Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
If you visit a dispensary, you might feel overwhelmed with options. How do you know whether you want indica, sativa or a hybrid? What’s the difference?
The marijuana plant is a pure sativa strain, indica strain or a hybrid strain. Most available strains are hybrids because pure strains, or landrace strains, are indigenous plants and more difficult to find. However, hybrid strains are just as potent as landrace strains. Also, crossbreeding allows growers to design plants with specific goals in mind. Breeders can develop a hybrid strain that is much stronger than a landrace strain if they wish.
There are many types of hybrid cannabis strains that produce unique effects. Here, we’ll explore everything you need to know about hybrid cannabis and the benefits of the different hybrid strains. When you are ready to shop at a dispensary or begin medical marijuana treatment, you’ll know what to look for and what to expect.
Cannabis hybrids are a mix of different strains. They might be bred from mixing pure indica with pure sativa strains, or by combining other hybrids. Unlike pure indica or sativa strains found in nature, hybrids are created by humans with the desire to develop specific qualities. In general, there are three different types of hybrid strains. Those are:
To imagine what a crossbreed looks like, consider the nature of each strain on its own:
A hybrid strain contains characteristics of both indica and sativa strains for a more balanced effect. For example, a breeder might cross an indicia and sativa strain with a higher indica content to help the user feel relaxed.
In the 1970s, David Watson created one of the most famous hybrid strains. Watson was involved in inventing Skunk #1 — a hybrid mix of Afghan Indica, Mexican Sativa and Colombian Gold Sativa. Skunk #1 became the world’s first commercial hybrid strain.
It can be tough to identify a hybrid because it is a mix of different strains. However, you might be able to tell if it is indica-dominant or sativa-dominant by asking yourself the following questions:
As mentioned above, hybrid cannabis can be difficult to identify because it typically shares characteristics of both indica and sativa strains. However, it still helps to know what to look out for. You might expect the following bud features with an indica hybrid or an indica-dominant strain:
A sativa-dominant hybrid may have:
Have you ever breathed in fresh forest air or the fragrance of a flower garden? You can thank terpenes for making a springtime stroll much more pleasant. Terpenes are the molecules which give plants, including marijuana, their scent. You may also think of them as the main component in a plant’s essential oils.
Terpenes involve more than just aroma — they can affect your reaction to a cannabis strain, and they impact plant flavor. Recent studies have found that terpenes, such as myrcene, have anti-inflammatory effects. Myrcene is the most prevalent terpene in cannabis and is described as smelling like fruit and hops.
There are hundreds of terpenes, and each provides a unique effect when mixed with cannabinoids and other terpenes. Just as you might smell a lemon or other citrus fruit for energizing effects, it’s possible that the scent of a hybrid strain can enhance its therapeutic qualities.
Breeders are creating hybrid strains that feature high terpene levels. Terpenes can make a strain smell like pine trees, berries or gasoline. Many users believe that strains with high terpene levels are also high-quality and are more effective than isolated cannabinoids.
The type of strain, whether it be an indica-dominant, sativa-dominant or well-balanced hybrid, does not always determine how the plant will smell. It’s more important to find a specific hybrid strain that smells pleasant to you and provides the effects you want. Some specific hybrid strains are consistent in their aroma, but it is generally hard to predict how a cannabis strain will smell.
Crossbreeding a marijuana strain requires careful consideration. Breeders select parent strains with desirable traits and continue to crossbreed them until they achieve the mix they want with as few negative qualities as possible. It could take years for a breeder to develop the perfect strain, but many are willing to go through the process.
Breeders also consider the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) they want in their strain. Some strains contain high levels of THC, while others contain high CBD levels. THC is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana which makes users feel high. CBD is non-psychoactive and does not get users high, but has other effects similar to THC. Breeders may also strive to appeal to the senses by considering color and plant aroma.
The crossbreeding process generally involves the following steps:
The process is far more complex than the above steps, and it helps if breeders understand the science behind crossbreeding. Nevertheless, no one strain is the same, even strains with the same names.
