If you’re just getting started with cannabis — you know, you’ve just had your first session and you’ve found your inner call — your appetite for trying different strains is probably as high as you’ve been the first time you’ve got baked.
However, the abundance of marijuana strains may be overwhelming for new consumers.
What effects should you expect?
How to tell the difference between indica vs. sativa?
What are marijuana hybrids?
Why do different strains have so many unique aromas — and what do they have to do with the effects of each variety?
So many questions remain unanswered…
But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with everything. Welcome to our beginner’s guide to marijuana strains!
A Brief Overview of Marijuana Strains
Marijuana strains can be broken down into three basic categories:
There’s also a fourth type (although less popular), known as cannabis ruderalis. We’ll elaborate on the ruderalis species later in the article.
All of the above strains come from different parts of the world and have unique features that help us differentiate between them.
Let’s start with the oldest — and also a bit oversimplified — classification system.
Indica vs. Sativa 101: Origins, Appearance & Effects
People have been growing cannabis for over 5,000 years. Over the years, the plant has evolved to fit into different climates. Both sativa and indica marijuana strains come from different regions of the globe.
Cannabis sativa plants originated from hotter climates, mostly from countries near the equator, such as Thailand, Mexico, and Colombia, as well as from several African and Indian countries.
Cannabis indica strains are native to colder regions of the world, mostly to mountain chains of Turkestan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Lebanon. Most original indica plants come from the Hindu Kush region — that’s why many indica strains have the “kush” name.
Sativa strains are usually taller than indica plants. They can reach up to 25 feet. Sativas also grow thin leaves and tall branches so that the sun can penetrate the flowers. For those who want to grow a sativa strain, this type of cannabis can bring generous yields after about 60–90 days from the flowering stage. The flowers of sativa plants are loose and resemble a cone in shape.
Indica plants, on the other hand, are small and bushy, reaching up to 6 feet. These strains grow bulky flowers that are more resinous than their sativa counterparts. Indica plants also have a shorter flowering period, being ready for harvest within 50 days.
Since sativa marijuana strains are tall, they work better with outdoor spaces. These plants require more patience to achieve maximum yields, but the result is well worth the hassle.
Indica plants are usually grown indoors and produce fewer buds, but the resin production on their surface compensates for the smaller volume. Plus, indica strains have a shorter flowering time.
Marijuana strains can have different effects on individuals depending on the selected variety.
Sativa flowers are known for their brain-centered effects and an uplifting, euphoric high that also boosts focus, stirs creativity and makes users more sociable. These qualities make them better for daytime use, especially if you need to keep yourself focused and full of positive energy throughout the day. Many cannabis consumers combine their sativa weed with a cup of coffee for their wake n’ bake ritual.
Indica strains have a different nature, providing quite the opposite effects. This type of marijuana tends to produce a body-focused high that relaxes the muscles and brings down a mellow vibe — relieving pain, tension, and all sorts of physical distress. Indica flowers are often picked by people who experience trouble falling asleep or those with chronic stress disorders. We recommend smoking pure indica buds in the evening because they can make you feel sleepy, especially when consumed in large quantities.
Marijuana Hybrids: The Best of Both Worlds
Staying true to their name, marijuana hybrids combine the unique genetics of two-parent strains that were used in the crossbreeding process.
There are three types of hybrids:
- Sativa-dominant hybrids
- Indica-dominant hybrids
- 50/50 hybrids
An indica-dominant strain will mostly show its indica traits with gentle notes of sativa. By the same analogy, an indica-dominant hybrid will produce the majority of its cerebral effects with some hints of indica relaxation.
Last but not least, there are 50/50 hybrids that provide a well-balanced high and versatile therapeutic effects. You can use those even hybrids throughout the whole day.
What Is Cannabis Ruderalis?
Cannabis ruderalis is the least common type of weed. Ruderalis plants aren’t popular because they don’t produce psychoactive effects. Nevertheless, cannabis breeders use them for crossbreeding different strains because the ruderalis species is able to produce the auto-flowering effect in the plant.
Appearance-wise, cannabis ruderalis is dense and short, growing up to 25 inches — it’s definitely closer to an indica plant.
The Truth About Classifying Cannabis Strains
The indica vs. sativa classification is, without a doubt, convenient — but also simplified to the bone.
While this system can give you a general idea of the effects that come with your strain, it’s not as precise as you believe it to be.
In fact, appearance and geographic origins have very little to do with the effects of marijuana.
It turns out that there’s more to marijuana strains than meets the eye.
The way the sativa and indica labels are presented to people in commerce is pointless. The clinical effects of marijuana aren’t driven by the width of leaves or whether the plant comes from India or Mexico.
There’s no factual evidence to back the broad sweeping recommendations, and people should stop using this outdated system because it paradoxically complicates things.
In the next section, we’ll help you predict the effect of different marijuana strains with much higher accuracy.
