The language we use to talk about cannabis is evolving. The words “Strain,” “Sativa Strain,” and “Indica Strain” are still the common language of the culture, but there’s a problem. None of those terms are accurate. So as we move from the dark ages of prohibition and learn more about this fantastic plant, there’s a shift toward descriptive language that’s more precise and reflects a deeper understanding of how cannabis actually affects us.
In this article, we’ll break down the terms Strain, Indica, and Sativa so that we understand what they mean and contrast them with the new, emerging language of cannabis. We’ll also check out some killer cannabis “Cultivars” (or Strains) that you just might appreciate more now that you know what makes them different.
Cannabis Strain vs. Cannabis Cultivar
The words strain and cultivar are technical terms used to characterize completely different things.
What does strain mean?
In microbiology and biology, strain is typically used to classify a genetic variant or subtype within a microorganism, such as bacteria or viruses. For example, there are different strains of Flu. Omicron, Alpha, and Delta are different strains of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
In cannabis culture, the word strain has been used to identify cannabis plants that come from different lineages and have different characteristics. We call Ice Cream Cake a strain. We call Slurricane a strain. But in botany, strain is not the proper term to reference different cannabis varieties.
What does cultivar mean?
The word cultivar is short for “cultivated variety.” This describes plants chosen for desired traits and improved by humans through selective breeding. Therefore, Ice Cream Cake and Slurricane are actually different cultivars. Technically, they are not strains.
How are new cannabis cultivars created?
A new cultivar is created every time a person selects two cultivars with desired traits and breeds them. This has been happening since human beings have used cannabis. Recently, THC was found in ancient pots in tombs over 2,500 years old in much higher concentrations than in wild cannabis. Most likely, the civilization that built those tombs bred cannabis for higher concentrations of THC.
Today, cannabis breeding is a big business as cannabis breeders compete to create the next hot cultivar that everyone falls in love with. There’s probably one sprouting right now that will become Apple Fritter, OG Kush, ChemDog, or Jack Herer. That’s so cool!
How many cannabis cultivars are there?
This is a moving target. The consensus is that there are over 700 cannabis cultivars, but new cultivars are created every day. Moreover, cannabis is still illegal in most of the world, so who knows how many cultivars are on the black market that we haven’t heard of yet? So the possibilities are virtually limitless.
Does it matter if I still use the word strain?
We’re not here to police language or censor anyone. You can still use the word strain, and everyone in the weed world will know exactly what you mean. Therefore, we will use the words cannabis strain or marijuana strain interchangeably with cultivar throughout this piece because it is still the common language.
Sativa and Indica vs. Chemovar
Indica and Sativa are the terms used by the cannabis culture to divide cannabis strains into two distinct effects-based categories.
What is Cannabis Sativa supposed to mean?
Sativas are supposed to be uplifting and energetic with a head high.
What is Cannabis Indica supposed to mean?
Indica cultivars are described as calming and relaxing with a body high.
The problem with the terms Sativa and Indica
According to the research, Sativas are not always uplifting and energetic, and Indicas are not always relaxing. However, these are not accurate terms to describe cannabis strains or the experience or effect of a given strain.
Moreover, due to selective breeding, almost everything we refer to as Indica or Sativa is a Hybrid. Dr. Ethan B. Russo, a psychopharmacology researcher, calls the Sativa/Indica distinction “total nonsense and an exercise in futility.”
What makes cannabis cultivars different?
It doesn’t matter if a cultivar is Sativa or Indica. Cannabis is a complex plant with over 100 cannabinoids and 150 terpenes. What creates the unique aroma, flavor, and effects of cannabis strains are the different cannabinoid and terpene profiles in a given marijuana strain.
Is there a better word than Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica to differentiate cultivars?
Yes. As we learn more about cannabinoids and terpenes, there’s a movement that argues we should transition to the words “chemotype” or “chemovar” as the term that characterizes cannabis. A chemovar is a given plant’s chemical fingerprint. It denotes its unique blend of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Does it matter if I still use Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica?
You will need to keep using these words as long as the culture uses them to describe a cultivar’s effects. But you can still explore the chemovar concept by using a cultivar’s Certificate of Analysis (“COA”) to figure out what profiles work best for you (more on that later.)
Where did the terms Sativa and Indica come from?
Sativa was first used by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. Sativa is Latin for “cultivated.” In 1785 the naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck coined the term Indica.
The Origins of Sativas, Indicas, Hybrids (and Ruderalis)
Today, almost every marijuana strain is a hybrid.
The best way to differentiate them is by chemical composition (AKA chemovar.) But there was a time when there were only pure landrace cannabis strains that had not been bred with any other cannabis varieties. As a result, Landrace cannabis was only found in their native environments. Back then, Sativa and Indica (and Ruderalis) meant something.
What are landrace Sativa strains?
Landrace Sativa cannabis strains were tall, thin plants with long, narrow leaves. They were native to southeast Asia’s equatorial regions, South and Central America, and Africa.
What are landrace Indica strains?
Until the 18th century, cannabis Sativa was the only recognized cannabis strain. Then the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck discovered cannabis plants in India that were short, squat, and bushy, with broad leaves. He named this plant Cannabis indica. The cannabis Indica landrace is indigenous to India, Central Asia, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tibet.
What are Hybrid strains?
Back in the day of Sativa and Indica landrace cannabis, there weren’t any. Today, almost every cultivar is hybrid. Hybrids blend Sativa and Indica.
What is landrace Ruderalis?
Cannabis Ruderalis may be a third species of landrace marijuana strain. What’s unique about Ruderalis is that they are auto-flowering. This means the female flower cycle is triggered by the age of the plant instead of a change in the hours of light.