Cannabis features such as look, smell and taste cannot always predict how it will affect you. Cannabis affects everyone differently. This means that some people may become energized by an indica-dominant strain or drowsy from a sativa-dominant strain — there are no set rules on how a hybrid will cause you to react.
With that said, here are some general features you might expect with different hybrids:
Well-balanced strains may also be called true hybrids. Blue dream is an example of a true hybrid. Blue Dream balances the sedating properties of its indica parent Blueberry with the energizing properties of Haze — its sativa parent.
Also keep in mind the general effects of each pure strain, to help you imagine how a hybrid might affect you. An indica strain is often described as:
Sativa strains are commonly described as:
Hybrid strains offer characteristics of both.
You might choose to focus more on the THC or CBD content of a cannabis strain rather than use other features to predict how it will make you feel. The THC and CBD levels vary in hybrids and depend on the strains used to create the hybrid. Medical marijuana patients might choose a strain with high CBD and low THC levels to prevent an intense high while still relieving pain and other symptoms. Here are the different cannabinoid levels to consider:
For example, Charlotte’s Web is a high-CBD sativa hybrid, bred exclusively to help a five-year-old girl named Charlotte Figi obtain relief from epileptic seizures. Charlotte’s Web contains less than 0.3 percent THC.
On the contrary, the Godfather OG, an indica-dominant hybrid, contains a 34.04 percent THC level and was ranked as the strongest strain in 2016.
Unlike landrace strains, cannabis hybrids had been bred for specific benefits. They are the result of careful selection and consideration. With a cannabis hybrid, users can find out what to expect and what ailments to treat beforehand, lessening the change of undesirable side effects. Overall, hybrids give users and breeders more control over the experience they wish to create.
For example, a pure indica strain might make an individual who does not want to sleep all day too sleepy. If the indica strain is bred with sativa, it might help reduce its sleep-inducing qualities for a more balanced effect. With hybrids, users can choose a THC to CBD ratio that works for them, whereas pure strains are not as flexible.
Cannabis hybrids are the most available form of marijuana medication. They are used to treat a long list of conditions including:
The best time to use a hybrid depends on the type of hybrid and the experience you wish to have. For example, a sativa-dominant hybrid may energize you, so you might want to take a sativa-dominant strain during the day.
Indica-dominant strains are best taken at night or when you want to enjoy a sedative effect. Indica hybrids help you unwind and may be perfect for relaxing at the end of a stressful day.
Well-balanced hybrids may be the preferred choice for patients who require marijuana medication throughout the day. With a well-balanced hybrid, they will not experience the extreme of either indica or sativa strains but enjoy a balance of both.
Side effects depend on the type of hybrid and the amount of THC or CBD in the strain. It also depends on factors such as:
Hybrids with high THC levels might cause the following side effects:
Hybrids with high CBD levels and lower THC levels do not pose as many side effect risks as high-THC strains because CBD tends to be tolerated well even in high doses. However, users might experience the following side effects:
Breeders can combine the perfect balance of CBD and THC when crossbreeding different strains, allowing users to experience maximum benefits.
There are many different cannabis hybrid strains on the market, and breeders are always competing to create the next best strain. However, some have been more successful than others. Some top cannabis hybrids include:
There are several different methods for administering cannabis hybrids. The most widely known method is smoking, and users who smoke feel the effects quickly. However, smoking is not recommended because it could irritate the throat or lungs. Other popular methods include:
The best way to use a cannabis hybrid is the one which you are most comfortable with and which suits your condition best.
Whether you are nervous about starting treatment or excited to reap the health benefits of a cannabis hybrid, MarijuanaDoctors.com can connect you to certified medical marijuana doctors and dispensaries you can trust. You’ll have plenty of questions along the way, and our site locates the cannabis experts in your area, so you can feel confident about your choice to seek medical marijuana treatment.