The language of cannabis can be confusing for people new to the scene. The words “strain,” “Indica,” and “Sativa” are some of the most commonly used descriptive terms, but they’re not accurate. In this article, we’ll break down the lingo and discuss what those terms mean today in the modern world of legal cannabis. We’ll also offer tips to choose the right strain for you, highlighting some of our favorite Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid strains.
In cannabis culture, the word strain is a term adopted to identify different cannabis cultivars that come from different lineages and have different characteristics. OG Kush is a strain. Blue Dream is a strain. But strain is a controversial word today.
In botany, referring to cannabis varieties as “strains” is improper. Instead, different plant varieties are called cultivars, not strains. Strain is a word typically used to classify different bacteria or viruses.
Similarly, the cannabis community and culture also use the words “Indica,” “Sativa,” and “Hybrid” to divide cultivars into three distinct categories. But research has shown that Indica, Sativa, or Hybrid are not accurate terms to describe a given strain’s overall experience or effect. Moreover, pure Indica strains and Sativa strains are nearly extinct. As a result, almost everything we refer to as Indica or Sativa today is a Hybrid.
Cannabis is an extraordinarily complex plant. What creates the odor, aroma, and effects of cannabis are the different cannabinoid and terpene profiles in a given cultivar. There are over 100 different cannabinoids and 400 different terpenes. These cannabinoids and terpenes influence each other and interact with the human endocannabinoid system in the “entourage effect.”
Due to this complexity and the emerging science, the terms “chemotype” or “chemovar” are slowly supplanting strains, Indica and Sativa, as the way to classify cannabis. A chemovar is a given plant’s chemical fingerprint. It denotes its unique blend of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Part of the reason the old language hasn’t caught up to the new science is that cannabis is evolving at light speed. Back in the day, Indica and Sativa were landrace cultivars indigenous to their own geographical regions. They existed unchanged for millennia until cannabis breeders grabbed the reins of evolution in their quest to create effects-specific strains, AKA “Designer Weed.”
Today, the old landraces have been crossbred with thousands of other strains by thousands of breeders countless times to create the next hit strain.
Most cannabis experts acknowledge that there are over 700 cannabis strains. However, because cannabis is still illegal in most of the world and federally illegal in the US, there could be many other strains on the black market that we don’t know about yet. Not to mention all the strains in development in the various breeding programs worldwide that have yet to be released. The possibilities are limitless.
Today, when we’re talking about aroma, flavor, and effects, we’re talking about chemovars. But the history of where the landrace Indica and Sativa originated is important. Moreover, because the terms strain, Indica and Sativa are still the wording used in cannabis culture, knowing what they mean in the culture is key to communicating about cannabis.
The Cannabis Sativa Landrace was originally native to South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia’s equatorial regions. Sativas are tall, thin plants with long, narrow leaves.
Cannabis Sativa plants were among the first to be domesticated by humans and have been cultivated for millennia. They were brought to Europe by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16th century and became widely used as medicinal herbs and for making rope and sails. In the 19th century, Cannabis Sativas were introduced to the United States, where they were used to make hemp cloth and oil.
Sativa’s effects are cerebral. They are uplifting, energizing and promote creativity. So a Sativa is a good choice if you want a strain to help you focus on a project or get through your day without feeling bogged down.
Cannabis Sativa was the only recognized cannabis strain until the 18th century when the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck discovered cannabis plants in India that were short, squat, and bushy, with broad leaves. He recognized the stark differences and named this plant Cannabis indica. The cannabis Indica landrace is indigenous to India, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tibet. From there, indica plants found their way to Europe and eventually to America.
Cannabis indica plants are shorter, denser, and have wider leaves than their Sativa counterparts. They also have a shorter flowering cycle, which makes them better suited for indoor cultivation.
The effects of indica are primarily physical, meaning they are relaxing and tend to produce a “body high.” indica strains often treat pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and insomnia.
Trick question. You know the answer: Just about every cannabis strain, on every shelf, in every store, and from every farm is a Hybrid strain. Some are Sativa dominant strains, others are Indica dominant strains. But, in the end, it’s all just cannabis.