As a result, Ruderalis has been used for genetic modification in breeding programs to create hybrids that autoflower. It is native to Central and Eastern Europe and grows wild in many regions, including Russia.
Popular Marijuana Strains
The most popular cannabis cultivars for medical and recreational purposes are the world champions of cannabis breeding programs. They win cannabis cups, get rave reviews, and their unique blends of cannabinoids and terpenes give them a distinct appearance, structure, flavor, and aroma. Only these most popular marijuana strains make the cut and find their way to the dispensary shelf.
We will categorize these cannabis varieties by Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid because that’s how they are classified on every dispensary menu. Just remember that we’re not using those words as effects-based categories. Our only intent is to help you find them.
Apples & Bananas – Sativa Leaning Hybrid
Apples and Bananas is a hybrid cultivar bred by Cookies and Compound Genetics. Myrcene is the dominant terpene.
A cross between Blue Power and Gelati.
Happy, euphoric, and uplifting. As medical marijuana, it may treat anxiety, depression, and stress.
Apple, pear, and tree fruit.
Jack Herer – Sativa Dominant Hybrid
Known as “Jack,” named after Jack Herer, a famous cannabis activist and the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
Sensi Seeds created Jack by crossing a Haze hybrid with a Northern Lights #5 and Shiva Skunk cross.
Cerebral and elevated, leaving users feeling creative and blissful.
Woody and piney with spicy herbs.
Super Silver Haze – Sativa Dominant Hybrid
Amsterdam’s Green House Seed Company created Super Silver Haze (“SSH”). It won first prize at the High Times Cannabis Cup in 1997, 1998, and 1999.
Super Silver Haze combines Skunk#1 (25%), Northern Lights #5 (25%), and Haze (50%).
With an energetic and long-lasting high, you glide through stress and anxiety.
Spicy and herbal with citrus and skunk.
Ice Cream Cake – Indica Leaning Hybrid
Ice Cream Cake’s lineage is a mystery. We know Mad Scientist Genetics bred it out of Bakersfield, but we’re not sure who its parents are. Some say Dream Cookie and Cheesecake. Others say Wedding Cake and Gelato 33.
Relaxed and happy. It may treat depression and pain.
Cream cheese and vanilla with a nutty exhale of citrus and herbs.
White Truffle – Indica Dominant Hybrid
White Truffle comes from breeder Fresh Coast Genetics in Michigan.
A phenotype from the Gorilla Butter cultivar.
A quick-hitting head high that cuts through anxiety and leaves you calm and buzzy.
Savory and earthy with a mild skunky aroma.
Slurricane – Indica Dominant Hybrid
Slurricane was developed by the famous micro-breeder In-House Genetics.
Do-Si-Dos x Purple Punch.
Happy euphoria that dissolves into relaxation, sedation, and sleep.
Berries, cream, spice, and a bit of tropical fruit.
Grease Monkey – Hybrid
Grease Monkey is from Exotic Genetix.
Grease Monkey is a cross between the couch-locking Indica Gorilla Glue and Exotic’s own hybrid Cookies and Cream.
Balanced. Cerebral and relaxing with a lazy body high. You may get the munchies. Bring the feed bag.
Vanilla and gasoline.
Apple Fritter – Hybrid
“The Fritter” was bred by Lumpy’s Flowers in Northern California.
Apple Fritter is a cross between the Sour Apple and Animal Cookies strains.
Euphoric and creative that transitions to a relaxing body high. As medical marijuana, it may treat pain, depression, and anxiety.
Like an apple fritter. Cheesy, sweet, and earthy.
Runtz – Hybrid
Runtz was created by Ray Bama and his partner Nick.
Cookies’ Gelato genetics with Dying Breed Seeds’ Zkittlez.
Euphoric and calming. Great for chronic pain and achiness, it also eases stress and anxiety.
Sweet sugary candy with woody and tropical citrus tones.
How Do I Choose the Right Cultivar for Me?
When choosing a cultivar, we’re looking for effects and flavor. This question leads us directly to the chemical compounds responsible for the flavor and effects of cannabis: cannabinoids and terpenes. This is why the term chemovar is more precise than Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid.
The question you’re really trying to answer is, “What cultivar is the ideal chemovar for me?” And the only way to figure that out is by reading the Certificate of Analysis (“COA”) that comes with every cannabis cultivar at a licensed dispensary.
How to Shop For Cannabis by Chemovar
We love cannabis testing. In Michigan, every batch of cannabis must pass quality assurance tests that include all of the following:
- Moisture content.
- Potency analysis.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol level.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol acid level.
- Cannabidiol and cannabidiol acid levels.
- Foreign matter inspection.
- Microbial and mycotoxin screening.
- Chemical residue.
- Metals screening.
- Residual solvent levels.
- Terpene analysis.
- Water activity content.
The results of these tests are printed on a Certificate of Analysis (“COA”). While it’s amazing that your cannabis is checked for contaminants, it’s equally impressive that cannabinoid and terpene contents are measured. This means you know the exact chemovar of whatever cultivar you choose. All you have to do is ask your friendly budtender to see the COA.
Now that you know exactly what you’re smoking, it’s time to have some fun and experiment with different chemovars to find the right cannabinoid and terpene profile. Do you prefer a balance between THC and CBD to take the edge off THC-induced anxiety? Maybe you need high levels of the terpene Myrcene to help you relax. We could roll out examples for days, but the point is that knowledge is power, and COAs empower you to find the perfect cannabinoid and terpene profiles for your needs.
Shop Heritage Provisioning For The Best Selection of Cannabis Cultivars
Heritage Provisioning is born and bred in the hearts and minds of Michigan cannabis enthusiasts. Our commitment to you is to provide the best cannabis and the best customer service in Michigan. Visit Heritage Provisioning today!