When it comes to Cannabis there is some confusion as to the differences between the strains of the plant. “Cannabis is Cannabis” may be a term one has heard before when asking or discussing it with a friend, however, the truth is a bit more complicated than this and understanding the distinction between the different strains is quite important for the appreciation and use of Cannabis. The main varieties of Cannabis are the Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and the rare Cannabis Ruderalis; each one of these over-arching main strains have completely individual characteristics from the next, and within these there exists thousands of variations none of which are completely identical in effect or looks from the other. Fret not, though this may seem complex the main thing to understand for Cannabis Strains are these “main strains” as the variations always are based from one of the three.
Cannabis breeding, and all the variations of strains that have come about through the breeding process, can be traced back to the late 1970’s and a young Dutch man named Ben Dronkers. His goal was to collect and library the best seeds of the best Cannabis plants he found in his travels, first as a sailor and later as a fashion designer. Eventually he began breeding some of these plants he obtained and started his own club for other like-minded individuals to experiment as well. By the mid 1980’s some of these seeds ended up on the West Coast of the US, where the climate is near perfect for Cannabis growing, and the golden age of Cannabis breeding exploded onto the scene. Many of today’s Cannabis strains still trace their roots back to some of these early strains that were collected by Dronkers and those he worked with and influenced.
To begin understanding the differences between Cannabis strains one has to look at the main chemicals that are active in each plant. Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the big contenders for psychoactive and medical properties in Cannabis. THC is the heavy psychedelic property of Cannabis, it causes the most common symptoms of Cannabis use; that is the happiness, the pain killing, the munchies, and the sedation one associates to the use of the plant. Whereas CBD is more of the background actor, it actually works against the THC keeping the more intense psychoactive properties at bay and slowing its breakdown in the body; this is to say that CBD is anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, anti-psychotic. All of this may sound complicated, especially for such a simple plant, but it is important for understanding why there are so many different strains today and how they different. It could be said that the main differences in each strain comes down to the ratio between CBD and THC.
The Sativa strain has been used throughout most of recorded history for both industrial and medical purposes. Originating from Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, and SE Asia it was the first type to be found in North America, with the Indica being imported later. Physically it differs from the other most common strain, the Indica, in that it’s thinner and brighter green with much more narrow leaves, they grow much taller than the other strains and have a very characteristic sweet, almost sour, fruity smell that is unique generally to the Sativa as well as some of the hybrids. The Sativa’s effects can be described as uplifting, giddy, energetic, maybe even a little bit silly due to the main chemical difference in the Sativa strain, it’s high THC content compared to its CBD.
Popular Sativa strains include Sour Diesel (Sour D), Green Crack, Jack Herer, Purple Haze, the Maui Waui, among others. Each variation Cannabis has a distinct dominating characteristic, for the Sativa they will almost always cause energy, happiness, and creativity but just how much depends on the variation. For instance the Sour D is known for its mood-lifting happiness and euphoria while Green Crack has those characteristics as well but is known more for its energetic effect for users. Those looking for effects to keep you physically and mentally occupied will want to gravitate towards the Sativa strains.
The Indica strain, the other popular strain, has also been used throughout history in many of the same ways the Sativa strain did. Indica originates from the Middle Eastern hash producing countries of the world and as opposed to the Sativa’s thin, tall, bright green appearance the Indica is stocky, thick, and dark. It can easily be said that an Indica and Sativa are polar opposite of each other in almost every way, where the Sativa smells fruity the Indica has an earthy, skunky scent to it; while the Sativa is uplifting and energetic the Indica is relaxing and sedating; while the Sativa is high in THC the Indica is high in CBD. It is easy to see given this information, and the obvious differences between the two plants, the importance of the THC to CBD ratio throughout the Cannabis plant.
Some of the major Indica strains include the Granddaddy Purple, the Kushes, Northern Lights, and White Rhino. The dominating characteristics within these Indicas are a general relaxation, sleepiness, and of course the munchies. Just how much so differs with each strain, just like the Sativa, so it is important for the user to understand and research what they want from their Cannabis before choosing a strain.
The Cannabis Ruderalis is a somewhat rare strain of Cannabis, though becoming less so, but important to know about for modern Cannabis. It is a very tough and resilient species of Cannabis that grows shorter an darker than even the Indica, it grows in the Russian and Mongolian regions naturally, and has less THC than any other recreation variety but a fairly high CBD content. The importance of this strain comes from the fact that it flowers different than the other strains in that it’s age instead of light cycle governs the flowering period, this is known as an auto-flowering plant. It is also extremely tough and capable of surviving conditions the other strains cannot. During the 80’s hybridization occurred purposefully with seeds of the Ruderalis into Indica and Sativa Cannabis to create auto-flowering and hardy versions of popular Cannabis strains which has led to an easy and simplification of the growing process.
Hybridization of these three aforementioned main varieties do not actually occur naturally and in modern times this has come to be a science that seeks out attributes from certain plants and to breed them together as to create a best of both worlds scenario while creating a new variety of Cannabis. This is where a large number of the variations of strains stem from, balancing the CBD to THC ratio and the flowering periods to the preference of the plant breeder. The plant’s physical characteristics can consist of any combination of the Indica, Sativa, or Ruderalis; short, tall, pungent, sweet, dark, and light and even some odd colors such as blues, reds, and purples come about through this hybridization process. Finding that perfect balance of CBD to THC, the growing period, the height, the scent, and every other characteristic in the plant is tough which is why the total varieties and strain variations has exploded in the past years.
The Cannabis Hybrids are easily the largest strain groups containing literally thousands of variations. Here you’ll find the biggest difference from type to type as the THC to CBD ratios lack the consistency of what one would find guaranteed in a Sativa or Indica. For instance, the Blue Dream variety creates a euphoria and creative sense that one would find in a Sativa, while at the same time a calming effect like that find in an Indica. Another popular hybrid is the famous OG Kush variety which is known for its focusing and pain killing effects, whereas the White Widow will immediately give one a burst of energy while maintaining a clearer head than one would find in a pure Sativa. There are many, many different variations and effects that can shine through with hybridized Cannabis so if one wishes for a specific feeling it is best to ask or research before using a hybrid, as the pure Indica or Sativa are much more predictable. Even within the same hybrid strain one may find that characteristics of one parent shines through more depending on how that particular plant was raised.
With this information one now has an apt understanding of at least the basics of the different Cannabis strains. The age of Cannabis hybridization has given us a nearly endless supply of new strains, breeders are constantly working to create the newest hit strain. This has evolved into the major competitions seen such as the famed annual Cannabis Cup where breeders go head to head with one another to see who has created the best new Cannabis strain that year. The Cannabis market is growing quickly, with legalization efforts happening globally, and with it the amount of strains available to the consumer.