Cannabis today is all about choice. Dispensaries offer dozens, even hundreds of products, all with creative names and clever packaging.
Growers now also have easier access to all sorts of options, whether they’re part of large-scale commercial cultivation teams or individuals seeking the best seeds for personal or medical use. Having a wide variety of strains available means you can now look for traits you particularly enjoy – or want to enjoy – or experiment a little to discover new plants you like.
This is a notable improvement from the past when shoppers sometimes weren’t entirely sure whether the starter plants or seeds they were buying were what was promised or if they were even cannabis plants at all.
Different strains can mean different tastes, aroma, and effects. On the growing side, it can also mean different characteristics in how a plant looks, feels and even grows.
Certainly, it helps to be familiar with everything that goes into any particular strain when doing your shopping. But there may be some terminology that’s unfamiliar especially when trying to decide what to bring home. Catalogs, websites and packaging can share how each strain and brand differs from one another, along with details about what characteristics they like more of. All of these can guide future purchases.
Common types of attributes include:
THC Level: Short for tetrahydrocannabinol, this natural compound can cause temporary mental and physical changes including feelings of relaxation and sedation. THC, the most common cannabinoid, is the prime culprit in what people generally refer to as ‘being stoned’ or ‘getting high,’ and why there are many restrictions. The percentage is usually 10-20 percent in natural flower, but can be boosted in concentrates. Products with THC over .03 percent may be illegal to buy, grow or possess, depending on a state’s rules – be sure to check beforehand. There are dozens of cannabinoids in the plant that cause different physical and mental reactions and effects when they enter the body and bind to receptors in the brain and body.
CBD Level: Short for cannabinol, this cannabinoid sometimes appears with THC or by itself. Its effects include pain relief and relaxation. In the body, it doesn’t bind to receptors well by itself, but binds better when even a small amount of THC is present. Strain product packaging may include different ratios of THC and CBD, since certain established formulas/ingredients can amplify certain effects, including reducing anxiety or pain or making it easier to be alert or to sleep.
Type of Plant: The most common types of plants are Sativa, Indica, and hybrids of the two. There is a fourth type, ruderalis, but it naturally has less THC and has less commercial value. Sativa-based cannabis usually affects more of the body while indica affects more of the mind. Most hybrids are sativa or indica dominant, which means they have been created by crossbreeding two types and have a larger percentage of one or the other but include both types. (Regardless of the label or name, most modern commercial cannabis falls into the hybrid category, apart from some of the older ‘landrace’ strains.)
Genetics: The parents of the plants are especially important in determining its effects. A label can share the combinations that created a certain strain, since it may possess these aromas, taste, appearances or effects from both.
Flowering Period: This figure tells potential growers how long the plant will take to fully cultivate. With outdoor plants, it’s typically 8-11 weeks. Some strains also have shorter or longer periods of time based on their genetics. In some cases, indoor growers can speed up the process to increase production such as boosts with certain lighting cycles.
Climate: Where a strain was grown can influence its size and effects. Some kush strains, originally grown in the mountains, grow shorter but are hardier. Some types grow in areas with more moisture and warmer temperatures. Knowing this will help you decide what type of environment to grow the plant in. Is it something that will grow fine in the backyard in any weather or something that you need to baby in a climate-controlled room? Does it do great in direct sunlight or do you need to make some shade for it?
Yield: This tells how much product can be gained from one plant. Certain factors, such as fertilizers, soil or amount of light, can influence yield. Most people either measure it by square footage or by number of plants. Yield can also be a useful figure when trying to determine how much space is required per strain.
Flavors: This refers to the natural characteristics such as smell and taste in all types of plants, called the terpenes. The unique combinations of terpenes are what make a lime different from an apple, and even a lime different from a tangerine. Along with effects such as “piney,” “earthy” or “citrusy,” some cannabis strains have “pain-reducing” or “anti-allergen” properties. Some labels may tell what type of terpenes can be found as well as what percentage.
Height: Depending on the type of plant, climate and growing conditions, cannabis plants grow an average of 7-10 feet. Some are known to grow higher than 13 feet. But height isn’t necessarily a great measurement: something could be tall but not have a lot of leaves or viable buds. A shorter, squatter bush may have better performance. Adjusting lighting for indoor operations can also influence height. Too many large plants also might benefit from more space, since it could create a canopy and some of the smaller plants may not be as productive. Knowing the projected roof space needed can help you decide what space to grow it in.
Growing Difficulty: This figure tells how much work can be involved in growing certain strains. Some are quite hardy and can grow in pretty much any condition, and others might be more fragile and could be affected by changes in light levels, amount of water or types of fertilizers. Knowing this information can be useful especially for those new to growing – they may want to start with something easy and then work up to crops that require more attention. There’s not much worse than investing in something exotic and then losing it for easy reasons like too much/too little water or poor soil.
Overall, knowing these types of characteristics can make you a more educated grower.