Any combination of Indica or Sativa effects.
The most popular cannabis strains are the blue-ribbon champions of selective cannabis breeding. Their unique blends of cannabis terpenes, cannabinoids, and aromatic compounds give them a distinct appearance, structure, flavor, and aroma.
Some of the more popular strains include:
Lemon Fuel OG is a Jet Fuel, and Lemon Cake cross brought to you by the craft cultivation team at Alien Labs.
A Sativa hybrid, Jack Herer is an old-school classic. Known as “Jack,” it is almost as famous as its namesake Jack Herer, cannabis activist and author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
Sensi Seeds created Jack by crossing Northern Lights #5 with a Haze hybrid and Shiva Skunk cross. Jack leans Sativa at 55%.
Gelonade is brought to you by crossing Lemon Tree with Gelato #41.
Let’s examine some more popular indica strains and learn what differentiates them.
We’re proud to carry Dark Matter, a cross of Cherry Thunder F**k and Rusty Haze, created by Kingdom Organic seeds and grown by Money Trees.
Bred in prohibition’s dark ages, the origins of this famous cultivar remain a closely guarded secret. But, of course, there’s always a story, and in this one, the genetics crossed to create Northern lights came from indigenous Afghani landrace strains prized for their resilience, resin, and fast flowering time. All 11 original sprouts were given a number, and #5 won out as the prized phenotype.
Northern Lights became one of the most crossed strains in history when it migrated to Holland, where The Seed Bank of Holland and Neville Schoenmaker spread it across the globe. Today, its genetics can be found in many top strains on the top shelf.
Yet another legend brought to you by the crack cultivation crew at Alien Labs, Gelato #41 is a cross between Sunset Sherbert and Thin Mint Cookies. Look for it the next time your drop by!
Some of the most popular hybrid strains have become so legendary that they’ve grown a cult following. While hybrid strains vary in dominant phenotype, they all offer a well-balanced high.
This legend is controversial and contains many theories, making it hard to determine which parts are true and which are fiction.
Most believe that a Florida grower named Bubba bred a famous strain that one of his friends named “Kushberries.” The name stuck and was subsequently abbreviated to “Kush.” Ironically, Kushberries shared lineage with cannabis grown in the Hindu Kush. After Bubba moved to California, he connected with Josh D, another grower. Eventually, they both meet Chris and together, they started the “Hollywood grow.” Here, “OG Kush” was first bred from Bubba’s Florida genetics.
Some other theories about the origins of OG Kush include:
The speculation doesn’t end there, either. OG stands for Ocean Grown. OG stands for Original Gangster. Regardless of its origins, OG Kush went viral, spawning Raskal OG, Tahoe OG, Larry OG, San Fernando Valley OG, Hells Angel OG, and many others. OG Kush is simply legendary.
The funny thing about this question is that the best way to find the right strain for you is by thinking about cannabinoids and terpenes first. This is precisely why the term chemovar is preferable to strains.
If you’re new to weed, a CBD-dominant strain with lower concentrations of THC is a good jumping-off point. And it’s just fine to ask for that at the dispensary counter. Your budtender will know what strain(s) fit that cannabinoid profile.
Beyond CBD and THC, there are other cannabinoids and terpenes to consider. Cannabinol (CBN) produces relaxing effects, while tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) can temper THC and relieve anxiety. The terpenes myrcene, linalool and pinene are known for being relaxing. Limonene, valencene and terpinolene may give you a boost of energy.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are examples of how cannabinoids and terpenes influence cannabis’ effects. With over 100 cannabinoids and 400 terpenes in cannabis, it’s a lot to think about. If that’s too complex and you’re not quite ready, it’s all good. No worries. Just fall back on the old cannabis culture lingo:
Above all else, don’t stress. It might take some time, but you will find the right strain for you. Weed’s a journey, not a destination. Enjoy every step. And don’t forget to ask your budtender for help. That’s what they’re there for!
Embarc has one of the best flower menus in cannabis. From OG Kush to Jack Herrer, we carry everything from old-school legends to the newest designer cultivars.