When you’re just getting introduced to the world of cannabis, it can be confusing. What is Sativa? What is Indica? What’s the difference between the two? And where do you begin with finding a strain that works well for you? The truth is, people react differently to different strains, and every person’s tolerance to THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel high) is different. Starting with strains that have higher CBD (short for cannabidiol, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel relaxed but does not get you high) is a popular choice for many people.
Of course, flavor and smell profiles are unique to each individual, too. Just like your favorite type of craft beer could be an IPA and your friend’s could be a porter, everyone has their own preferences and their own idea of what the best marijuana strains are. That being said, we’ve rounded up some of the most popular types of strains for beginners so you know where to start.
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Sativa vs. Indica vs. Hybrid: What’s the Difference?
The marijuana plant is extremely complicated and different types of plants have different effects on the user. Sativa and Indica are two primary categories the cannabis industry (specifically, growers) uses to help organize and simplify the range of effects for each strain. You might have heard the expression “Indica, in da couch” before. This is because Indica strains are popularly bred for making the user feel calm and relaxed. Opposite of Indica is “sunny Sativa,” which are strains that can make the user feel energetic and awake. For some people, Sativa is more of a “head high,” while Indica is more of a “body high.” Hybrids are just what the name sounds like: a combination of Sativa and Indica.
Don’t get too caught up in the label, though. The reality is, Indica and Sativa distinctions are mostly arbitrary, as the marijuana plant contains many different elements that interact with each person’s body in unique ways. When looking at the constituent properties of the cannabis plant on a chemical level, what’s termed an indica and sativa may be more similar than different. The effect of a “strain” is more likely to be determined by its cannabinoid-terpenoid-flavonoid profile, not necessarily its botanical growth pattern. Kyle Kushman, Homegrown Cannabis Co., says:
“Indica and sativa can be misleading terms, especially with the rise of the modern hybrid. I like to class my bud simply as day-time and night-time smoke. A night-time smoke will help you sleep, where a day-time smoke will give you a nice buzz without locking you to the couch.”
1. Blue Dream
Blue Dream is a Sativa-dominant hybrid that crosses two champion strains: Super Silver Haze (SSH) and Blueberry. Blue Dream is well-loved by both novices and experts alike for its balanced Sativa effect and pleasant taste. Blue Dream tends to contain a wide range of terpenes, which may help explain why the THC’s effects are not so overwhelming. Blue Dream is very approachable, and its popularity reflects this characteristic. Blue Dream may work particularly well for stress, anxiety, and depression.
Kyle Kushman, Homegrown Cannabis Co., says: “An extremely satisfying day-time variety with plenty of kick.”
Blue Dream is noted for its peppery, piney, herbal, and lavender taste, which suggests that this variety often contains the following terpenes: linalool, beta-caryophyllene, pinene, and myrcene.
Cannatonic was specifically bred by Resin Seeds for its balanced THC and high-CBD content (usually, about double the amount of CBD to THC), making it ideal for those who want to avoid the psychoactive effects of THC, but want to take advantage of some of its painkilling properties. Cannatonic is a cross between MK Ultra and G13 Haze. The strain AC/DC is a sub-type of Cannatonic with a particularly high amount of CBD.
Like many CBD-rich strains, Cannatonic could be particularly useful for stress, pain, anxiety, depression, and muscle spasms (and for some, migraines) during the daytime. Cannatonic is often described as having a herbal, pine, and pepper flavor profile, suggesting the presence of the terpenes pinene, myrcene, and beta-caryophyllene.
Harlequin is another CBD-rich strain. Some have reported that Harlequin is slightly more “uplifting” compared to Cannatonic. Again, the low-THC and the high-CBD combination can make Harlequin very approachable for new users. Harlequin is a descendant of Colombian Gold, Nepali Indica, and Thai and Swiss landrace Sativas. Many people use Harlequin for pain, anxiety, and depression, especially during the daytime.
Kyle Kushman, Homegrown Cannabis Co., says: “Quick to mature with substantial yields – a great strain for beginners.”
The mango flavors associated with Harlequin could be due to the terpene myrcene. Harlequin may have a similar flavor profile to Cannatonic, meaning the terpenes in both strains are similar, but the concentrations are different in each.
4. Northern Lights (NL)
An Indica-dominant strain of Afghani parentage (with a touch of Thai Sativa), NL is a classic “couchlock” strain. NL has also been used as a building block for many other strains for its stability, from SSH to White Widow. There are apparently 9 different original versions of NL, of which numbers 1, 2, 5, and 9 are the most desirable. There is a high amount of THC in NL, but there is some CBD in some variations as well, which can help balance out the THC. NL is often enjoyed at night time for its sleepy effects.
