I get lots of questions about this word: STRAINS!?!
Cannabis marketing and advertising literature can make it appear that there’s so many different strains, and that each one will give you the magical key to relaxing and chilling, or, as the copy might suggest with sativa; an uplifting, energetic, and cerebral experience.
Longtime consumers have heard the terms of cannabis’ effect profile: sativa gets you up and moving, while indica is for relaxing and a chill sesh. Plants that lean heavy on the sativa tend to have uplifting or more euphoric effects.
FUN FACT: What most people associate with a cannabis leaf, is NOT sativa, but the thicker, seven-finger leaf of an indica plant. Are you confused yet? If you are, please buckle up, because it’s only going to get more confusing!
To be specific, there are three species of cannabis: sativa, indica and ruderalis. We will discuss the last two in another column, but I wanted to include those early in the discussion so that everyone knows what’s out there. These three types of cannabis are perfect examples of what happens when a genetically similar plant/species makes changes to help survive in different climates, altitudes and wet/dry rainfall. Within these different cannabis species are hundreds and thousands of differing strains.
Cannabis sativa feels most at home in tropical climates, has thin narrow leaves (up to 13), and has the ability to grow up to 15 feet tall, depending on the soil, care, and annual rainfall. Cannabis indica-leaning species are shorter with thick, broader leaves.
I am going to throw some examples of how cannabis strains can correlate with other substances we consume.
Do you like coffee? Do you like dark roast, medium roast or light roast? Espresso, latte or a cortado?
Do you like IPAs? Hazy, West Coast or Northeast? Stouts: Milk, Imperial or Barrel-Aged?
Do you like Coca-Cola? Original, New or Cherry-Vanilla? Diet, Caffeine-free or Zero?
Strains relate to the flavor or variety of the plant. Some strains can taste like citrus. Similar to wine and bourbon, you can taste flavor notes. Other strains could be earthier, with darker notes akin to chocolates or leather. The flavors that are distinctive in varying strains are helped by the terpenes present in the plant. Nearly all plants carry terpenes — think aromatic herbs like thyme, sage and lavender. Terpenes are also essential to cannabis, as they carry the flavor and taste compounds.
Different cannabis strains will have different terpenes present, that, combined with different cannabinoids, produce the ‘dankness’ — the look, smell, and flavor — that consumers know and love. Specifically, just terpenes won’t create the experience people are looking for, but coupled with the hundreds of other cannabinoids present, they all work together to create the full experience, aka, the full spectrum.
Ever smelled strains that had a skunky smell? Cat-pee smelling strains? These are all attributed to the terpenes present. To date, there are over 150 different terpenes and over 100 different cannabinoids, meaning there are thousands of different flavor compounds available!
A quick note: The crossing of strains, creating different hybrids, means that we need to understand that terms like sativa and indica are more from the growing perspective and are not always indicative of how consumers will react during consumption. There are thousands of cannabis offshoots now, meaning different strains, because the rise in legal cannabis access has created hybrids all over the flavor profile spectrum with varying levels of THCA, CBD and CBN properties.
As legality grows and descheduling happens, there will be doors opened to the scientific and testing community to map and track different strains, map the genomes of different landraces and be able to explore cannabinoids, their relationships and understand the properties that create the experience consumers need. Cutting-edge and scientifically accurate extraction methods are changing the ways, the amounts, the concentration rates and types of cannabinoid products available to consumers.
Throughout my tenure as Mayor of Freetown, I have fielded hundreds of questions from curious consumers. The ins and outs of cannabis consumption differ from person to person, can change over time and for the casual consumer, need to be stair-stepped in to use for the best experience. As always, cannabis use is a person-by-person experience, so not everyone’s experience is the same. Take your time, enjoy the ride.
Canna-curious and have some questions? Email and Ask the Mayor!
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