Get Lit 101

Weed Strains 101

Smoking a joint, bong, or pipe can be an exhilarating affair, but the effects can differ greatly from one experience to the next. Why is this the case? Well, it might just have to do with the strain of weed you’ve smoked.

In order to help you on your journey towards finding your perfect bud, here’s some more information on what strains are, and how to tell the difference (an important skill, as the weed your homie just put in the pipe could leave you zooming around the room, or give you a serious case of couchlock).

Extra aesthetic for designers. Photo by Palash Jain

What is a Strain?

You’ve probably heard names like Purple Haze, White widow, and Durban Poison being thrown around by your cool stoner friends, but what do they really mean? Well first things first, it’s important to understand the basics.

Marijuana strains are divided into three main groups, namely Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. It’s a lot more complicated than just that, but for now, let’s stick to what will have you sounding like you know what you’re talking about.

Sativa vs Indica

People will generally try and define cannabis strains by defining them as either Sativa or Indica, or a hybrid combination of both. This is usually due to what the plant looks like, with Sativas normally having long and slender leaves and bodies, compared to Indica’s, which are short, fat, and thick.

Sativa strains are usually considered to have energising, uplifting effects due to a higher THC content, while Indica’s are more relaxing and stress-relieving, due to a higher presence of CBD. However, as scientists have started to study cannabis more deeply, it has slowly become apparent that it’s not as simple as this.

In a 2016 interview, Dr Ethan Russo, the Director of Research and Development for the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI), stated “there are biochemically distinct strains of Cannabis, but the sativa/Indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.”

Sounds complicated, right? That’s because it is. Trying to classify strains based on their appearance can be a lesson in futility, as their various genetics have become so muddled by strain breeders over the years. But, if you’re smoking with a friend, and they casually ask you what type of weed you’re smoking, telling them it’s an Indica or Sativa is usually enough.

There is more to it though, and if you’re willing to dive deeper down the rabbit hole, just keep on reading.

Cannabinoids & Terpenes

The reason Dr Russo so adamantly disagreed with the classic distinction between Sativas and Indicas has a lot to do with the presence of cannabinoids and terpenes in Cannabis. Good ol’ Mary Jane is actually composed of hundreds of chemical compounds, of which Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and Cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most common. THC is what causes us to feel high, hungry and can relieve pain and nausea. CBD on the other hand, cannot intoxicate, and is used as a powerful pain, anxiety, and stress reliever.

  • THC- heavy strains are the first choice for anyone looking to have a euphoric, invigorating experience.
  • CBD- heavy strains contain far less THC and tend to be used more for pain relief.
  • Balanced strains are the perfect choice for anyone looking to combine the energetic effects of THC with the symptom relief of CBD.


Terpenes, on the other hand, are aromatic compounds that can be found in a variety of plants and fruit. If you’ve ever smelled lavender, peppers, or oranges, you’ve smelled terpenes. Secreted by the same glands that THC and CBD come from, terpenes are the reason cannabis can smell like pine, crème soda, berries or even cheese.

It is the cannabinoid and terpene profile of a cannabis plant that gives each strain their unique qualities. There are several reputable websites that you can use to find more information about various strains such as Leafly, Wikileaf, or Weedmaps.

Cannabinoids & Terpenes

Marijuana strain identification is a difficult skill that can take years to master. It requires dedication to understanding the small differences in look, taste and effect that separate different strains.

The basics, at the end of the day, are relatively simple, Sativas make you energetic, Indicas leave you feeling chill, THC and CBD play a role alongside the terpenes. But it gets much deeper than that. A lot of self-study is required to truly be able to tell them all apart. The only question is, where do we sign up.

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