The Driving Factors Behind the Effects of Marijuana
The cannabis plant is very complex, so the effects of any particular strain will depend on a range of factors, including:
- The strain’s THC/CBD content
- Your unique body chemistry
- The consumed dose
- Route of administration
- Your THC tolerance.
1. The Ratio Between THC and CBD
There are around 113 identified cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. These compounds create synergistic effects between each other, amplifying their benefits and reducing the unwanted effects. THC and CBD are the two most abundant cannabinoids that trigger the majority of its positive effects.
THC is the psychoactive compound, the one responsible for the marijuana high. The “high” is often described as a set of euphoric effects, including deep relaxation, hunger, elevated mood, and relief from symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, and inflammation.
Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, so it won’t get you high. However, it also has a range of well-documented therapeutic benefits. CBD may curb anxiety, reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, lessen inflammation, pain, and protect the body and brain against damage caused by free radicals.
There are three categories of marijuana strains based on their THC/CBD ratio:
- THC-dominant strains: these varieties are mostly sought by recreational users and those seeking relief from such conditions as insomnia, depression, trauma, mood disorders, and chronic anxiety. They also work better with those who can handle the psychoactive properties of THC.
- CBD-dominant strains: these buds have a high CBD content with low levels of THC. CBD flowers mostly provide physical relaxation, without the overwhelming euphoria. They are great for people who are seeking an introduction to cannabis or just don’t want to get high from smoking the herb.
- 50/50 strains: some marijuana strains, both sativa and indica, come with balanced ratios of THC and CBD. These varieties can be a good way to show a new user what the staple marijuana high feels like.
It appears that cannabinoids aren’t the only compounds that can influence the character of your high. Let’s talk about terpenes for a second.
Terpenes are aromatic molecules that give plants and fruits their unique aromas and flavors. Marijuana is a very fragrant plant, so as you may guess, it must be very rich in terpenes.
These compounds also affect the way you experience the marijuana high. Although which terpenes cause which effects is apparently very complicated, it seems that their concentrations and ratios in the plant can modulate the effects of cannabinoids.
For example, strains high in pinene (the terpene typical to exotic fruits) is known for boosting creativity and chattiness; limonene, the terpene responsible for the citrus aroma in some cannabis strains, reduces anxiety and stress while elevating energy levels; linalool, in turn, is known to be more sedating than other terpenes.
That’s how you can (and should) choose your next strain — based on the THC/CBD ratios and its terpene content.
3. Route of Administration
You may consume cannabis in many different forms, and each of them will produce different effects.
Smoking weed gives a heavier high because the effects of smoked marijuana come within minutes after inhalation — therefore, it’s difficult to measure the dose effectively. This makes users more likely to feel the side effects of THC.
Another way to inhale marijuana is via vaporization. This is a smoke-free method that requires you to use a vaporizer — a heating device for herbs and concentrates. The vaporizer will heat your material under lower temperatures so that it releases cannabinoid-reach vapor that you inhale through the mouthpiece of your device. Vaporized weed provides clear-headed effects that also last longer.
You can also eat some marijuana edibles. This method is especially useful for people who need long-lasting relief from their symptoms or those who want to combine their passion for food with their love for weed. When taken orally, the THC in marijuana breaks down in the liver and passes into the bloodstream in its more potent form. That’s why the high from edibles is also stronger than from other consumption methods. However, due to the first-pass liver effect, marijuana edibles need about 40–90 minutes to kick in.
4. THC Potency
Marijuana plants are getting more potent every year. 15 years ago, an average marijuana strain had about 6-8% THC. Today, the average THC content of marijuana sits at around 15%, with some strains reaching up to 34%.
It goes without saying that consuming the same amount of a strain that has over 30% THC will result in a stronger psychoactive experience than if you smoked a bud with 15% THC.
That’s why it’s important to check the potency of your strain before you buy it. And if you decide to go with a stronger bud, make sure to lower your dosage accordingly. This will allow you to benefit from your stain’s unique properties but without the overwhelming high. Otherwise, the euphoric effects of THC may backfire at you, leading to anxiety, confusion, loss of coordination, and sleepiness.
A Final Word on Marijuana Strains
Don’t be ashamed if you’re getting confused during your first visit to a cannabis dispensary. As mentioned, the abundance of marijuana strains makes it difficult for a newbie to pick the one that will suit them best.
However, once you understand the differences between indica, sativa, and hybrids — and learn about the role of THC, CBD, and terpenes in the marijuana plant — you’ll be on a good way to becoming a savvy consumer.
Discovering new marijuana strains is an exciting process. Just remember that the indica vs. sativa classification is a very oversimplified system and the origins or appearance of your strain may have nothing to do with how it affects you.
We hope that this article has helped you get a general understanding of marijuana strains, and that you’ll use the herb responsibly to get the most out of its benefits without the side effects of THC.
If you don’t know where to start with the dosage, here’s a tip — start low and gradually increase it until you find the dose that works for you.
When did your adventure with marijuana start? Do you remember your first strain? Share your stories in the comments below!