Northern Lights is noted for its herbal, peppery, citrus flavor profile, which suggests a mixture of the terpenes myrcene, limonene, and beta-caryophyllene. These work together with the cannabinoids for relaxing, euphoric effects. Some have noted a slight energetic twist in some variations, which may be one reason why Northern Lights was picked to breed with several hazes, with the offspring being prize-winning strains like Super Silver Haze and NL5 x Haze.
Kyle Kushman, Homegrown Cannabis Co., calls Northern Lights “a compact, fast, dense, vegetative plant capable of producing several trouble-free crops per year.”
Northern Lights is also a short, stocky, and hardy plant that produces the classic “Christmas tree” shape. Due to its reliability and flavor profile, Northern Lights has been crossed with many strains to improve their vigor, shorten growth time, and potentially even save their genetics! This makes Northern Lights one of the best marijuana strains for beginner growers, too.
Another classic Indica that comes from Thai stock, with some Afghani. Blueberry is possibly one of the most crossed strains there is, which is a testament to the strength of its genetics. Blueberry and its variations will likely stay with us for quite some time, and the original will likely always be enjoyed for its potential for insomnia, pain relief, depression, anxiety, and stress. Crosses like Blue Moonshine (Blueberry x Afghani) and Blue Cheese (Blueberry x UK Cheese) have more potent effects.
Blueberry is noted for its fruity, piney, lavender, and occasionally slightly peppery taste. This suggests the terpenes myrcene, pinene, linalool, beta-caryophyllene, and some terpinolene to be present in Blueberry and one of its many crosses.
6. Jack Herer
Jack Herer is a cross of three classic strains in Haze, Shiva Skunk, and Northern Lights #5, and comes with a classic taste to boot. Jack Herer can be quite potent but can act as a good entry point for other energizing Sativas, if that is the sort of effect you are looking for. Jack Herer could be useful for depression, fatigue, stress, and ADHD. Jack Herer can have more uplifting, euphoric, energizing effects.
Jack Herer has been said to have a fruity, peppery, herbal flavor profile, suggesting terpinolene, beta-caryophyllene, and myrcene terpenes. Some variations also have a strong lemon flavor, suggesting limonene. Some varieties may contain high amounts of cannabigerol (CBG), but this still needs to be determined.
7. Hindu Kush
Hindu Kush is another Indica strain, although some report it as having slightly different effects from your usual Indicas. Although sleepiness is one of its potential effects, some report Hindu Kush as having a slightly more uplifting and euphoric effect when compared to other Indicas. This could be due to Hindu Kush’s more citrusy, peppery flavor profile produced by terpenes like limonene, beta-caryophyllene, and pinene.
Hindu Kush is a great example of why you have to look beyond the Sativa vs. Indica label. In its natural environment of the Kush mountains, the same variety of kush plant grows tall like a Sativa at the lower altitudes, and short and bushy like an Indica at higher altitudes in order to survive in different environments.
Many prize the hashish that comes from Hindu Kush for its spicy, earthy, vanilla, and sandalwood flavors. The noted musky, spicy, earthy taste that can come with some kush varieties could be due to myrcene, as well as some delta-3-carene.
8. Granddaddy Purple (GDP)
Another Indica, this time a cross between Purple Urkle and Big Bud. GDP is renowned for its purple flowers, grape and berry aroma and taste, and fusion of euphoric and physically relaxing effects. GDP could be useful for appetite loss, muscle spasms, pain, stress, and nausea. Linalool, humulene, and myrcene are common terpenes in GDP, which suggest a sleepy effect.
9. Orange Bud
Orange Bud comes from a cross of two different Skunk #1 variations. It has a moderate THC profile with mellow effects that can help boost creativity, and, of course, a citrus flavor. Orange Bud is very popular amongst newbies for stress- and anxiety-busting. TGA Subcool’s Agent Orange has a similar flavor and effect profile, whereas Orange Diesel has a stronger, more uplifting effect, commonly associated with Sativas. Orange Bud could also be useful for depression.
Kyle Kushman, Homegrown Cannabis Co., says: “Instead of being heavy and draining like some smokes, Orange Bud delivers an active buzz and keeps you light on your feet.”
The citrusy and fruity flavor suggests terpenes like limonene and terpinolene. There are many Sativa strains that could be overwhelming for those with anxiety. Orange Bud is a hybrid that may help solve some of the issues associated with purer Sativas.
