In our series geared for newcomers to cannabis, we’ve covered the many ways you can consume cannabis. Now we’re switching gears to talk about the various kinds of cannabis on the market today. One of the most important variables in marijuana use is the strain of cannabis you’re using. With the multitude of strains available and new strains popping up every day, it can be hard to keep track of what cannabis strain is good for a given symptom or condition. With a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to navigate the strain system with ease.
Although many folks talk about cannabis as if it were a single type of medicine, it’s far from uniform. Marijuana has many different genetic variations, which are referred to as strains. Each strain has its own unique set of tastes, smells and, most importantly, effects.
For example, you may find that certain cannabis strains make you feel relaxed, while others make you nervous. Some strains may energize you, while others will make you extremely tired. Certain other marijuana strains may help with pain, while others may worsen it. To get the most out of your medicine, you need to know what marijuana strains you’re using and find ones that work for you.
The most basic distinction in cannabis strains is found among indicas, sativas and hybrids. While many argue that this distinction is flawed and inaccurate based on genetic grounds, it’s still how strains are currently organized in most dispensaries. That said, for the time being, it’s important to understand how these terms are used so you know what to look for when you’re at your local dispensary or buying online.
Indicas are traditionally considered ideal for night-time use, because they tend to be more sedative and relaxing. People who prefer indica strains typically use them for:
People who avoid indicas usually do so because they leave them feeling too sleepy, groggy or “couch locked” (meaning, you don’t feel like moving).
Sativas, on the other hand, are often marketed as day-time varieties, because they’re usually energetic and uplifting. These cannabis strains help many with:
Sativa strains are also known for their strong cerebral effects—meaning, they can drastically shift your mental state. Those who avoid sativas usually do so because they can increase anxiety, or make people feel “too high.”
Hybrids, which are a mix between an indica and a sativa, usually have some characteristics of both strains. At this point, there are very few pure indicas or sativas around. You may sometimes find a pure indica like Hindu Kush or a pure sativa like Mexican Haze, but the vast majority of available strains are hybrids.
That said, people commonly refer to many marijuana hybrids as indicas or sativas based on their characteristics. If a hybrid strain has the sleepy, body-heavy profile of an indica, that’s what it’s marketed as—an indica. If it has the heady, energetic effects of a sativa, then it’s touted as a sativa. If you see something labeled as a hybrid, it likely has effects somewhere between these two strains.
Because there’s so much variety when it comes to cannabis’s effects, finding the right strain can make all the difference between your treatment working vs. not working at all—or making things worse. I often hear people say, “I tried marijuana once, but it didn’t work for me.” My response always is, “What strain did you use?” and usually the answer is, “I don’t know.” It’s sad that folks give up on cannabis before they find the varieties that might actually help.
My advice is to keep on trying. Case in point, I can only use about 5–10% of the marijuana strains available on the market. Everything else gives me negative side effects. I used to think I was an anomaly, but research from HelloMD’s 2016 Patient Survey shows that 86% of cannabis users have a strong preference for a particular cannabis strain. Almost 90% of patients surveyed only use one to three products on a regular basis.
Researchers have also noticed that cannabis strains can affect the efficacy of a treatment. Epilepsy patients, for example, often report beneficial effects from strains high in cannabidiol (CBD). In addition, whether a cannabis strain is an indica or sativa matters when treating insomnia. Meanwhile, high CBD strains have been found to help with schizophrenia while strains high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can make this condition worse.
Learning about your condition and symptoms in conjunction with whether a certain type of cannabis strain has helped others with your needs is a great way to start your hunt for the perfect strain.
Finding the ideal marijuana strain usually takes some time. In HelloMD’s 2016 patient survey, 51% of respondents said they managed to find a product that solved their medical concerns in less than one month of looking. Still, 21% took up to three months and 27% took longer than six months to find the product that worked for them. If you don’t learn about the uses of different strains, it can really increase the amount of time you waste on unhelpful products.
Fortunately, both researchers and the cannabis industry are beginning to pay more attention to strains. Many dispensaries have a large array of cannabis strain options, and can usually tell you something about what each strain does. You can also research online to find strains based on your particular symptoms and learn more about the effects you’re looking for.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to shorten the time spent looking for your perfect strain.
In the next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies guide, we’ll provide an overview of the chemical components found in cannabis—namely, cannabinoids and terpenes. We’ll go over the basics so that you can understand how these different chemical elements affect strains and how to know which ones are right one for you.
Photo credit: Tanjila Ahmed
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