Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Deciding which cannabis strain (cultivar) is right for you can be tricky. The best advice is to try a few different strains and continue with the ones that make you feel the best.
This guide will break down the essential aspects of choosing a cannabis strain to help you figure out where to start. Learning how to dose cannabis effectively is also crucial in order to get the most out of each strain you try.
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Understand Cannabis Strains and How They Work
When deciding which particular strain is right for you, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the different types of strains, the different cannabinoids they may contain, and their effects on the body.
Types of Strains
When choosing a cannabis strain for the first time, it might be a bit confusing to understand the types of strains and how they differ. You will come across a few terms: sativa, indica, ruderalis, and hybrid.
Sativa. Sativa strains are thought to produce energizing effects when ingested, inhaled, or administered. The sativa plant usually has slender leaves, is generally taller than indicas, and has flowers that appear more spread across the plant.
However, it must be noted that there are few actual differences between most sativas and indicas on the market, as most are hybrids. It is entirely possible for a sativa to have the same chemical profile as an indica and hence have similar effects.
Indica. Indica strains are thought to have a more relaxing effect than sativas. In appearance, they are usually shorter, stouter, and denser. Indicas often contain a high amount of THC (as do sativas); however, they may also have significant amounts of CBD. Prominent terpenes in indica plants are limonene, beta-caryophyllene, linalool, and myrcene.
Indica plants can sometimes cause the “couch-lock” effect, which is the sensation where you feel glued to your seat.
It must be noted, however, that there are few actual differences between most sativas and indicas on the market, as most are hybrids. It is entirely possible for a sativa to have the same chemical profile as an indica and hence have similar effects.
It is thought that myrcene is the main terpene that determines how sedative a cannabis plant is. Strains high in myrcene may be more sedating than a strain low in myrcene, regardless of whether it is an indica or sativa.
Hybrids. Hybrids are a mix of sativa and indica plants. Some hybrids contain mostly indica, while others are mostly sativa. These may be called indica dominant or sativa dominant. Other hybrids are an equal mix of the two.
If you use a hybrid strain, there is no way to tell exactly what effects you may experience unless you test the cannabis for cannabinoids and terpenes. Most varieties of cannabis available on the market are hybrids of some sort.
Ruderalis. Ruderalis strains are extremely low in THC (less than 3%) but contain a lot of CBD. Because of this, ruderalis strains are unlikely to give the “high” feeling associated with cannabis but may provide the therapeutic benefits of CBD. Cannabis ruderalis is often used to create auto-flowering strains.
The CBD:THC ratio simply describes the amount of CBD and THC in a strain. THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis; CBD causes mild psychoactive, non-intoxicating effects.
If a strain has a high CBD:THC ratio, it’s unlikely that you will experience a traditional “high” feeling. However, if the cannabis strain contains more THC than CBD, you will probably experience the psychoactive effects.
A good place to start if you are unsure may be a strain with a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio. A 1:1 ratio is thought to produce quite tolerable effects, especially for beginners. The CBD will dampen the psychoactive effects of the THC, which may be beneficial for beginners.
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Major and Minor Cannabinoids
Major cannabinoids. The significant cannabinoids are THC and CBD. These cannabinoids are the most important when determining the right strain for you, as they have very different effects. It is important to know that neither of these cannabinoids is in their “active” form naturally in the plant. They must undergo decarboxylation, which occurs when the cannabis is heated by smoking or cooking.
Minor cannabinoids. Minor cannabinoids are less prominent in the cannabis plant than the major cannabinoids; however, this does not mean they are unimportant. They play a significant role through the entourage effect.
The entourage effect occurs when the different components of the cannabis plant work together to cause the plant’s psychoactive effects. These components are cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
Minor cannabinoids found in cannabis are:
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabivarin (CBV)
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THCB)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
Know What Effects You Want
It is essential to know what effects you want to get from using cannabis when choosing a strain.
Relaxation and Sleep
If you want to use cannabis to aid sleep, it would be best to try strains higher in myrcene and other relaxing terpenes like linalool and humulene, as they tend to be more relaxing. Additionally, you could look for a strain containing apigenin, a flavonoid that further aids relaxation.
If you want to use cannabis to boost your energy, a strain lower in myrcene and higher in terpinolene might be best for you. Sativa strains containing THCV (e.g., Durban Poison, Malawi Gold), limonene, pinene, and beta-caryophyllene are thought to be the most energizing and uplifting.
If you are looking to experience the psychoactive “high” associated with cannabis, it is best to try a strain that is high in THC. If you don’t want these effects, it would be best to find a strain that contains mostly CBD.
Consider Which Conditions You Want to Treat
When choosing a cannabis strain, one important consideration is what conditions you might be looking to relieve. The two major cannabinoids differ in their effects and will contribute to which conditions the strain can treat.
Conditions THC Can Help
THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid and binds to receptors within the brain and the central nervous system to exert its effects. If you are looking to relieve any of the following conditions or symptoms, you may benefit from a strain containing THC:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autoimmune diseases and disorders
- Cancer and cancer treatment
- Chronic pain
- Eating Disorders
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Neuropathic pain
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Conditions CBD Can Help
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that has a lot of therapeutic benefits. CBD binds to receptors in the immune system and peripheral nervous system. If you experience any of the following conditions, a strain high in CBD may benefit you:
Decide What Flavors and Smells You Enjoy
Cannabis plants contain flavonoids that give them their specific taste and smell. Flavonoids may also contribute to the health benefits associated with each cannabis strain. Take a look at this article for a full explanation of flavonoids and their benefits.
Check Product Labels
It’s important to always check the label on any cannabis products you purchase to ensure you are getting what you want. The label should also state if a third party tested the product.
The Bottom Line: Try a Variety to Find the Best for You
Choosing the right cannabis strain can be daunting, especially if you’re a new user of marijuana. However, it becomes easier once you’ve decided why you want to try cannabis and understand the different strains and their components.
Even if you do a lot of research into the best strain for you, you might not find the ideal one right away. You’ll likely benefit from trying a variety of strains and picking the one(s) that makes you feel the best.
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