Marijuana strains have evolved so much over time it feels like we’re at a point where all of the language and names surrounding them feel like a foreign language. While most cannabis partakers are accustomed to the bedrock categories of Sativa, Indica, and hybrids, concepts like cannabinoids and terpene profiles have broadened drastically. In addition, the sheer volume of strains in the industry today can make the selection experience for your needs a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, having a better understanding of exactly what makes a strain a strain can be as simple as taking a quick journey through marijuana history. To start, we’ll take a closer look at the aforementioned fundamental strains.
While mainstream marijuana culture has long depended on Sativa, Indica, and hybrids to define a given strain, these terms are largely considered outdated. For years, common wisdom suggested that Sativas induced a cerebral (mind) high while Indicas provided more of a body high and would put consumers “in da couch” courtesy of the sedative effects.
Hybrids, then, offered various combinations of the two “main strains.” This school of thought can be traced back to the mid-1700s when Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus and French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck defined the terms Indica and Sativa as separately established cannabis species. Additionally, a far less prevalent third subspecies, ruderalis, was identified by Russian botanist Dmitrij Janischewsky in 1930.
Due to the murky taxonomy of marijuana, which was undeniably exacerbated by marijuana still being illegal throughout most of the world, Indica and Sativa caught on as strains while ruderalis became somewhat of a footnote in history. It’s crucial to note here that these terms are botanical in nature, not pharmacological.
In truth, the Indica and Sativa categories generally speak more to the shape and size of cannabis plant’s leaves rather than cluing us in to their potential effects. While the concepts remain valuable to cultivators, they really don’t do much to tell consumers what they can expect when consuming either variety.
As we reach the 1960s, we arrive at the inception of modern marijuana breeding. As the United States’ demand for cannabis continued to increase, the long flower cycle required of the pure Sativas grown and transported from Mexico and the Caribbean caused a lack of supply.
In search of a solution, California cannabis breeders began crossing these Sativas with Indicas native to Nepal and Afghanistan, hoping to create strains that offered the quicker flowering cycle of the latter with the higher potency of the former. Their success would ultimately establish California’s position as a capital for world-class cannabis while also kicking off a hybrid cultivating craze that continues to this day.
Naming conventions for marijuana strains can also be pegged to this milestone moment. Before the 1970s, strains were usually named for the geographic region in which they originated. Also known as landrace strains, this straightforward process resulted in mainstays like Panama Red, Afghan Kush, and Acapulco Gold.
From there, these strains were crossed and then those were crossed, and so forth. As a means of establishing a lineage, subsequent strains were named to reflect the “parent” strain of a given hybrid. However, strain names are inspired by a variety of factors.
In few cases, the name may speak to the strain’s effects, while others may highlight a given strain’s notable coloring, trichome density, and pungent aroma. Then there are strains named for pop culture figures, cannabis icons, and in some cases, just whatever the grower in question felt like using.
As a result, while some names can tell us a lot about a given strain– though even that can vary from market to market– going off name alone is not always a reliable metric. Instead, most budtenders will generally tell you about a strain’s terpene profile and featured cannabinoids. Unlike strain names, knowing the amount and type of terpenes and cannabinoids a strain contains is an excellent method for determining which options will work best for you.
As marijuana breeding continues to diversify the strain pool, it’s never been more important to ensure that farmers have access to the seeds that make it all possible. Thankfully there are seed banks available. Seed banks are businesses that specialize in storing and selling marijuana seeds.
With many showcasing incredibly robust inventories, seed banks can be seen as a kind of living library for the flower’s genetics, featuring both classic options as well as the latest and greatest. Additionally, seed banks will often feminize the seeds they sell– an incredibly important facet of the process considering it’s only the female cannabis plant that can produce the buds we know and love.
Some seed banks also offer what’s known as auto-flowering seeds, which some growers may prefer as the resulting plants mature quickly and produce maximum yields. In summation, it’s important to note that the story of strains is still being written. As advances in genetic mapping continue to evolve, it’s possible our understanding of strains will dramatically expand in the months and years to come. For now, with the above resources and information in mind, it should be easier to start your own strain journey in search of the perfect match.