10. Sour Tsunami
A cross between two CBD-rich NYC Diesel and Sour Diesel strains, Sour Tsunami is a low-THC, high-CBD Sativa-dominant hybrid that has been noted for being effective at combating pain and inflammation. Sour Tsunami has an herbal, fruity, piney flavor profile, which suggests terpinolene, pine, and myrcene.
Advice for Beginners
While all these strains are popular for different reasons, the best way to find your favorite strain is by trying different types of cannabis to see how they affect you. When considering any of the cannabis strains above, there are some overarching guidelines that can be helpful for those just beginning to experiment with cannabis.
Start with Low-THC, Use CBD to Balance Out THC
In general, beginners should start with strains that have lower amounts of THC. This is because new users aren’t aware of what their THC tolerance is yet, so it’s best to start with a lower amount and work your way up to your “therapeutic zone,” where your symptoms are eased, but you’re still able to function. Remember, you can always use a little more, but you can’t use less. We recommend reading our guide on dosing here to get more information on approaching a plant as complex as cannabis medically.
Using equal amounts of THC to CBD can help buffer or blunt THC’s psychoactive effects. Some prefer more CBD than THC, especially during the daytimes when being able to function and stay awake is important. For this reason, we have picked many CBD-rich varietals in the above.
Is There Any Difference At All Between an Indica and Sativa?
In general, when looking at the cannabis plant’s chemical makeup and the degree of hybridization that takes place, most types of cannabis are cluster around the middle and look more similar than different. Yet, a number of people have noted significant differences in effects. This may be partly a placebo effect, as well as the power of suggestion, but differences in effects have been noted. Yes, “sativa” and “indica” are arbitrary, but breeders’ selective prowess are not.
Therefore, this does not mean that certain varietals from certain genetic lines can’t cluster around a specific cannabinoid-terpenoid profile. Varieties of cannabis from equatorial regions (e.g. Durban Poison) tend to contain more tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). Varieties from Afghani and Kush heritage may contain more myrcene, which is why they tend to be sleepy. Varietals like super silver haze (SSH), Jack Herer and Amnesia Haze have a distinct limonene-beta-caryophyllene terpene profile. Cannatonic and Harlequin tend to produce more CBD, as they have been bred with that purpose in mind. Blueberry varietals are noted for their piney (pinene), peppery (beta-caryophyllene), fruity (terpineol) and lavender (linalool) smells and tastes. These are general tendencies, and not necessarily firm-and-fast rules.
It may be easier to think of strains in terms of groups. If you find a variety of cannabis that is particularly effective for you, take note of its cannabinoid-terpenoid profile, its genetics and the breeder (breeders like to work certain genetic lines), then look for other strains in the group that match that profile. You are more likely to be able to find what you’re looking for.
What Makes the Above Strains Ideal for Beginners, Then?
Tolerable THC concentrations, availability and quite easy to grow. Jack Herer, however, can be more potent and be a little more difficult to grow compared to the others.
Method of Ingestion Matters
The way that you consume cannabis has different effects on you based on how your body breaks down the THC and CBD, so the method of ingestion matters.
- Vaping: The cannabis flower is a common place to start for many beginners, vaporized cannabis has immediate effects, making it easier to know how it’ll affect you right away.
- Edibles: Edibles take longer to kick in and can be a little strong, as the THC in edibles is broken down by the liver, making it more psychoactive.
- Tinctures: Tinctures, an infusion of cannabis and oil, are a good in-between method of ingestion, as the effects are faster than edibles, and longer-lasting than vaping. An example of a popular tincture is cannabis-infused coconut or olive oil. Others infuse cannabis in alcohol to make an alcohol-based tincture (colloquially called “green dragon”), but for most people who are using cannabis medically, alcohol-based tinctures are not necessarily ideal.
Mind the Ingredients – Cannabis Terpenes Are Important
Just as important as THC and CBD are a strain’s terpenes. Terpenes are the oils within the cannabis that gives it different flavors and smells – they’re what make some strains smell like citrus (limonene) and others smell like pine (pinene). If you find a particular terpene or group of terpenes that positively affects you, keep on the lookout for strains and products that match that profile.
There are many strains out there, and some of the most popular contemporary ones may be overpowering for beginners, as they have been bred to have higher amounts of THC. There is also a movement towards breeding cannabis plants with higher concentrations of CBD, which are a great way to ease into exploring marijuana. Many dispensaries will carry the above strains due to their popularity, so they’re a great place to start while you’re finding the best cannabis strain for you. Remember to take note of more than just the Sativa or Indica label, as the terpenes in each strain will give you an even more accurate idea of the effect and flavor profile of the strain. Next time you’re at the dispensary, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about the strain you pick!
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Written by Marissa Kobe (Head of Content) & Dipak Hemraj (CRO), Leafwell