Why So Many Weed Strains?

Medically reviewed by Alexander Tabibi, MD
January 29, 2021
Weed Strain on the podium
Weed Strain on the podium

So many weed strains

Anyone who walks into a dispensary today is dazzled by the enormous selection of strain varieties that are available to them and only ask – WHY SO MANY WEED STRAINS??


Once upon a time, decades ago when cannabis was strictly a black-market industry, enthusiasts could not be choosy when it came to the strain they got.  They were at the mercy of a dealer who would give them what they had at the time.  Now, you can tell the employee at your local dispensary what you want out of your cannabis, and they will give you the perfect strain for the job, with its distinctive characteristics that can address highly specific goals and preferences.

How Did we get to this point? 

What has changed in the cannabis industry over the last several years that has enabled the enormous variety of strains that we have at our fingertips?  As you will see, it is a combination of many factors, with both legalization and technology playing large roles.


But first we must cover the basics.

What is a Strain?

The strain of cannabis is its breed, with each breed having a unique chemical composition of compounds.  Within the flowering buds of the female cannabis plant, you’ll find hundreds of individual compounds, including a rich selection of cannabinoids and terpenes.  Each breed has these compounds configured in a different way, and as each compound has individual properties that produce a specific type of experience, each breed has different effects.


The strain is largely determined by the terpene profile of the breed.  Terpenes are secondary compounds that inform the color, smell, and aroma of the breed, but they also offer properties that many people desire, like calming properties and anti-inflammatory properties.  Meanwhile, different strains have different levels of specific cannabinoids as well.  For instance, in the 60s and 70s, the average strain had below 5% THC.  Now, breeders can produce strains that have above 20% THC.

The new weed strains that we find at dispensaries were not discovered in nature.  They were produced by breeders who create new strains based on the characteristics that they want to achieve as far as the plant is concerned.  Breeding has become a huge market in the cannabis industry, for a number of reasons.

Reason #1: Legalization

Legalization of cannabis in many areas of the country has created a booming breeding industry.  It allows farmers to legally cultivate cannabis, which means that it’s easier for them to acquire the resources to practice breeding.  Legalization has also given breeders larger budgets for breeding.

Reason #2: Technological Advancements

The role of technology cannot be denied.  You see, technology has improved the breeding practice in countless ways.  It’s allowed us to control the growing conditions under which cannabis is cultivated and has allowed us to obtain seeds from far away with minimal effort.  It has even given breeds the ability to analyze each strain for its specifical chemical composition and utilize advanced breeding methods that yield more consistent strains.

Reason #3: Economic Potential

As the cannabis industry has grown economically over the last several years, breeders find that there is a big market for producing new, desirable strains, and see a nice potential for profit.  This increases incentive to produce the best strains available.

Reason #4: Growing Demand

More of today’s cannabis consumers are knowledgeable and educated and have specific needs for traits that suit their ultimate goals with cannabis.  Therefore, breeders must work hard to satisfy consumer demands by producing strains that are the most likely to satisfy their needs.

The Breeding Process: Choosing the Parent Strains

Now, let’s go over the process of creating a new strain.

The Breeder Selects Two Parent Strains

The selection is made based on the traits that the breeder wants in their new strain. The parents are chosen based on their characteristics, which the breeder wants to either combine or strengthen.


Take Wedding Cake, for instance.  This hybrid strain’s parents are Girl Scout Cookies and Cherry Pie.  The breeder finds that both of these parents strains have qualities that they like, and so they breed them together so that they end up with a totally new strain that has the desirable characteristics of both parents.

Pollination and Seeding

Next, time to get into the scientific aspect of breeding.  We focus heavily on the female cannabis plants because their buds are what we sell commercially as they contain the chemical compounds we desire.  But breeding requires a male and a female.  So, the breeder forces the male of one parent strain to pollinate the female of the other parent strain.  The female parent’s traits tend to be more prominent in the new strain than the male’s, so this is taken into consideration.


The breeding takes place in a chamber, because once the pollen is produced, it can spread to other plants rapidly.  Therefore, a chamber acts as a contained space that ensures that the pollination does not affect other plants being cultivated.

Selecting the Phenotype

The children of two parents are not exactly identical, as each one has a different DNA makeup that comes from both.  The same is true for strains.  Each plant that results from the breeding process will be slightly different, and each one is referred to as a phenotype.  Once the plants of the new strain are cultivated, the breeder will select the phenotype that has the most desirable traits, and breed through several generations until they are happy with the weed strains that they have created.


The goal is homozygosity, which means that each phenotype is identical in its chemical composition and characteristics.  Heterozygosity refers back to the parent and children analogy.  It means that each offspring is unique.  Variety is good, but if a breeder is going to sell the buds of a particular strain, they need them to be alike so that the consumer knows what they are getting each time.


Once the breeder has identified the ideal phenotype to settle on, they will begin the backcrossing process.  This is a process in which the desired phenotype is pollinated with either itself or one of its parents.  This ensures homozygosity, by strengthening the composition of the strain repeatedly.  It also ensures that as the strain is continued to be bred to keep the strain on the market, its characteristics will remain the same.


This is the final step in the process.  Here is where the breeder produces enough of the strain to distribute it on the market, after testing it to provide an accurate breakdown of its chemical composition.

What is Required of a Breeder?

Anyone who can cultivate cannabis can become a breeder, but commercial breeders work on a much larger scale, and need a lot of patience due to how long the process takes, and how many steps may need to be taken in order to ensure the desired results.

The World of Cannabis Strains is Constantly Diversifying

Thanks to dedicated breeders who are eager to introduce new weed strains onto the market, we now have more variety than ever before.  Also, because of a number of factors, breeders have better resources to operate on such a large scale and make their strains available to the general public.  What this all means is that the strain you stumbled upon at the dispensary is, in fact, the result of a lot of hard work, patience, and commitment to producing the best characteristics possible.