Pick a Strain: Understanding Cannabis Strain Types

December 6, 2020
Cannabis Strain and Colors
Cannabis Strain and Colors

Cannabis Strain Types

Modern day cannabis offers users a variety of options and effects to help in picking a strain type for your recreational or therapeutic needs. Choosing between Sativa or Indica strains, hybrids, and reviewing the terpenes can seem overwhelming for new users, but there is now a great deal of help and experts ready to guide you to selecting the right product for your needs and situation. But then, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to picking the right strain.



While browsing online or in a dispensary you’ll undoubtedly quickly come across the labels for different TYPES of strains, Sativa or Indica. You’ll also see hybrids and ones that are dominant by the strain types. But what does it all mean?


In a nutshell, there are two general categories of strains, Sativa and Indica, and the dominance of each will give you an overall sense of what to expect. If you’re new to medicinal or recreational use of cannabis products, or retuning after a long lapse, you’ll soon realize choosing a strain isn’t as easy or straightforward as it was in high school. And the effects aren’t as expected, either.


Where you may have expected a relaxing, calming couch-lock effect, interrupted by the munchies, you will be surprised to learn how these two types of strains can deliver opposite results. And that can be both unnerving and refreshing.

Where to Start

So consider this like a trip to Target, have a plan in place or you’ll end up distracted by all the things you didn’t know you wanted, needed, or were dazzled by.


That’s not to stay you shouldn’t browse, you absolutely should, just as you should research, but you can take notes for that. Have a plan for what you need and want NOW. Start with the basics.


  1. What do you want to achieve?
    Is this a medical or recreational product? Do you have specific effects in mind? Do you want to relax, reduce stress, or help sleep patterns, or do you want to concentrate, get energized, or work on specific areas of pain?
  2. Are you new to this or do you have an established tolerance level?
    This is basically like understanding your dose levels – do you need 200mg or 800mg of ibuprofen – but for cannabis. Are you particularly sensitive to side effects and reactions, or are you ready for a potent product and experience?
  3. What is your medical history?
    Do you have conditions or other medical regimens that could interact with cannabis consumption? Do you have medical conditions that could be exacerbated by cannabis? Check with your doctor or healthcare provider to weight the pros and cons, and understand potential risks.
  4. How will you consume this?
    Are you interesting in smoking a joint, taking a pill, eating a gummy, vaping, or using an oil? Each of these have different effects, timing, and potency, so it’s good to know what you’re comfortable with.


Walking into a dispensary cold can be a lot like being a little kid in a candy store – so much to choose from that you quickly get overwhelmed and confused. But don’t panic if that’s your introduction – there are professionals there, and in your naturopathic pharmacies, to help you out and ask you the questions to help guide you to what you need.


So now that you’ve looked at what YOU want, let’s start by helping understand how your needs can be met.

Strain Type: Sativa, Indica, Hybrid

Step one in selecting the right strain type is to device the overall effect you want or can tolerate. And that starts with the strain type, Sativa or Indica.


  • Sativa and Sativa-Dominant strains are known for the “head high”, where you are energized and with the reduction or stress and anxiety, allow you to focus and be more creative.
  • Indica and Indica-Dominant strains are probably what most associate with cannabis, the full body effect, the “body high”, where you are relaxed and sleepy.


But remember, that’s just the start of selecting the right strain. These designations are generalized, and with so many strains being hybrids, along with the different contributors to the total effect of the strain (terpenes, CBD and THC levels, etc.) it’s just a start. But an important one.


Chemical Make Up of Cannabis Strains

Once you’ve decided the general effect, and chosen either a sativa or indica dominant strain type, you need to review what else is in the strain, because each of those, and the ratios, will have an effect. You don’t need to be an expert herbalist or scientist to make a choice, there’s definitely help and guidance, in strain descriptions, reviews, and expert help, but it’s good to know what goes into making a strain, because then you can see how you can find the right strain specifically for you, because there are different variations to balance side effects and sensitivities.


So lets start with what’s inside.


