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How Can I Know What Strain I Am Buying?
Posted by Marijuana Doctors on 11/29/2017 in Strains
Updated on December 21, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Most state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries have strict guidelines they must adhere to. Their facility is to be clean and safe for patients who frequent these locations. One aspect of this is the ability to purchase flowers and buds that are clearly labeled.
Many locations go the extra mile. Not only will they give you the name of the flower, but they’ll let you know if this strain is an indica, sativa or hybrid. Some will even give you descriptions of the types of effects to expect when you consume that strain.
But what if you have a strain you’re not sure about? If you’re a patient who uses medical marijuana on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to have a basic knowledge about the types of cannabis strains available. You want to do more than just know how it works — you should be able to distinguish them.
Being able to tell an indica from a sativa or a hybrid variety is relatively easy when you know what to look for. However, it’s a bit more difficult to differentiate between specific strains within these varieties. Here are some basic tips that can help you distinguish between the different strains sold in local dispensaries.
What Are Cannabis Strains?
Before the legalization of cannabis for medical use in many states throughout the U.S., there were pretty much two strain choices: indica and sativa. Now, scientific research has flung the door wide. There are literally hundreds of strains on the market, each with a slightly different effect and sativa-to-indicia ratio. This allows patients to find strains that work perfectly for their medical condition.
Even though there are many specific strain selections, there are still only three main varieties:
Indica Cannabis: Traditionally known to give users a calming or relaxing effect
Sativa Cannabis: Creates an uplifting effect and gives the user energy
Hybrid: Today, this variety is the most common as many producers are blending different strains to get the best of both worlds. These strains will typically have qualities of both sativa and indica varieties.
Going by Looks
Telling strains apart by how they look can be difficult. However, each variety tends to have its own distinct appearance. Sativa plants are typically tall and lanky, and the leaves are long and slender. They don’t yield as many buds as the Indica variety, and thus appear sparse. The dried buds are very hairy and tend to be longer and fluffier. They feel spongy and light when you hold them because they’re not as closely compacted.
If you’re trying to tell if a plant is indica, they usually have a bush-like appearance. They are short with wide leaves and grow to maturity rather quickly. The buds are typically round and compact, meaning they will appear airless and dense to the touch.
It’s much more difficult to distinguish hybrid varieties because they’ll display aspects of both sativa and indica plants. Usually, one variety is more dominant. Whichever properties the hybrid strain contains more of will determine its appearance.
The Smell Test
Since many factors can affect the appearance of marijuana buds, most users agree aroma is the best way to identify a strain. Many adjectives are used to describe the scent of cannabis, ranging from fresh, natural aromas to harsher smells:
These smells are produced by the terpenes present in cannabis, which is the fragrant oil in the plant. These oils are what gives marijuana its aromatic diversity and often influence the name of a strain — think Lemon Haze or Sour Diesel. If you’re not sure of the specific strain you’re smoking, then smell is the best way to determine it.
If you’re looking to differentiate between the different strain varieties, there is a simple smell test you can perform. When you sniff a sativa, you will feel it closer to your sinuses. Generally, the smell is less pungent. They’re also known for sweeter, fruity or tropical aromas.
Indica strains can be felt at the base of your nose. And unlike sativa bud, indica weed has a heavy and thick smell. Hybrids are usually felt somewhere in the middle of your nose.
The flavor of cannabis is closely related to its smell — that’s because the terpenes that produce the aroma of marijuana are also responsible for its taste. Because there are so many different strains of cannabis, the flavor of each variety can vary. However, there is a general rule of thumb:
Sativa: Produces an earthier flavor, often associated with pine
Indica: Tends to taste fruitier, like berries
How It Makes You Feel
If you’re still not sure what strain you’re using, the way it makes you feel when you use it will clue you in. The chemical makeup or cannabinoid profile of each strain is unique. The combination of terpenes with different levels of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids will largely determine how the strain affects you. There are key characteristics associated with each strain that differ one from another.
The feelings produced by sativa strains are commonly referred to as a “head high.” They deliver more psychoactive side effects because of the stronger presence of THC. They’re perfect for socializing or for use during the daytime, and have the following effects:
“Body high” and “couch lock” are the two most common descriptions of the effects of the indica strains. This variety helps with insomnia because of its mellowing effects, allowing users to slip into a deep sleep. They’re commonly higher in CBD, and thus don’t have as many of the psychotropic side effects that THC produces. Other characteristics include:
At the end of the day, it’s important to keep your doctor in the loop before selecting a strain. They can help you choose one that will positively impact your medical condition and symptoms. You can also direct your questions to the knowledgeable budtenders at a local medical marijuana dispensary. For more information about finding and distinguishing strains, contact a dispensary or marijuana doctor today.