almost identical high but with a flavor that matches your tastes.
Sampling all the different flavors and aromas of weed in the age of the dispensary is a true journey for the senses. Have fun, and you’ll soon hit upon a strain you can’t live without.
So now we have a good idea of what separates the different strains, it’s time to put all the factors into the mixing bowl and make a decision.
Before you get started you need to ask yourself why you’re consuming weed in the first place.
Are you looking for something to help you sleep? Want to ease anxiety? Looking for something that helps you switch off after work? Want to enhance your enjoyment of music or films? Or do you simply want to get buzzed, relax on the sofa, and daydream for a couple of hours?
Answering this question will give you a good idea of which strain is best for your needs.
Next up you need to consider your experience and tolerance level. If you’re new to cannabis you probably want to choose something with lower strength.
And finally, your budget. Some strains are rarer and harder to find and so usually come with a higher price tag.
Now you have a better grasp on what it is you’re looking for, it’s time to dive in!
To get you started, we’ve selected a couple of the most popular strains out there.
Have you ever seen the film Children of Men?
Micheal Caine plays a long-haired, conspiracy theory touting hippy whose pride and joy in mid-apocalypse Britain is his crop of Strawberry Cough plants.
Strawberry Cough is a pretty potent Sativa strain, with a sweet smell of freshly picked strawberries and thick, tickly smoke that will bring out a cough from even the most seasoned pros. Its background is thought to come from a cross of Haze and Strawberry fields, but its exact genetic origin is unknown.
The high is an uplifting, energetic, euphoria, so if you’re feeling the stresses of the world it’s a perfect pick – probably while Caine’s character smoked it while the world crumbled around him
From dutch powerhouse cannabis cultivators Sensi Seeds, Northern Light is a true classic. One of the most recognizable names in the game, this strain has been a benchmark for weed growers for decades and provides the parent genetics for many modern strains.
NL is an Indica that brings you up before spreading a calm, relaxing high throughout our mind and body. Some say it tastes sweet, others say it tastes spicy. But one thing everyone can agree on is the velvety smooth smoke it produces, a far cry from the strawberry cough above.
Northern Lights owes its popularity to its versatility. It’s a hardy plant that’s easy to grow, and its flowering time means it yields quick, constant crops from limited grow space. It’s great for recreational use, but its effectiveness for easing depression, insomnia and pain, make it a go-to choice for medical users as well.