These are the core chemical building blocks of cannabis plants and strains. They are what make up the effects (good and bad) and often take the brunt of the positive and negative perceptions of marijuana use.


  1. THC: Yep, you’ve most likely already heard of this one, it’s the part known for the psychoactive results, and the main issue with legalization. But THC is also a catalyst for the other chemicals, so it’s an important part of the effectiveness of many strains.But did you know there are two types of THC? Delta 8 and Delta 9. Delta 9 is the one we know (and love), Delta 8 is becoming more and more popular because while it gives all (and sometimes more) of the catalyst effects, along with effects of it’s own, it is not psychoactive. Delta 8 is quickly becoming an extremely popular component, not just for users, but for researchers as well, to improve the positive effects while reducing the negative side effects. (And it’s really confusing the government regulating agencies!)
  2. CBD: No doubt you’ve heard about CBD, which is a non-psychoactive, meaning it does not make you high, and it has been showing promise in alleviating many health and medical conditions such as pain, stress, migraines, insomnia and more.CBD, when extracted from the hemp flower, and when it contains less than 0.3% THC, is legal in the United States.
  3. CBN: (Cannabinol) is another component that is often associated with easing medical and health conditions and symptoms, most notably in the cases of neurological conditions that include seizures and muscle cramps, stiffness.
  4. THCA: Wait, what? Another THC? Tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA) is similar to THC, and like Delta 8, it doesn’t cause psychoactive effects. It has shown promise in helping with inflammation and associated pain, which makes it popular and interesting for those suffering from arthritis and autoimmune disorders. It’s being researched for it’s affects on other neurological conditions, specifically Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and ALS.
  5. CBG: Cannabigerol (CBG) is a similar extract to CBD and is often a focus when chosen by medical marijuana users seeking relief from anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and depression.


So you can see by the variation of these chemicals, combined with the strain type, that you can find a wealth of choices in relief through combining the contents of the strain with the type of strain.


But in the almighty words of Mona Lisa Vito, “But Wait, there’s more!”


So we’ve discussed the strain type (Sativa, Indica, Hybrids) and the chemical components and concentrations that play a role in a strains effects, like THC and CBD, but there’s a growing interest in another component, and that’s Terpenes, which are a natural part of cannabis plants that were previously assumed to only affect the smell and taste.


We’re beginning to find out that there’s much more that it contributes to different strains than just flavor, although, let’s be honest, that’s also a big part of the experience!


There are quite literally HUNDREDS (if not more) types of terpenes, and they actually exist in other plants as well. But for the most common ones featured and studied when it comes to cannabis strains are outlined below.




Therapeutic Potential


·     Chamomile

·     Tea tree oil

·     Reduce inflammation

·     Reduce irritation

·     Pain-reducing effects


·     Peppery

·     Spicy

·     Reduce anxiety,

·     Ease symptoms of depression

·     Improve ulcers


·     Floral

·     Improve relaxation

·     Boost mood


·     Earthy

·     Herbal

·     Reduce anxiety

·     Help ease insomnia 


·     Basil

·     Mango

·     Parsley

·     Ease congestion

·     Ward off viruses

·     Ward off bacteria


·     Pine

·     Boost memory

·     Reduce pain

·     Ease nausea

·     Improve coordination problems


·     Apples

·     Cumin

·     Conifers

·     Sedative

·     Antibacterial

·     Antifungal


·     Citrus

·     Improve mood

Reduce stress


·     Earthy

·     Woody

·     Hops

·     Cloves

·     Reduce inflammation


·     Eucalyptus

·     Tea tree oil

·     Invigorating

·     Reduce inflammation

·     Fight bacteria


Knowing the basic different between the strain type Sativa (Head High, energizing) and Indica (relaxing, calming) is only the start. Each strain has a different chemical composition and growing techniques, as well as the strain and brand consistency, so it’s best to work with an experienced guide and talk to the dispensary experts.


It’s a little like picking a vitamin or other medicine. We don’t necessarily look at all the ingredients to see how each will work, we instead rely on the advice of healthcare professionals and pharmacists to answer our questions and guide us in the right direction.